Fox paying for 'Ice Age's' 3-D glasses, but Hollywood remains peeved
20th Century Fox's high-profile stare-down with theater operators over who would pay for digital 3-D glasses to go with "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" has been settled. But the issues underlying the dispute will almost certainly flare up again.
Fox, which had initially threatened to make theater owners bear the costs, has agreed to pick up the tab, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The glasses are supplied by RealD, the Beverly Hills-based company that provides 3-D technology to theaters.
In the past, studios have paid between 75 cents and $1 per moviegoer for the glasses. For a successful film, that can easily add up to as much as $10 million.
That's a sore point for studio executives, who privately complain that they shouldn't have to pay that fee, particularly because glasses that aren't stolen or damaged can be reused. Additionally, producing a movie in 3-D can cost as much as $15 million extra.
Tickets for 3-D movies come with a $2 to $3 surcharge, which is split between theater owners and studios.
For their part, exhibition companies note that they already are investing heavily in the new format. They typically pay RealD an upfront licensing fee of $5,000 to $10,000 a screen for the use of their equipment, plus a royalty of about 50 cents per ticket.
Fox was the first studio whose concerns became public, when word got out during the ShoWest film industry trade show in late March that it was pressuring exhibitors to pay for the glasses to go with "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which comes out July 1 and is its first 3-D movie. Theater chains balked, with Regal, the nation's biggest, threatening to play the movie in 2-D only.
With nearly 50 3-D movies due out in the next two years, expect more dust-ups over the issue. Fox in particular is likely to continue pressuring exhibitors to pick up the tab for the glasses and pushing for theaters to reuse them. The studio has ample incentive to do so, since this December it will release the highest profile 3-D film to date: James Cameron's "Avatar."
-- Ben Fritz and Richard Verrier
Photo: Glasses for viewing digital 3-D films from RealD. Credit: Ken Hively, Los Angeles Times.