DECATUR - Avon Theatre operator Skip Huston made the decision in April to embrace the national trend of 3D movies by installing 3D cameras in the Avon's Twins theaters just in time for the release of "Clash of the Titans." Four 3D releases and seven months later, however, and those cameras have gone back to their supplier, and Huston admits the Avon 3D experiment was a dud.
"I sold the cameras back and told them ‘this is more trouble than it's worth,'" the longtime theater operator said. "I do regret that we ever did it. The Avon is really not the kind of place for 3D movies. The clientele is not the kind of audience for the movies that are usually released in 3D."
Huston credited the theater's "art-house roots" and "upscale commercial crowd" with making it a less than ideal venue to screen bombastic 3D blockbusters like "Clash of the Titans" or "Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," two films the theater took significant losses on due to underwhelming crowd response.
"Too many times the audiences would turn up their noses when I said 3D, and we just didn't do good business on the 3D pictures we showed," Huston explained. "We had four 3D movies, but only did good business on ‘Despicable Me,' and I believe it would have done just as well if we had screened it in 2D instead."
The Avon's other 3D screening, "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole," enjoyed a strong opening weekend on the back of a promotion that brought Illinois Raptor Center owls to the theater, but trailed off quickly in the following weeks, once again leading Huston to believe 3D would not carry its weight at the Avon.
Another significant factor in the problem, however, was an oversight by Huston on the true cost of acquiring 3D movie prints. Choosing not to add a surcharge for 3D films as comparable movie theaters did, The Avon was at an immediate disadvantage due to premiums from distributors on the films themselves.
"That was something we never really thought about back when we brought in the 3D films - the glasses are free, but there are premiums on the 3D prints," Huston said. "The theaters pretty much have to charge a surcharge to make their money back. We didn't realize how much it was costing us until after the summer was over. Here we were all summer long not charging 3D surcharges for our films, and then the big, fat fees hit us."
For the Avon's Technicolor 3D system, there was a $2,000 premium placed on top of the regular price of all 3D films acquired by Huston. This was simply too deep a hole for most films to dig out of.
The ill-fated move to 3D was spurred by a desire to keep up with competition, but Huston has long believed the current wave of 3D popularity will recede in the same way previous incarnations in the 1950s and 1980s did. He fondly recalled 3D gimmick movies of yesteryear such as 1953's "It Came from Outer Space," but will continue to view the medium of 3D film as better suited for a special occasion instead of everyday viewing.
"I think 3D should have been used as an event, and that it loses its special appeal and practicality if all movies are coming out in 3D," he said. "I do believe that there is already evidence of some of the major studios pulling back on 3D a bit, like with the next Harry Potter movie or the next Batman movie. Everybody was looking for the next ‘Avatar,' but there's not going to be a ‘next Avatar' until James Cameron makes another one."
With the sale of its equipment, The Avon will withdraw from future 3D competition and focus on business as usual, as it has under Huston since 1999.
"Having 3D equipment is fine for some theaters," he admitted. "I guess there are still people out there who are forking over the dollars for 3D, but more and more the people I talk to say they don't really care whether a movie is in 3D or 2D. A lot of times you just want to settle back and watch a good movie."