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Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday news: `Monster House' in 3-D...A CEO for Movielabs (Finally)...Charles Swartz Retires From ETC...Google Video Linking...Lengthy Movies

- `Monster House' opens today. It'll show in digital 3-D in more than 215 theaters worldwide. Michael Coate offers this great list of places where you can see `Monster House' in digitally projected 3-D and digital 2-D.

The LA Times has a story today about the increasing interest in 3-D releases -- Sony has the `The Ant Bully' opening next Friday and `Open Season' on September 29th, both in IMAX (non-digital) 3-D. Dawn Chmielewski writes:

    "With rising production costs and especially marketing costs from the studios, we needed a way to help 'eventize' our most important productions," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures.

    For an industry that recycles its story lines — "Poseidon" and "Miami Vice" are recent examples — it's little surprise that the studios are dusting off old approaches for prying audiences out of their living rooms.

Also, I've got a short piece in Fast Company about Real D, the company making the 3-D projection technology used with `Monster House.'

- The MPAA has hired Steve Weinstein as president and CEO of Movielabs, a new R&D group that will predominantly focus on anti-piracy technologies. The release (in PDF format) is here. Here's Weinstein's bio from his most recent gig, at a Silicon Valley company called Macrovision.

MPAA chief Dan Glickman tells The Hollywood Reporter: "The evolution of technology continues to transform our industry at an ever-quickening pace. Movielabs will help our companies embrace opportunities and meet new challenges."

The MPAA first announced the formation of Movielabs last September.

- Charles Swartz is retiring as head of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC, for health reasons. I wish him well. Charles started at ETC in 2002, and turned the Pacific Theatre in Hollywood into a hive of digital cinema tests, demos, and discussions. ETC's executive board is conducting a search for Charles' successor.

- Google is now making it possible to link inside a video, to any point in its running time. Why is this cool? Because I think people will want to be able to view (and buy) very discrete portions of video content. Imagine being able to buy just your favorite five minute clip from `Taxi Driver' in digital form, and keep it on your cell phone, or pay to watch a couple minutes of what your friend says is the funniest part of a vintage TV show. Just as iTunes made it easy to buy a song without paying for the whole album, video of all kinds is going to be broken up into chunks -- and sold that way (or supported by ads that way.)

- If you have access to the Wall Street Journal, I guarantee you'll love this story about the endurance required to watch this summer's lengthy movies. In 1986, the average running time for the 20 most successful movies was 104 minutes. Last year, it was 118 minutes. Kate Kelly writes:

    Most of the blame for the movie marathons lies with studios' inability to rein in the growing clout of a select group of directors. With box-office returns increasingly unpredictable, studios try to hire the most proven filmmakers. But those directors tend to come with strings attached, including eight-figure salaries and plenty of autonomy over how a movie is made -- including running times.

    A case in point: Peter Jackson's directing deal for "King Kong." On the heels of his smashing success with the first two "Lord of the Rings" movies, each of which made well over $300 million domestically despite their length, the New Zealand filmmaker had a negotiating advantage when it came to discussing a "Kong" deal in 2003. So to realize his vision of the classic gorilla movie -- a project that Universal had already shelved once -- Mr. Jackson commanded a $20 million payment up front, a 20% share of the studio's share of the box-office gross and the right to "final-cut approval," or complete say, over a PG-13-rated movie of roughly 2½ hours, according to people familiar with the deal.

    But even when the rough cut exceeded three hours, Universal executives, feeling it was important to trust Mr. Jackson, didn't push back much, suggesting among other things a cut of less than one minute from a scene. The eventual result: a tepid $218 million in domestic ticket sales against roughly $250 million in production costs. "King Kong" and its 187-minute running time strained many moviegoers' patience -- prompting some to walk out early and others to gripe that it took more than an hour for the title character to appear. Many avoided the film entirely.

My sister and I, walking out of `Pirates 2' earlier this week, mused about cutting the movie by a half-hour. If they'd done that, the $225 million budget would've presumably dropped by about $45 million (at a cost of roughly $1.5 million a minute... and Disney could've made a bonus movie for that sum.)