Australian cinema is facing a crisis because the distribution model for most Oz films is no longer viable, according to Troy Lum.

The EntertainmentOne Australia MD is calling for a summit where funding agencies, producers, distributors and exhibitors can address the vexing issues of release windows, how films are financed and how best to reach audiences across the spectrum.

“We are at a crisis point in our industry; we have to change the model,” Lum told IF. His comments followed the launch of Julius Avery’s Son of a Gun, which took $65,000 in its first four days on 53 screens, released by eOne.

“We are absolutely devastated by the result,” said Lum. “I'm gutted for the filmmakers who worked really hard and made a really fine film.

“We worked very hard on the release with a big marketing campaign and a publicity tour. We booked it into a mixture of art houses and multiplexes and gave it a lot of support.”

In an informal IF poll, some industry figures questioned the amount spent on P&A and a few said they didn’t even know the crime thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Brenton Thwaites had been released.

Lum rebuts that criticism, stating the distributor spent more than $300,000 on P&A, which takes its total investment in the film, including the minimum guarantee, to more than $700,000.

The crux of the problem, in his view, is that to reach a broad audience for any film, Australian or international, a distributor must spend a minimum of $1.5 million on P&A. That kind of investment would be fiscally irresponsible for any film which ends up earning less than $3 million, he said.

“We want to back Australian films and new filmmakers but in the last two or three years it’s become really difficult. We are losing money hand-over-fist on Son of a Gun.”

In an ideal world he’d have liked to launched Avery’s thriller in the same number of cinemas, followed within weeks by home entertainment, so the marketing spend is amortised across all windows.

That’s not feasible while the 120-day holdback between theatrical and VoD/DVD remains standard practice in the industry.

“As an industry we need to come together to talk about windowing, how films are financed and the Australian brand,” he said.

Universal Pictures International  MD Mike Baard concurs with Lum, telling IF, "The middle ground is gone and a new model has to come in to effect. Troy's numbers are correct."

EOne is trialling the US model of direct-to-digital with the November 21 launch of Tony Mahony and Angus Sampson’s dark comedy The Mule for purchase online, preceded by a week of event screenings attended by Sampson and Hugo Weaving. The titte will be released on DVD and Blu-ray and online rental from December 3.

Josh Lawson’s The Little Death was released by eOne, grossing a disappointing $254,000. Lum shares producer Jamie Hilton’s belief that the sex comedy’s B.O. prospects were virtually killed by adverse reviews in mainstream media.

Given the daunting challenges facing mid-range titles, most of the films on eOne’s slate now are wide releases.

As an example of US films that are no longer viable theatrically, the distributor sent Escape Plan, the action/thriller starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, direct to home entertainment after it grossed just $US25 million in the US.

Lum reckons that had the film gone out in cinemas here and raked in $2.5 million B.O., backed with $1.5 million in P&A, he’d have lost $700,000.

On Monday Son of a Gun producer Timothy White told IF that he and Avery set out to make a broadly-appealing film skewing to young males but the advertising spend wasn’t enough to connect with that audience.

At least one exhibitor agrees. Wallis Cinemas’ Bob Parr said, “I loved the film and as an exhibitor wanted to support it. I trailered it where possible but to no avail.”

Parr sees gaps in the markets which create opportunities Aussie producers, observing, “The Yanks continue to make boys movies. The Australian industry has to try to fill genres that are missing. The upcoming line-up is excellent but where are the rom-coms and films for the 50-plus audience? Few and far between.”

Join the Conversation


  1. The whole cinema landscape has changed. We have to accept that films like Son of a Gun and The Little Death have no place in cinemas and would do better going straight to DVD/VOD and then TV without the loss of a huge P&A spend.

  2. eOne obviously did not back the film!!! Lums comments are unfounded comparing little deaths reviews which had %44 on rotten tomatoes to Son of a Guns %80.

    So if the spend was 300k what actually went on advertising the film? ‘There were no posters, no billboards no bus advertising, no radio, no tv and barely any trailers in cinemas.., the film never had a chance.

    The film was made for a regular events/greater union/Hoyt’s audience but eOne didn’t put the spend or the energy into reaching that audience. The distributor needs to be accountable.

