Magazine article Metro Magazine

Marketing the Notion of 'Home' in Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Marketing the Notion of 'Home' in Phillip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence

Article excerpt

REBECCA A LAYCOCK, IN CONVERSATION WITH DIRECTOR PHILLIP NOYCE, REVISITS THE PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR THE ACCLAIMED, HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL 2002 FILM RABBIT-PROOF FENCE, WHOSE STORY ABOUT THREE ABORIGINAL CHILDREN BRAVING THE AUSTRALIAN DESERT AFTER ESCAPING THEIR SETTLEMENT TOUCHED AUDIENCES BOTH HERE AND ACROSS THE WORLD.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (Phillip Noyce, 2002) was released throughout Australia in February 2002. Its three young protagonists --Molly (Everlyn Sampi), Gracie (Laura Monaghan) and Daisy (Tianna Sansbury), aged fourteen, ten and eight, respectively--captivated hearts across the nation and beyond through their bravery, tenacity and strength. Forcibly removed from their families in 1931 and sent to the Moore River Native Settlement 135 kilometres north of Perth to be trained as domestic servants and 're-educated' into white society, the girls escape and walk 2400 kilometres across some of the harshest Australian desert to find their way back home.

How do films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence and the recent Lion (Garth Davis, 2016)--about a young Indian boy who finds himself lost, adopted by an Australian couple and then, as an adult, uses Google Earth to locate his family in India--affect audiences so profoundly? Despite the differing circumstances through which the two films' respective protagonists become separated from their families, each of the vulnerable young characters displays a , courage that emotionally engages with viewers in similarly significant ways. For Noyce's film specifically, a highly strategic marketing campaign tapped into this emotional impact and ensured the film's universal story about reconnecting with one's home transcended cultural barriers, thereby reaching national and international audiences, regardless of the film's finite budget.

Rabbit-Proof Fence's marketing strategy

According to Noyce, there are three strategies film marketers can use to promote their film. The first is to raise general awareness so that filmgoers anticipate its release. The second is to create unaided awareness so that 'when you ask someone, "What movie are you interested in seeing?" without suggestion, they will name [your film]; it will be on their mind.' Lastly, as Noyce metaphorically describes, 'you want to get them to the altar, to commit, so they make your film their first choice.'

This three-pronged approach was instigated by the team behind Rabbit-Proof Fence twelve months prior to the film's theatrical release. This rollout was an important step in 'convincing a white Australian audience that they should invest emotionally in a story about an Indigenous experience', explains Noyce, adding that not since Jedda (Charles Chauvel, 1955) had mainstream audiences connected with a film with Indigenous content. In 2001, Noyce and Rabbit-Proof Fence publicist Emma Cooper discussed how best to 'sell' the film using an innovative campaign; she proposed that they look at the marketing strategy as a yearlong task in a bid to entice viewers during the lead-up to the premiere.

Their first step was to publicly search for the film's three young leads. The 'search for a star' approach has a decades-long history in the film industry; the marketing team for Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939), for instance, took two years to secure a female lead, with audiences all over the world becoming invested in the film as a result of following the widespread search. (1) In the case of Rabbit-Proof Fence, Cooper enlisted the Nine Network to help promote the film's 'search for a star', inviting parents to contact the channel if they had prospective child stars. During the televised promotion, Noyce also showed some footage he had shot of the real-life Molly and Daisy, by then in their eighties, during a recent visit to Jigalong (the footage eventually became part of the film's ending). Nine was flooded with calls and letters from viewers expressing interest in the film's story and its cast search. …

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