De Niro, DiCaprio face off for role in Scorsese’s “The Audition”

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

$3.2b casino is why DiCaprio, De Niro and Scorsese finally unite.

Macau’s bid to reinvent itself as a mass-market, family-orientated gaming destination was underlined yesterday as its latest multi-million casino resort opened with a combination of Hollywood glamour and a bold statement of intent.Tinseltown came to Macau big-time yesterday as Hollywood A-listers Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro joined living movie directing legend Martin Scorsese on the red carpet at the opening of the HK$3.2 billion Studio City resort.China’s world-beating gambling hub is getting a taste of Hollywood glamor as its newest casino resort makes its debut on Tuesday with a glitzy grand opening that masks turmoil behind the scenes.

Outlets including Page Six, quoting anonymous sources, said the actors pulled in a cool $13 million each for the gig — though the whole thing only took less than a week to shoot. The two actors and the Hollywood director attended a press conference about the short-film The Audition today at Macau Studio, which drew about 300 journalists from different parts in the world.

Packer and DiCaprio shared a close word as they posed for a group photo, with De Niro, dressed in a suit and khaki cap, clutching wife Grace Hightower. Playing themselves in the short feature, the Hollywood stars are seen arriving at the Macau casino to audition for the same role in Scorsese’s latest film. The ambitious Hollywood-themed resort headed by Melco Crown CEO Lawrence Ho Yau-lung and his Australian billionaire business partner James Packer marks Macau’s most significant shift to date from VIP-junket dominated casino model to mass market, Las Vegas-style resort.

The Scorsese-directed short film The Audition, produced to promote Melco Crown Entertainment’s Hollywood-inspired Macau casino resort, is the first time that DiCaprio, De Niro and Brad Pitt, — the only one missing yesterday — have starred in a film together. Pitched as the most diverse entertainment offering in the Asian gambling Mecca, the $4.5 billion 1600-room complex, houses a magic show theatre, a 130m-high figure-eight ferris wheel and Batman ride.

The casino’s ability to draw such star power attests to the rising influence of the special Chinese region, which has grown into the world’s top gambling market. Page Six previously reported that the trio were each paid a cool $17 million for their time, with the entire production setting Melco-Crown back around $96 million. Between giggles from the audience and the frenetic flashing of cameras, De Niro confessed he knew little about the former Portuguese enclave and said: “It’s fascinating.

The shift also reflects a collapse of the junket system in Macau, which has seen a number of operators – whose main role has been to recruit high rollers to casinos and make loans – either shrink or close down completely in the face of looming greater regulation and falling revenues. The movie, described by director Brett Ratner as a fusion of short film and branding, sees DiCaprio and De Niro compete to win over Scorsese for a role in the movie.

The move towards the mass market model was further emphasised by Melco Crown’s gaming table count, Studio City is opening with just over half the 400 tables it initially requested from gaming regulators. The movie was then shown in the resort’s 5,000-seat theater. (Footage from the movie has also been cut into advertising-like clips.) How the short movie came to be is an object lesson in global show business networking — and even if there was no massive payout for the participants, they certainly have business and personal reasons to scratch one another’s backs. But the celebrities were kept away from the prying eyes of the media in the lead-up to the event, including tight security detail shielding DiCaprio from photographers at Packer’s nearby City of Dreams casino on Monday. “Let’s assume that we can run the ads for three years, it’s 11 million bucks a year for what will be I think the most famous marketing campaign in the world,” he said. “Nothing is a certainty, but if you build something and you try and make it the best, and you really do try and make it the best, and when it goes over budget you say okay we’ll let it go over budget because we have to, to make it the best, you get nervous,” he said. Mainland Chinese high rollers are staying away amid a persistent economic slowdown and President Xi Jinping’s continuing crackdown on corruption, both of which are crimping lavish spending. The downturn has cut into profits at U.S. casino operators such as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd., which have multibillion-dollar projects in the pipeline. “With the anti-corruption campaign and the political sentiment, a lot of wealthy people feel going to Macau is very risky.