    And why do these films make money overseas when they have a theatrical release but can’t do the same here? This is not a straight to VOD film it’s just a film that needed a different advertising strategy than the palace cinema smaller films aimed at mature females.

  3. Great to see you writing here Don. Very insightful but one of the things lacking is Aussie films submitting for film festivals. In our case of South by Southwest, we’re hungry for the kind of Oz films that stand out, especially shorts. And being shown in Austin each March spotlights them, but only if they submit. Details at

    And this from our Festival head in a recent IF interview

    IF Magazine: Is the role of festivals such as SXSW changing because of changes to film distribution/financing? (Eg. changes to mixing up of distribution windows, challenges indie films have of finding an audience at cinemas, less risk-taking by financiers in the current environment.)

    Janet Pierson: Yes. The film business as we used to know it has changed dramatically. With more work and choices than ever before, festivals like SXSW play an even more vital role in curating and shining a light on the most striking films and filmmakers. We wade through thousands of films looking for just the right ones that will play well in our environment. Filmmakers need us to get attention on their work for the press, industry, and audiences. Sure, filmmakers can try and reach their audience directly but with the general culture suffering from media overload, our curation serves an important function.

    We look for a mix. It’s important to us to present a range of work along economic and entertainment, and including risk-taking lines. Yes, there are tremendous challenges in the marketplace but our role is simple. We exist to connect talent with audience. And as long as filmmakers are figuring out ways to get the work done, we’ll provide the platform to connect and launch with the greater world.

  4. Didn’t “Save Your Legs” have a massive P&A spend on the grounds that Big P&A = Big BO? So much for that theory…

  5. The message is clear. THIS IS A CRY FOR HELP.
    Hello SCREEN OZ, are you listening?
    We need to bury the theatrical release part of the equation for the OFFSET…..It’s killing OZ movies, look at this years results?
    Soon distributors & exhibitors won’t touch them.
    A movie is a movie.
    It may reach an audience on a big screen on TV or on a computer monitor.
    We are producing OZ stories for OZ audiences. The theatrical release is not important, please read & absorb Troy Lums piece. They are not in the biz to LOSE MONEY ON OZ MOVIES.
    The ‘P & A’ spend to release a film in OZ has to be over a mill…..Right?
    Who cannot afford to RISK that on INDY films like ‘Son Of Gun’ or WILLIAM KELLY’S WAR a film I produced which opens NEXT WEEK.
    The WILLIAM KELLY’S WAR spend is minimal, it does not need to gross 3 mill to break even. We know our market, older, mature,….HEY, its a FIRST WORLD WAR movie.
    No Pitt or Clooney, no Tarrantino, no big studio. But a hard working devoted team doing our best to get screens. Its tough with all this negativity in the media on OZ movies.
    We open on 23 screens around the country, most playing the film once a day.We should be out on DVD or online the ssame day but we can’t because of that ridiculous 120 day window.
    Over to you Screen OZ.
    Phil Avalon

  6. There’s no incentive for them to get better at selling films. All that will happen is they’ll come back for the next government handout.

    I’m not saying cut those either. But when a producer applies with a string of five dismally performing film, well maybe he should get his money elsewhere.

    That will help reward people who are actually successful.

  7. This is a cracker of a film and deserved a wider audience. The fact is nobody knew the film was opening over the weekend. This is of no fault to the filmmakers. As pointed out by Mr Lum the filmmakers upheld their part of the bargain. I’m from Kalgoorlie and saw this film at Cinefest and was really shocked and were most of the Kal locals to find out the film would not be playing in Kalgoorlie on opening weekend and it wasn’t coming for two weeks. We would’ve been lining up around the block to see this film. This seems like a major oversight by eone!

  8. Why not drop ticket prices for homegrown product to match budgets and distribution spend? Currently we pay Mercedes-Benz prices for Commodores which has nothing to do with the quality of our story telling and or critical reviews. The average Aussie simply cannot afford to go the cinema and saves that luxury for the big budget Hollywood roller coaster.

