Fox Oz closes Backlot complex

Closure mean loss of 90 full-time, 50 part-time jobs

SYDNEY — Fox Studios Australia threw in the towel Tuesday on its troubled public entertainment complex, known as the Backlot, announcing it will use that site to extend studio capacity and for additional production offices.

As part of the restructure, Fox confirmed that Lend Lease Corp., which owned 50% of the entire Fox Studios facility, will divest its stake in the studios while continuing its half-stake in the commercial component of shops and eateries.

The closure of the Backlot, effective immediately, means the loss of 90 full-time and 50 part-time jobs.

Modest payment

Lend Lease had written down the value of its investment in the facility from $A200 million ($100 million) to $7.5 million. Sources say Fox Filmed Entertainment (the Fox arm that jointly owns the studios) is paying Lend Lease a “modest” amount for its stake in the studios.

Since its opening in November 1999, the Backlot had struggled to attract patrons, despite a specially designed “Titanic” experience, live show “Lights! Camera! Chaos!” and a pavilion dedicated to “The Simpsons.” Attendance lagged even after Fox shaved admission prices last November.

Some 4.6 million people per year flock to the adjoining retail, dining and entertainment precinct, which includes a Hoyts 16-screen cinema, but there was minimal flow-through to the Backlot.

The six soundstages, however, have been almost fully utilized, hosting such productions as “Moulin Rouge,” “Mission: Impossible 2,” “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and “The Matrix.”

“The Matrix” sequels are currently shooting there through August 2002, and the third episode of “Star Wars” is booked for early 2003.

“The closure of the Backlot is a source of disappointment,” Fox Studios Australia chief exec Kim Williams said. After the decisions to scrap the Backlot and extend the studio space, “there is no longer any compelling reason for joint ownership of the studio operation.”

The plan is to add a seventh soundstage and convert the pavilion that housed “Lights! Camera! Chaos!” to a live TV/rehearsal stage. Production space capacity will thus increase by more than 40%.

Williams told Daily Variety the expansion has not been fully costed but will mean an investment of “many millions.” He expects it will take four to five months to secure planning approval.

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