Can/Will Stereoscopic 3D reinvigorate interest in deep-focus staging and a greater utilization of the spatiality of cinema? And Is Stereoscopic 3D ‘all that and a bag of chips?’ Or is it doomed to die?
These were the questions recently posed on my blog by a reader posed in response to a lengthy discussion on deep-focus vs rack-focus cinema techniques and my perspective of the later being vastly over-used. The reader, Dani, speculated that Stereo3D may prompt a revisiting of less common deep-focus techniques.
My response to that first question would be a fairly resounding yes. I think the very nature of Stereoscopic 3D forces directors and DoP’s to think immediately of Staging and Spatial arrangement first and foremost rather than Framing. The nature of what Stereo3D can do puts onus on arrangement in Space rather than arrangement in Frame. Stereo3D innately demands deep-focus as going ultra shallow with blur is effectively composing in 2-dimensional planes rather than deep spaces. So a DoP shooting Stereo3D with ultrafast primes with wide open apertures is totally defeating the purpose of having Stereo3D in the first place.
Now, as for the second question. It would be too easy for me to say that i generally think Stereo3D is a crock of shit that no one is really interested in and which the mass general public is, at best, ambivalent about. But I’ll avoid such provocation and instead entertain a perspective on WHY parts of the film industry are so gung-ho on 3D….?
Lets face it, Hollywood studios are Terrified.
Movie theatre ticket sales are slumping. It’s getting harder for the studios to convince people to leave their homes to go to the movies. The reason..? Well aside from cultural phenomenon factors I think there two more tangible elements. Home theatre systems are getting cheaper and better and so the enticement of the ‘big screen’ experience is just not as alluring as once was. When our home TV’s were small, 4:3 with convex glass and limited colour and resolution, there was a great ‘viewing quality’ attractor with going to the cinema - an experience you couldnt get at home. But when you’ve got a 40-50” flat-screen LCD on the wall (let alone a home projector) with a multi channel surround sound system playing from BluRay in HD and a VERY COMFY couch; the movie theatre just doesn’t have the pull it once did. Frankly I for one would generally rather watch a movie on my home than the theatre. I can stop whenever i like for a piss-break. I can rewind if I miss a line of dialogue and I can have my friends over and have a better communal experience.
Then we add on top of this the dreaded DownLoad culture…! Shock Horror!
Legalities aside, the much bigger problem for the studios is that they are trying to convince viewers to conform their watching to When and Where the studios say they can in a culture where the viewer otherwise has complete control over how and when they watch just about anything. 4000 years of human history and warfare has told us that people dont like being told what to do and being dictated to.
There was a shift a decade ago when studios started treating Theatrical Releases at the Movie Theatre as simply a ‘marketing exercise’ to drive DVD sales post theatre run. That trend still stands and indeed some big mainstream films actually draw the money to pay for theatrical release prints directly out of the marketing budget for the film. This alone tells you the brave new world we live in. A world the studios are terrified of…
And this brings us to Stereo3D. Why are the studios pushing Stereo3D so hard? Why are they talking it up? Why are they giving huge financial incentives to hardware and software companies to develop Stereo3d technologies…? Because You HAVE to go to the Movie Theatre to see it. I cant download a Stereo3D version to watch at home. I have to go to the movie theatre and buy a traditional ticket to see Stereo3D.
So the major studios are pushing hard on Stereo3D because it is a way to preserve the traditional hierarchical financial structure of the film industry. In maintains the old-school distribution pyramid that trickles down from Theatrical release, through DVD and onto Broadcast in a strict linear privilege. Rather than change the way they operate they are pushing a technology simply to reinforce the status quo they are most comfortable with.
So… I could argue that Stereo3D is a viewing experience the bulk of the world’s movie goers simply dont give a flying rats arse about. Or I could argue that my experience is, as with many others, that Stereo3D is hard to watch, makes my eyes tired and sore and so will be avoided by many on physiological grounds. But, i wont argue either of these because I dont have to.
My predication is not that Stereo3D will disappear (quite the contrary, i think it will persist in various forms for some time to come) but that it will fundamentally FAIL to do what the Hollywood studios desire so desperately for it to achieve - Get people back into the movie theatres en-masse again. It will fail this overt objective through a) audience apathy and b) because it is simply a matter of time before technology advances and I can watch Stereo3D movie in my home theatre from a file I illegally downloaded (not that i would ever do that ;) Even 2 years ago i tested a prototype laptop computer that could make a Stereo3D image WITHOUT glasses; you just had to sit dead-square in front of it. It wont be long before that becomes mainstream (if people want it)
Thus I draw the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how good Stereo3D is, or how great it looks, it will Fail to do what the studios desperately want it to do. And when it does, they will give up on it and desperately scurry for soemthign else to plug their sinking boat. And because I think audience desire for Stereo3D will always be fringe and marginal rather than mainstream, development of hardware and software for Stereo3D will subsequently cease or slow once the studios let it go.
As a case in point of the culture of apathy I believe exists around Stereo3D (from those outside of the big studio set at least) I can say that I teach a hundred rabidly enthusiastic, drenched in movies, gung-ho film school brats who eat breath and sleep cinema technology. Are they milling over the internet reading about Avatar and Stereo3D? Are they endlessly talking about Stereo3D between classes? Are they excitedly musing on how they would use Stereo3D when they should be working on their HDV short films? NOPE..! They just dont care…. They really dont. They talk endlessly of video games, 3D animation, CGI, RED camera, 4k, Steadicams but Stereo3D is just NOT on their mind. Some might argue that this will change once they see Avatar…. But im not so sure. This is the next generation of filmmakers, all in their 20’s, and right now they just dont care about Stereo3D. And if they dont care do we really think the general public is going to care enough to leave their comfy couches…?