Engineering the Perfect Storm: Producers Marcus Gillezeau and Ellenor Cox on promoting and exhibiting Storm Surfers 3D

Storm Surfers 3D takes the audience into a world where waves the size of buildings are surfed by legendary board-riders, Tom Carroll (two-time world surfing champion) and Ross Clarke-Jones (big wave pioneer). The two men, now in their 40s, are old friends, born out of the 1980s generation of pro-surfing. They team up with surf-forecasting guru and meteorologist Ben Matson to track the biggest waves in Australia, embarking on a potentially lethal adventure that takes them from Sydney to Tasmania, Western Australia and eventually on to Hawaii. Their friendships, their bodies and their courage are tested along the way.

This sounds like the perfect use of 3D technology to create a BIG cinema experience; one which will appeal to surfers as well as thrill-seekers of all kinds. The film is the latest installment in a project that began as a successful television series which has sold to more than 70 countries, been viewed by more than 20 million people and had 1.5 million views online (, thus generating a massive fan base.

In a coup for producers Marcus Gillezeau and Ellenor Cox and directors Chris Nelius and Justin McMillan, Storm Surfers 3D has been selected to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, in the Real to Reel program, which features documentaries on hot topics or which provide intimate access into dramatic lives.

Here in Australia, in association with Madman Entertainment, the film has just commenced its event-style tour in a series of one night screenings, starting on 14 August in Sydney and traveling to all capital cities and selected regional centres. Tickets are being sold through the film’s website here.

On the eve of the film’s release, we asked producers Marcus Gillezeau and Ellenor Cox (Scorched), experts in the field of All Media production, about this unique exhibition strategy and the promotional methods they’re employing to build a tsunami of support.

AFI | AACTA: Congratulations on being selected to screen at Toronto. What do you think this means for the success of the film theatrically?

Gillezeau & Cox: It’s a huge honour for Storm Surfers 3D to be invited to such a prestigious festival as Toronto and is great timing for us given that we are releasing theatrically in Australia from August 14th. It has also enabled us to secure significant interest from US agents and international sales agents, again at a perfect time for us in our release strategy. What it also says to the general public is that Storm Surfers 3D is much more than just a surf film – we’re finding that this is coming through consistently in the film reviews and is a great boost to us on that level.

AFI | AACTA: You’ve chosen to exhibit this film as a series of one-off special events. Can you talk about that decision, and why this kind of film is suited to that form of release pattern? Is it financially viable?

Gillezeau & Cox: It’s certainly not the traditional model but then so much about Storm Surfers 3D is ‘out of the box’! In Australia we were super conscious that exhibitors would be sceptical about the box office success of an Australian documentary ostensibly about surfing. We also know that our core audience are mainly non traditional theatre-goers i.e. blokes aged 30+. We knew that if we went out in normal release and didn’t nail it in the first weekend, that despite great word of mouth, we’d have little presence thereafter and would have blown the opportunity to develop an ongoing relationship with the exhibitors. What we’ve chosen to do instead is a series of one-night-only screenings with Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll in attendance. We are promoting it in a similar manner to a rock concert and our core audience are responding the way that we had hoped they would and are already buying tickets. In many locations we have sold out these sessions already, and are now working with the exhibitors to open up more screenings, albeit in a limited release manner, but for an extended period. We believe that over the long term this is the best way to make this box office release financially viable.

AFI | AACTA: How do you go about creating the publicity and promotions strategy for such a release? How important is social media?

Gillezeau & Cox: Social media is crucial to us and the bulk of our P&A [publicity & advertising] budget is being spent on digital marketing. We have dedicated staff who focus on nothing but creating an ongoing dialogue with our online fan base. We also access the databases of clubs (i.e. Surf Life Saving) and sporting associations to spread the word. It’s incredibly rewarding to have this relationship with our audience over such an extended period and we reward our most ardent supporters (we call them our ‘gromments on the ground’) with free tickets, limited edition merchandising and time with Ross and Tom, in exchange for securing us significant ticket sales in their local areas. We also control all the back end on our website which is the main portal to the ticketing sections of all the cinemas and can make instantaneous changes to showcase new sessions and online material as it comes online.

Producer Marcus Gillezeau (in red jacket) securing a deal on his iPad on South Coast Bombie mission. Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones in wetsuits.

AFI | AACTA:  Your film is supported by extensive multimedia augmentation –  web series, game, ebook, branded content series. Can you explain a little about how these work to support the documentary and build its audience?

Gillezeau & Cox: Storm Surfers 3D is indeed a multi-faceted beast! Download our game or 140 page eBook now from iTunes; head to our website or Facebook page to enjoy 20 behind the scenes webisodes; stay tuned for the release of our soundtrack album next week! We have worked very carefully to ensure that our main message at present to our audience is: Buy your tickets now! We have dovetailed a very separate and targeted PR campaign around this, which showcases our other assets and hopefully brings a new audience to come and see the film. Our game took 18 months to develop and is a serious ‘gamers’ game! Our PR in this area is focused on first getting [game players] to engage with the game and then get enticed to see the movie.

AFI | AACTA: Through your production company, Firelight Productions, you are known as leaders (and International Digital Emmy® Award winners!)  in the all-media area. What do other producers in Australia stand to gain or lose from more fully utilising multiple-platforms?

Gillezeau & Cox: We are fascinated by the creative freedom that storytelling across multi-platforms allows us. It is a highly creative aspect to producing – not just from a financing point of view, but in its execution and delivery as well. It’s incredibly challenging however to be managing the creation of so many assets at the same time [and] needs appropriate time and budget to do this. In terms of what people stand to gain from this – it’s a no brainer – we need to reach our audiences nowadays where they entertain themselves – and this isn’t just in the movie theatre but instead via the iPhone on their way to work or their intray when they’re supposed to working! It’s the future and it’s a very exciting and creatively rewarding place to be exploring!

AFI | AACTA: Thanks for your time and best wishes with Storm Surfers 3D!

Storm Surfers 3D is now touring Australian locations. Visit the website for tickets and venues.