Less than 10 per cent of Melco’s revenue is VIP revenue, a point underlined by Ho who added: “We steered away from VIP gaming tables a long time ago. According to the IMDb website, the plot of The Silence is focused on two Jesuit priests in seventeenth century, who face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and to spread the gospel of Christianity. They don’t want to be seen on the radar screen,” said Tony Tong, founder of Pacific Financial Services, a consulting firm that advises Asian casinos and junket companies. In the last 10 years we always believed that the mass tables would be leading the Macau market.” Ho said the absence of tables targeting high-roller VIPs underlines its strategy of targeting China’s rising middle class consumers, who are eager to try new things and who are expected to take over as the main driver of Macau’s growth. “We believe this is the future of China… The rise of the middle income earning bracket and the rise of the more sophisticated well-travelled customer.” Ho said to expect to “leverage” with Macau Studio’s “good location,” next to the Lotus Bridge, which links Macau to Zhuhai’s island Hengqin.

Packer, in an interview with The Times on Tuesday, wouldn’t confirm the $70-million figure — though he didn’t dismiss the notion that such an outlay would be outlandish. “The way I think about it is — our company, Australia Crown, is paying for half of it, and Lawrence’s company is paying for the other half of it. Melco Co-Chairman Lawrence Ho said all of the new casino’s gambling tables will be given over to so-called mass market players, with none for high-roller VIPs. The companies lend gamblers money in VIP rooms and collect debts when they return home, allowing high-rollers to get around restrictions on how much money can be taken outside mainland China. And he added that it would likely score his company brownie points with Macao’s government, which has been pushing casino operators to add more entertainment offerings to their gaming temples. “Nobody in this market, at least from the government’s standpoint, has seen anything like this. This is really a historic moment for Macao.” Though Tuesday’s screening was billed as the world premiere, “The Audition” actually debuted rather quietly earlier this month at South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival.

China’s economy “will no longer be the same dominant force to keep high roller clients in abundant supply” for Macau’s casinos, the company said in its annual report. The movie had been announced as a selection at the Venice Film Festival over the summer as well, but was pulled at the last minute, with organizers citing “technical” issues (though there had been some carping that the festival would be lowering itself to showcase such an overtly commercial piece). Adding to the industry’s troubles, another junket company, Dore Entertainment, reported to police last month that an employee allegedly defrauded at least $12.9 million from investors, who have held daily protests.

Communist Party authorities aren’t keen on casino advertisements in mainland China — even though the vast bulk of visitors to Macao, a former Portuguese territory that reverted to Chinese rule in 1999, are mainlanders. Ho said Melco has already placed “The Audition” in cinemas in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong as sort of a bonus offering (or 15-minute ad, depending on one’s point of view) before main attractions. “We’ve put it in cinemas in Hong Kong and are thinking of putting it in China soon” before films, Ho said. “No one’s going to go pay for a 15-minute movie. Wynn’s exasperation was on behalf of Melco, which said earlier this year it was hoping for at least 400 tables in order to avoid defaulting on its $1.4 billion loan. It has to be contained in and of itself.” He called it “not biographical but a kind of reality-based, with humor about ourselves.” Packer gave credit (or blame) for the concept to De Niro, though the actor joked that when he first saw the storyboards for the project, he was skeptical that the project was actually going to work.

Macau’s upcoming resorts will emphasize entertainment and shopping over gambling as casino operators bow to authorities’ desire to shed the city’s image as a sleazy, vice-ridden gambling haven to become a family friendly global tourist destination. “The table cap is the single most counterintuitive and irrational decision that was ever made,” Wynn told analysts on a conference call. “The reason that these extraordinary non-gaming attractions exist is because the damn casino is the cash register.” Ratner said shooting the entire project in New York was possible because the architect-builders of Studio City had created 3-D renderings of the project and the movie team was able to use those to re-create the casino. (Even if they had wanted to shoot in Macao, the casino wasn’t built yet.) “The technology that was used for this was incredible because we shot this whole thing in New York.

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