  9. The answer as Troy Lum suggested is smaller release strategies and shorter windows for Aussie films that has a target audience that prefer to pirate films rather than see them at the cinema. Australian’s that support Australian cinema are older audiences skewing female.

  10. Here is what I would do . . .

    $65k in 4 days is a bad start after $300k of advertising but it’s not over yet.
    At $20 per cinema ticket that equates to about 3250 bums on seats . . . hmmm, not great!

    It’s time to embrace new media and new methods.

    There are 5,200,000 males between the age of 16 and 55 on Facebook in Australia.

    It’ll cost roughly $5.00 per 1000 ads to put an ad in front of them that they click through to a landing page to watch the trailer, find a cinema and session times and pre-order their FREE VOD voucher which they can claim by sending in their ticket stubs (or entering the ticket number in the website) once the movie goes to VOD in 120 days.

    They get to experience it in the cinema THEN get to watch it forever for free after that.

    The catch is they have to see the movie in the first 2 weeks to drive early engagement and start the success snowball.

    we also ask them to rate and review the movie when they got to the site to claim their VOD voucher AND share that on Facebook as well to drive more engagement.

    Encourage them to take their wife/girlfriend who will go just to see Ewan McGregor on the big screen.

    It will cost virtually nothing to provide it for free via VOD to these customers (Vimeo Pro has unlimited streaming for $220 per year) and they only get it for free by proving they’ve paid to see it first.

    At $5.00 per 1000 ads you could show all 5,200,000 potential customers on Facebook the ad 5x for $26,000 or less than 10% of the P&A spend to date.

    Assuming a take up rate of 1 in 500, that’s 10,400 sales x 2 because they will take at least one other person = 20,800 bums on seats, or a 600% improvement on the current performance for 10% of the price and around $400k in ticket sales

    This is the first campaign then keep adapting it and driving it over time to keep it alive.

    I think it’s time to let go of traditional P&A channels and embrace new media like Facebook to drive engagement and action.

  11. The models are changing unbelievably dramtically and so very quickly. We have recognised with “54 Days” ( there is a severe difficulty in getting our movie into the theatres so we adopted the indie strategy from the get-go of genre festivals, genre bloggers, genre reviewers and leveraging the massive Social Media structures that exist – twitter, facebook, youtube, instagram etc etc. With very careful targeting on minimal budget (but plenty of sweat and tears) we are hoping to leverage the VOD market for 54 Days. We launch 54 Days on Nov 16 directly after our Aussie premiere at the Science Fiction Film Festival so the proof of the pudding will be well and truly in our consumption of that sweetened mix. Luckily we have self funded through crwodfunding and producers’ own cash with a performance based structure for the key talent and crew involved so our base costs are lower. With a fair and following wind we hope to generate very positive returns.

  12. We all know its in crisis. And it will take a hell of a lot more than a summit to address this. It will take a long concerted effort to turn the industry around, change attitudes, address issues of perception and find a way to address the issues around windows. So sure, let’s have a summit, but please lets look well beyond that at the next 3 -5 years and find a way to develop tactical responses to old and outdated release strategies leveled against most Australian features.

  13. Completely disingenuous comments from Lum. In this case, eOne/Hopscotch did NOTHING for SON OF A GUN. Just like they dumped GALORE and 100 BLOODY ACRES. The only people who knew it was opening in October were exhibitors. This is an expensive, international mainstream film, not an art house pic for the ‘Palace circuit’. For the distributor to have thrown it away like this is a crime.

  14. A summit? Heaven forbid Luk and his unaccountable team of ‘professionals’ look internally for explanations as to how they themselves could improve. Time and time again their theatrical distribution model/system/method fails yet very little changes and certainly the staff are not seemingly held accountable. Certainly not their models. It’s time the cinemas pulled their heads in and reduce/remove the anti-competition windows.

  15. Consumer spending is subdued. Wage increases are less than inflation. Cinema tickets in Australia are way higher than Europe or North America and cinema competes with a lot more digital entertainment. And then there are the micro factors of Australian films being released which do not appear to have a really discernible audience, a problem which has existed for years. Marty is right in saying that many of our films no longer have theatrical potential. The problem that then emerges is on what basis is the subsidy from Screen Australia and the Producer Offset being given to these films if they have no real market. Troy Lum is a fine distributor and I agree that an open and sophisticated discussion is required as soon as possible.

