Luhrmann Does Double Duty on Australian-Themed Projects

Director's Ad Campaign Promoting Continent Accompanies Release of His Latest Movie

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NEW YORK ( -- It's been seven years since Baz Luhrmann's last movie, "Moulin Rouge," and four since his epic, Nicole Kidman-starring commercial for Chanel No. 5 joined the Guinness Book of World Records as the most expensive ad of all time. Now, Mr. Luhrmann is combining both film and commerce with the simultaneous release of his latest two creative projects, all in the name of his homeland.
Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann Credit: Twentieth Century Fox/James Fisher

"Australia" is the name of both his new film, starring Ms. Kidman and Hugh Jackman, due out Nov. 26, and a $40 million ad campaign Mr. Luhrmann conceived for Tourism Australia. With "Australia" the movie already a well-known project in the land of Oz in the two years it took to complete (principal photography alone took nine months to finish), Mr. Luhrmann imagined that at some point the folks at Tourism Australia would come knocking.

"At first I was extremely reticent, naturally, because I thought they wanted Nicole and Hugh to say, 'Hey there, this is Nicole and Hugh from Down Under. We're filming this big epic. Why don't you skip on down?'" Mr. Luhrmann said over the phone from his editing suites in Sydney.

Mr. Luhrmann's 90-second spots, directed by famed Australian commercial director Bruce Hunt, will start hitting U.S. movie theaters in mid-November, prior to the release of "Australia," before hitting TV in early 2009. An online and print campaign, from Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, will start rolling out in January.

Mr. Luhrmann was still knee-deep in post-production on "Australia" the movie when Madison & Vine reached him at midnight Sydney time. Taking a pause from his grueling editing schedule, Mr. Luhrmann spoke with M&V about his dual Aussie projects, that notoriously extravagant Chanel ad and why he will never be a work-for-hire commercial director.

Madison & Vine: You've spent the last two years immersed in "Australia," both the movie and the ad campaign. At what point did you decide it would be a good idea to merge the two, from a marketing standpoint?

Baz Luhrmann: I imagined [I'd be approached] at some point, given I called my film "Australia," which, by the way, isn't about Australia. The word is a metaphor for this woman's transformation. Just like these grand films are called "Out of Africa" or "Casablanca." "Casablanca" is not about Casablanca. It's about a place where border people go; people who are leaving somewhere looking to go somewhere else. ...

"Australia" is about a place that this woman whose life is really over, she's at an age where she's lost the ability to love. All her love goes into her Ferragamo shoes and her horses. She finds herself in the north of Australia and hooks up with a revolting, repugnant drover character who's a bit like a cowboy -- Hugh Jackman plays that role -- and she, through her experiences, is reborn and finds herself.

M&V: So where did you find the synergies between the two projects?

Mr. Luhrmann: There's a fundamental truth about the country that is endemic or very important to the film. There's also something in an ad you can convey, make a promise and deliver on.

So we wanted to take the idea of the film and convey it as a truth that invited people to this country. It's extremely radical, it will be unlike any other tourism campaign, and I thought, "They'll think I'm bonkers and say forget that." There'll still be campaigns soon with pictures and a reel saying, "Look at all these gorgeous people and great locations." But they'll run in parallel as two distinct entities -- the film and the advertising campaign. What unites them is the underlying idea.
Mr. Luhrmann's 90-second spots for Tourism Australia will start hitting U.S. movie theaters in mid-November, prior to the release of his film 'Australia.'
Mr. Luhrmann's 90-second spots for Tourism Australia will start hitting U.S. movie theaters in mid-November, prior to the release of his film 'Australia.'

As well as that, there's a young actor at the center of our film called Brandon Waters, a mixed-race Aboriginal child. I started with the idea of the inviter, or character, that says to the rest of the world, "Come to our land." It seemed to be a really good link. ... In the film, the boy wants to go "walkabout," an Aboriginal term for when you lose yourself, or feel you're basically through with the pressure or stress or fear or terror. You leave all material goods behind, go walking, go walkabout, have a good talk with yourself. The two of you become one and ready to go on again in life.

M&V: Given your penchant for big, cinematic productions that take years to complete, did you find the 30-second format limiting at all?

Mr. Luhrmann: I'm a great fan of witty, clever, smart ad campaigns -- they're not easy to do and extremely creative. The idea of this ad is it's not trying to sell you something as give you an emotional experience about the idea of Australia, a feeling. Certainly, to do it in a short period of time is hard, but myself, having conceived and produced the project, and Bruce Hunt, who was the actual director, I think we did find a language we could both speak in.

M&V: The last time you directed a commercial, for Chanel, you famously broke the record for the most expensive ad ever. Did the fact that you shot the Tourism Australia campaign simultaneously with "Australia" the movie lend some natural cost-cutting to the production?

Mr. Luhrmann: Well, for one thing, we got some "mates rates" for shooting in the country and having access to some of these locations. But it wasn't a financial consideration so much as it seemed to be very much the right thing to do for the film. If you're doing a film about the Titanic, it's really good to have a lot of interest in the Titanic. If you're doing a film where the fundamental canvas is Australia, it's very good to do something to heighten the awareness with the subject you're painting. Thought that was the sensible thing to do.

As far as budgets go, the thing about Chanel is it's quite nice to be in the Guinness Book of Records as having made the most expensive ad of all time. But it simply isn't true. The overall expenditure was huge, but there've been many more expensive ads to shoot. Of course, there were other elements that made that ad quite expensive.

But the answer is yes, there was a lot of cross-fertilization. We had the ability of accessing these extraordinary, inaccessible locations, because we'd already been doing it for two years.

M&V: So based on your two experiences as an adman, what would it take for you to direct another commercial?

Mr. Luhrmann: It would have to be a product or situation we genuinely liked and loved. Endorsing stuff these days, it seems like every toothbrush is endorsed by a celebrity. My only issue with that is it's gotta be endorsing something, say, "Hey this is a great scene. I really dig this product or experience." Secondly, it's a methodology. The way we make things is we're not quick and we're not for hire. I'm sure one day someone will offer me a script and I'll say, "That's not how we work."