These should be ebullient times for those in the movie business. Patrons are flocking to theaters in numbers not seen since the advent of television. Ticket sales are on pace to hit $10 billion this year, an all-time high. And with a recession that shows no sign of slowing, theater owners, along with fast-food chains and discount retailers, find themselves in boom times they could not have predicted a year ago. But a rift is growing between the people who make movies and the people who show them, a dispute that could grow as heated as when exhibitors weighed featuring "talkies" nine decades ago.
When James Cameron directed his first 3-D film, "Terminator 2: 3-D," for Universal Studios theme parks more than a decade ago, the bulky camera equipment made some shots awkward or impossible. The 450-pound contraption -- which had two film cameras mounted on a metal frame -- was so heavy that producers had to jury-rig construction equipment to lift it off the ground for shots from above. The cameras, slightly set apart, had to be mechanically pointed together at the subject, then locked into place like an unwieldy set of eyes to help create the 3-D effect. At $60 million, the 12-minute film was the most expensive frame-for-frame production ever.
While shooting a tricky scene of his outer space opus Avatar, director James Cameron needed something to make his actors react as if they were getting pummeled by debris. Hurling pillows at them wasn't working. Same with wadded paper, pencils, food cartons: Nothing gave his actors that urgent, terrified look he wanted. Cameron disappeared into a prop room and returned with a jousting pole, wrapped in padding. Then he whipped the daylights out of his stars as cameras rolled. “He was loving it," says Zoe Saldana, the actress on the receiving end of Cameron's zeal. "If you'd walked on set, you would have thought he had gone nuts on us. But he was just a happy kid, playing with one of his toys."