Just how pushy is Paramount with theater owners on Transformers 3? Well, The New York Times has this interesting detail today: that Michael Bay last week called the chief executives of major theater chains to implore them to show Transformers: Dark Of The Moon in a way that burns out projector bulbs more quickly but makes 3D look brighter and sharper. That’s because there’s been a continuing problem that “the darkness of 3D is starting to impact movie satisfaction,” media analyst Rich Greenfield tells me. “This was a key problem with Pirates 3D, with both Green Lantern and Harry Potter starting off with darker imagery and then layering on 3D glasses that darken the images further.”

Last week was also when Paramount told theaters they have to play the pic in 3D next Tuesday night for the early screenings to spread buzz or they can’t play the film at all. I hear the company line has been “Michael Bay is insisting on the Digital presentation”. Or is this really all about numbers and Paramount’s screwing Disney and Warner Bros on their 3D dates? Case in point. Paramount won’t even accept the 35mm Technicolor 3D release prints if theaters have the Digital in house. And the studio is telling theaters it’s a four-week minimum in their Digital theater. This strategy succeeds in keeping Pixar’s Cars 2 out of some digital runs, which will cut back the grosses while forcing Warner Bros’ Harry Potter And The Deathly Hollows Part 2 out of 3D dates as well.

“And watch, miraculously on July 22nd, Paramount will open those screens up to get Captain America opened on as many 3D screens as they can,” a source tells me. “Instead of working together on the 3D situation where the public is seemingly growing apathetic, Paramount takes the ‘every man for himself’ attitude. Real smart. That’s why exhibitors are going to take every opportunity to dump all over them when they can. Watch what happens in November. In a four-week span you have seven films from different studios all jockeying for 3D. Paramount’s line will be ‘Katzenberg [Puss N Boots] & Scorsese [Hugo Cabret] are insisting on Digital theaters’ and the other five will be beating their brains out to get whatever dates they can. Should be fun to watch.”

Asked for comment, Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore would say only this about his studio’s 3D strategy: “The best thing for 3D was Avatar giving people a spectacular 3D experience. The goodwill towards 3D lasted just over a year. Transformers 3 can give 3D the shot in the arm. That’s what would be great for 3D and the industry.” However, Greenfield points out that, despite Warner Bros marketing muscle, 2D ticket sales have been outpacing 3D ticket sales for the upcoming Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 based on the live “top sellers” data on the Pulse section of Fandango’s iPad app. Tickets went on sale recently and its 2D tickets are in the top 5, but not its 3D tickets.