  16. By way of an interesting footnote, try looking up Troy Lum or Sandie Don, as key figures in Entertainment One, and see if they have a single social media profile where they personal push, promote and recommend their films?

    Nope. Not one.

    Wherever that $300,000 is going, it’s not working in the right places.

  17. The natural outcome of all this is we will follow the donkey and do what Hollywood does – make nothing but reboots galore – perhaps starting with the classic ‘Overlanders’ and ‘A Town Like Alice’.

  18. “it costs $1.5m to market a film properly…we spent $300K on Son of a Gun which was more than enough.” No wonder the producers feel let down by their distributor. Next thing you know we’ll hear that its all the viewer’s fault. The industry is in a state of change and it is getting tedious listening to distributors trying to clamber for their shrinking piece of turf.

  19. 2 things are killing our films theatrically. Unmitigated risk and unconnected audiences.

    Smaller indie films would be better served by theatrical rollouts with platforms like FanForce. Screenings only happen when the majority of tickets are sold. Campaigns build screening by screening by fans, distributors, exhibitors and filmmakers working together. P&A needs to directly leverage ticket sales the same way theatre and musicals do. Audience behaviours have changed dramatically yet our models are the same as they were 100 years ago.

  20. I don’t want to be nasty, however who is the market for most of the films Australian producers/directors make? When they do not find an audience, there is a cry of crisis in the industry, however maybe the crisis is that the Australian audiences just don’t care because the filmmakers are so out of touch with the market.

    Come up with a fresh idea that entertains rather than shocks or depresses the masses. Suffering is not entertainment. It’s sacrilege in inner city hipster filmmaking cafes to mention the profitable films in Australia’s history; “Croc Dundee”, “Castle”, “Mad Max”, “Strictly Ballroom”, “Man From Snowy River”, “Phar Lap”. I’ve asked why these films are generally dismissed and believe it is because of one simple answer – they entertain. They aren’t pretentious and force us to raise awareness about (fill in fashionable inner city greens movement platitude). And Aussie audiences love these films with a passion.

    They entertain. Entertain. Entertain. That’s why people go to the movies (not the cinema).

    If you want to make “important” films, look to Paul Cox’s model. He is an honest filmmaker who makes beautiful films for his market. He makes them on a low budget because he knows the audience is small.

    I am the first to buy a ticket to an Aussie film if I feel it will be entertaining. A message? Ok, as long as you entertain me.

    Then the distributors have something to work with. Sorry, but only seen the trailer for “Son of a Gun” and drug heist films have been done (in the 90s by Tarantino). Now its retro.

  21. I live in the fringes of the city, I teach the very demographic this movie was intended to reach, i and they knew nothing about this film. The marketing completely bypassed them. I showed them the trailer, encouraged because of this article to seek it out. They liked the action and they liked the girl, it reminded them of movies like fast and furious which they saw at the movies and rerent on DVD or iTunes. We all agreed we would put down good money to see this. This was a marketing fail.

  22. When hasn’t the Australian film industry been in crisis? It’s a bit of broken record. Distribution is the engine of the film industry. There is no one in Australia that has distributes Australian films as a priority. Those who do it, do it as favours, passion projects, or charitable acts, but not as a core business. Having worked in distribution and exhibition for a good ten years during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, I observed film marketing was a bit of a “market by numbers” approach with a sort of conveyor belt mentality. For foreign films (including Hollywood), most of the marketing was tried and tested in an overseas/domestic release and tweaked (if needed) for Australian release. The main decision was how many prints you would go out on, and that would determine whether you would rely on just PR, or add promotion and paid advertising to the communications mix needed to support the release and gain a return on marketing that would often be commenced 2-3 months before release and not much before. Audience segmentation was basic – mainly age and gender – and there honestly seemed little else to it. Not all that mind boggling really and not all that smart when you look at how other industries apply marketing practice (Honda, BMW, even Aldi) or companies like Disney (always impressive). But this is an industry where “nobody knows anything” and this seems to create a high acceptance of passionate ignorance which Australia has embraced. Consumer behaviour has changed. I suggest you start with the audience for answers, not a summit of Australian film distributors who are probably looking for a handout at the end of the age of entitlement (didn’t Hopscotch just get $1.5 million from Screen Australia to set up a production arm under the enterprise scheme?). Time to get rid of the theatrical release requirement for a 40% offset and indeed, maybe even the need for an Australian distributor?

