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Driven by the creative energies of some of Australia most adventurous and iconoclastic individuals, The Backlot at Fox Studios seems set to offer the definitive 'studio tour' - without the fakery and without the schmaltz: it's all a celebration of filmmaking, Australian style. ANDREW L. URBAN reports.

A world class studio tour - The Backlot - the likes of which have never been seen before was unveiled yesterday (1/9/99) at Fox Studios Australia, showcasing Australian creativity, ingenuity and showbiz pizzaz within a stylish but irreverent homage to the art and craft of filmmaking. While the biggest attraction of the Backlot will no doubt be the physically immersing, Titanic The Experience, the heart and soul of the public tour will unquestionably be the Barrie Kosky/Baz Luhrmann live show, Lights! Camera! Chaos!, a 25 minute mixture of circus, burlesque, musical and stunts, in which the audience play extras in the making of a movie musical.

"a gala event"

Fox Studios Chief Executive Kim Williams, Kosky and designer Catherine Martin were joined at the studio launch via satellite from Los Angeles by Titanic co-producer Jon Landau and art director Jeremy Railton (who did the 57th Academy Awards as well as Elizabeth Taylor's televised 65th birthday party) to explain the outlines of The Backlot, which will be officially opened on November 7 with a gala event attended by a galaxy of stars and celebrities from all over the world.

As Landau pointed out, it was four years to the day that production began on Titanic, with a dive to the sunken wreck of the ship. "We knew we wanted to make a totally immersive movie for audiences, and so we are thrilled to see that quest of ours continuing in this experience. It will engage all the senses and combine all the elements that make you feel like an extra on the movie set, while also simulating the experience of being on the ship itself, plus how you felt when you saw the movie."

"a multimedia presentation beyond anything you’ve experienced"

The experience begins in the props room that holds the actual props from the movie and features the 13 meter model of the ship used for all the full-ship shots, the 20 minute experience will take visitors on one of two different versions: one via First Class, one via steerage. "It's a multimedia presentation beyond anything you’ve experienced," said Landau, who was involved in the project's creation.

Visitors will experience a G 2 force when the iceberg hits, Dennis Watkins (director of Titanic the Experience) promised; his team begins rehearsals on Monday August 6, 1999.

The Backlot is essentially a self guided tour of eight major attractions, which visitors can enjoy at their own pace, said Williams. "It is a public celebration of film and television as the artform of the 20th century." The attractions are more theatrical shows than theme park rides, and the objective throughout has been to take visitors into the heart of filmmaking, with several opportunities to witness the real process, not simulations.

But theatre will extend beyond the attractions into the very streetscape, whose focal point will be Bent Street Pavilion, the result of the creative craftsmanship of a team of over 50.

"it's a celebration of movie making"

Barrie Kosky described the driving concept behind The Backlot attractions as "offering the fantasy of being in the film world. There are three pillars on which we built this: it's a celebration of movie making across all facets of it; secondly, it's a celebration of 'Australian', using and fusing the unique architectural features of this heritage site, while being irreverent and witty, as well as blending the historic with the contemporary; and thirdly, it's anarchic fun, a vibrant collage of culture . . . I didn't want something unified . . . more a craziness and a showcase of diversity, full of surprises."

Kosky's vision also focuses on live performance at every opportunity, even atop the witty entrance gate designed by Martin, featuring - around the three dimensional Fox Studios logo - a kangaroo with a megafone, an emu by the camera on a tripod, film cans and a frill-necked lizard in full cry. Kosky hopes it will become another Sydney icon, as recognisable as the Harbour Bridge or Opera House.

In the Kosky/Luhrmann inspired show, Lights! Camera! Chaos! Australian animals at Flying Fox Films are shooting a new movie, Space -The Musical, in which the visitors become extras. The 12 performers are helped by the voices of Austen Tayshus, Toni Lamond, Tony Sheldon and Carol Skinner with amazing new versions of many popular hits.

Kosky said the challenge was to create something that would entertain everyone at every age from every corner of the world. There will be six half hour shows a day, and Kosky said it was intended to serve as an insight into a fantasy version of filmmaking.

"The challenge was to bring together intelligence, information in an entertaining way"

Los Angeles based Entertainment Design Corporation's Jeremy Railton, said via satellite the walk-through tour shows actual production processes. "The challenge was to bring together intelligence, information in an entertaining way.  We wanted to take audiences to a point that they feel they've touched film production in some way."

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Titanic The Experience - it will give you a sinking feeling you'll want to come back for


Fox Studios from the air

Fox Studios


Kim Williams, CEO,
Fox Studios Australia


Global Telecast Gala launch Sunday, November 7, 1999

Opens to public Thursday, November 11, 1999
Tickets (bookings encouraged, on 1 300 FOX TIX) are valid all day for multi-entry use and include bus pass: $37.50 adults; $22.95 children; $29.95 concessions

Cast: 175 performers and 500 crew
Parking: 2,000 car spaces, 20 coach spaces

Detailed public transport plan devised in association with State Transit Authority.

Open: 364 days a year

Total annual visitors expected: 1.5 million

International visitors: 40% of total

Capacity: 8,000 a day limit, (6,000 limit first month) to ensure maximum access for all visitors and limit queues.

Bent Street Pavilion: this area is free public access at all times, and leads to the main gate of The Backlot.

Other services and facilities include a state of the art, 12-screen Hoyts megaplex (five of them with La Premiere "First Class" facilities), plus a 4-screen arthouse, Cinema Paris, a retail precinct, restaurants and bars, and the Show Ring, featuring live performances and events.

Total cost of Fox Studio project: A$350 million +


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