Once up a time, Hollywood A-list stars who wanted to earn some serious yen or yuan would secretly hop on their private planes and head to Asia. Secure in the knowledge that their secret was safe, they would shoot a bizarre commercial for a Japanese or Chinese company, pocket the massive fee, and head quietly home.
Today, we have the internet. This means the world is a much smaller place and what happens in Tokyo no longer stays in Tokyo – or Macau. It ends up on YouTube.
Macau is the world’s biggest gambling destination and dwarfs both Las Vegas and Atlantic City – individually and combined. In fact, Macau casinos generated revenues of $44.1 billion in 2014. That’s more than seven times the amount of money created in Las Vegas. Macau is mighty. It dominates any and all competition.
And it’s this swagger that enables Macau – specifically the soon-to-be-opened Studio City Resort and Casino – to recruit arguably the world’s most revered film director to promote its launch.
In January, a 60 second trailer, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Leonardo Di Caprio, and Brad Pitt was previewed. The vignette is just a taster for the full nine minute ‘movie’ due for release later this year – presumably when the casino opens.
Entitled The Audition, the short film was written by Wolf of Wall Street screenwriter Terence Winter and has Di Caprio and De Niro competing for the same film part. Brad Pitt pops up in the background. His exact role is still a mystery.
Scorsese is one of the world’s finest directors, with films like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Casino to his credit. The teaser is packed with some of his trademark cinematic tricks: quick zooms, sweeping shots, fast cuts, and a cool retro soundtrack.
Scorsese is more than happy to take the advertising dollar, having created and directed commercials for the likes of Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana, American Express, and AT&T.
What makes this advert so exceptional is the supporting cast. Not only is Scorsese old school favourite De Niro in play, but it also features his new ‘go to’ actor Leonardo Di Caprio. These two Hollywood heavyweights plus Brad Pitt could open a movie.
The Studio City Resort and Casino marketing team have clearly decided not to pull any punches on the budget. The actors are all pocketing $13 million each and the total cost of the production is $70 million.
However, in reality, it’s small change. The Studio City Resort has cost a staggering $3.2 billion. Modelled on Gotham City, and featuring both a Batman and Wonder Woman virtual reality ride, it is expected to open mid 2015.
The resort’s central skyscraper has two ‘asteroid holes’ through its core which incorporate a 130 meter high Ferris wheel. It will be the highest in Asia. There are 30 restaurants, a massive luxury shopping mall, a 5,000 seat stadium, and – of course – a state-of-the-art 500,000 sq ft casino.
The Rising Sons
The project is the work of the Melco Crown Entertainment group, a major casino operator with a collection of huge resorts. It’s two co-chairmen Lawrence Ho and James Packer are the sons of business legends Stanley Ho and Kerry Packer. They have big shoes to fill.
Although Macau’s casino revenue is enormous, a crackdown by the Chinese government in 2014 sent share prices tumbling. This all adds pressure to the launch of Studio City. It has to succeed. Perhaps this is why they’ve got Robert De Niro in to check the quantity of blueberries in the muffins.
Some advice: if you’re planning a trip to Macau to tread in the footsteps of De Niro and Scorsese and enjoy the thrills of Studio City, make sure your brush up on your Baccarat.
Baccarat is far and away the most popular game in Macau and the superstitious Chinese gamblers simply can’t get enough of it. Two thirds of Macau’s casino revenue comes from VIP Baccarat players.
Perhaps the next instalment of Scorsese’s mini-masterpiece will feature this iconic game. Pitt against De Niro at the table, as the Wolf of Wall Street pops Quaaludes and sells penny shares. Watch this space. We will be!