  23. agreed with Steve Baile, that new model makes good sense if the ad graphics message is done properly and attracts hits and conversions. The promotional model has changed significantly in the last few years but too many dinosaurs refuse to adapt. Prepare for extinction folks. Or have a summit and see if that fixes things for you instead!

    Viral marketing doesn’t cost the earth and, if it is done right, it can be highly effective.

    $300k could also pay for several (dozens of!) people to guerrilla market for a month prior to release. That would probably have netted better returns than traditional promotion methods.

  24. Try aiming your Australian movies at the population who does not like paying their hard earned dollars to hear course language, witness excessive violence, etc. Look at the success of well made popular movies with no – or almost no course language, etc. Look at the audiences who attend these films. We are out there waiting for quality movies that don’t resort to content that cause them to be classified MA15+. Ok, “Gone Girl” is a huge hit but I wonder just how many more adults would have seen it if it was toned down to an M rating? The feedback I am hearing is: “What a great movie but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if there hadn’t been all that swearing!” I am sure that it would be possible to have made “Gone Girl” so it was rated M with same dramatic impact – perhaps even more.Suspense can be more effective if in the mind & not in the eye.

  25. Our film The Man from Coxs River broke all the rules. We made the film for very little. received no funding from any Government body or broadcaster and spent almost nothing on traditional media advertising. It was all Facebook and word of mouth.
    And we worked it like no other film makers have that I know of traveling all over Australia shaking hands and meeting our audience.
    Our inspiration were Charles and Elsa Chauvel.
    Their lovely daughter to whom our film is dedicated, Sue Chauvel Carlsson wrote in my copy of her book “When the going gets tough – the tough think even bigger”
    So we did.
    Maybe at was a one off, maybe we are crazy, maybe we are blessed but we did pretty well with over 16000 seats sold over a record 7 month run and not ONE review in a major newspaper.
    We are happy to share our thoughts and techniques with your local funding/arts body too.
    Crikey we might even do it again for the right film if we can.
    We are working on a new film. Whose coming on board???

  26. We need to take Screen Australia out of the equation. All they do is suck up money and make decisions that filmmakers should be making. How about a trade – we’ll give back Screen Australia in return for 10BA. That way all of the decisions on distribution and which films are made will be owned by filmmakers, and all the money will go directly to filmmakers rather than being syphoned off to highly paid bureaucrats – who only make our lives more difficult. Which filmmakers will dare to suggest an end to Screen Australia? Not many I fear.

  27. There’s no doubt eOne pulled back on major ad spend for SON OF A GUN but it’s not that simple. Let’s not forget THE ROVER, THESE FINAL HOURS, SAVE YOUR LEGS… all had massive marketing spends to little avail. Hindsight is always crystal clear, but it seems fairly obvious that the film was not of interest to a pretty significant audience demographic: women! See also THE LITTLE DEATH, FELONY, and in all likelihood future fate awaits KILL ME THREE TIMES. Yes ANIMAL KINGDOM was a massive success but producers and distributors ignore the female demographic at their peril. Note that HEALING has done better than most/all these crime-skewed dramas, off a modest release and modest spend.
    Ignore the ladies at your peril, people.

  28. I reckon a summit would be great! A stroll through the venue’s car park would be illuminating. Beamers, Mercs and Ranger Rovers – would show that the distributors had shown up. And the number of bombed-out Holdens and Hyundais would indicate the presence of producers, directors and any other unfortunate ‘creatives’.

  29. According to Box Office mojo Healing has done worse than These Final Hours and Felony. I see your point but I don’t think prisoners look after birds was the answer.


