Fox finally fences off Backlot park

Aussie attraction nev'er found an audience

SYDNEY — In trying to marry elements of a theme park with a studio tour and exhibits celebrating the history and culture of cinema, Fox and its partner property giant Lend Lease Corp., came up with a daring, ambitious and in some ways noble concept never previously attempted.

On Oct. 16, the partners finally conceded it was a lost cause, announcing the immediate closure of the Backlot — which News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch referred to as a “small but interesting theme park,” unintentionally capsulizing the park’s problems in a phrase — along with plans to use the area to boost studio capacity and for additional production offices.

Right from its splashy launch in November 1999, the Backlot had struggled to draw patrons.

Eight attractions, including a specially designed “Titanic — The Experience,” which simulated the doomed luxury liner’s last moments; “Lights! Camera! Chaos!,” a singing-dancing live show produced by Baz Luhrmann; and a pavilion dedicated to “The Simpsons,” aroused minimal interest from Sydneysiders and — equally important — a tepid response from the overseas and interstate tourist market.

Attendance lagged even after Fox shaved admission prices by 37% last November.

“With that kind of small-but-beautiful development in entertainment, it was difficult to get sufficient traction with the public, which has a fixed mindset about the thrills and spills it wants,” FSA chief exec Kim Williams tells Variety ruefully.

Paradoxically, some 4.6 million people per year flock to the adjoining retail, dining and entertainment precinct, which includes a Hoyts 16-screen cinema. Yet it’s believed as few as 4% of those people were motivated to visit the Backlot.

As part of the restructure, Fox confirms that Lend Lease, which owned 50% of the entire FSA facility, had divested its interest in the studios while continuing its half-stake in the shops and eateries. Lend Lease had written down the value of its investment in FSA from $A200 million ($100 million) to $7.5 million.

Although the Backlot bled red ink, the six soundstages have been almost fully utilized, hosting such productions as “Moulin Rouge,” “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and “The Matrix” and its sequels.

The plan is to add a seventh soundstage and convert the pavilion that housed “Lights! Camera! Chaos!” to a live TV/rehearsal stage.

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