  31. Bravo Russell Kilbey for your initiative on The Man From Cox River! You follow the business model I have at Birdsong Press. Like yourself – hands on. My motto is simple: ‘If you can’t believe in yourself, why ask someone else to believe in you? If you can believe in yourself, why do you need someone else to believe in you?’ Back yourself. Thank you for your post – the way to go! Grassroots filmmaking is alive and well.

  32. I’m a lecturer at a film school in Melbourne and earlier this week, I discussed in class the IF interview with Julius Avery (Issue #161,p.22). Out of my 50 students, all in their early twenties, none of them heard about ‘Son of a Gun’. After I showed them the trailer comments were made such as: “looks ace”, “I’m gonna see it”, “cool action stuff’, “he’s a babe” (Brenton Thwaites).

  33. Bring back 10BA. It worked. Aus distributors are dinosaurs; very last century. Screen Australia is an awful joke.

  34. Considering that the film has a major major star in Ewan McGregor, who hits all the buttons demographically, I was amazed not to see him anywhere on TV, press or in person here. Admittedly, he is probably busy filming somewhere, but really, he is the film’s major card, so not having him here or at least doing something with him really weakens any push. As for Roman’s students (above), I hope you tore a strip off them – not seeing the film is understandable, given the cost of tickets but not knowing about it suggests they aren’t taking their studies or the industry seriously.

  35. Government needs to grow some balls. Do what the French do, don’t allow the US to advertise film releases on television. The French protect their market from inevitable US media colonization and as a result have a 40%!!!!!, yes 40%! share of box office.

  36. Congrats Russell Kilbey and Amy! You worked bloody hard for your movie.

    If I was rich, I would build cinema complexes and screen Australian films and other content for longer. We also need more creative development before production.

    Another option is for Australian distributors to band together to invest in/build their own cinema complexes and give their products a better chance of making money.

    Or the government should invest in building cinema complexes which the public has paid for, thus giving the public a diverse range of content, as well as better prices. Sydney just needs ONE world class centrally located cinema to start this. And it could also be a creative hub.

    Video stores are almost gone. 4k is coming. So what is next??????? Crappy NBN. What will hold/funnel 4k?? if that??? How do filmmakers make their money back?? People enjoy digital content, but how do you copy protect it??

    And all of the government arts/film funding bodies need to be scrapped and re-thought out. The public’s money needs to be better spent.

  37. That trailer for son of a gun was f*&^ng pants, who was it talking to, 16 year old girls? I thought Brenden Thwaites was a stripper. EOne cant do action trailers, clearly and totally missed their target audience of YOUNG BOYS.

    What was the budget of Son of a Gun? How do feature films in this country get funded to the 12 million dollar mark by a first time feature director who also write the screenplay who had not had writing credit on a financed feature before either? The film is being reviewed as a paint by numbers/every possible crime genre trope in cliche after cliched order. Just because it’s a good-looking Australian film doesnt mean its any good. perhaps people didnt know it was on, but it also still doesnt mean if they did see it, that it is that great. Does Son of a Gun compete with it’s market bedfellows? Not by the reviews. They had enough money to do so.

    These Final Hours had a killer P & A budget, but was it better than Edge of Tomorrow which was released at a similar time? It would want to be.

    Who is funding this stuff at Screen Australia? who is letting it go in to production overlooking the complete lack of originality that Son of a Gun has been panned for? This sounds like a high risk investment that hasn’t paid off as the overall budget was higher than normal but the PA budget was ‘just the usual’.

    What the f&^% are we doing in this business in this country? its not the film industry, its the middle class white people art therapy float/support fund no one is getting anything. Audiences are missing out, crews get a bit, distributors are losing ‘hand over fist’ why are we doing this waste of tax payers money? its bloody irresponsble is what it is. one film making money a year is not enough.

    The water diviner will probably make a tidy packet and we’ll cry “australian new wave!” and think everything is fine again then keep making the same f-ing mistakes over and over.

    Everyone will be crying when the next group of 15 year olds comes up with something freash and original and self distrubutes after being shot with their buddies in a street somewhere and wipes the floor financially and gets the audience all of the above are looking for.

    Bring back the 10BA. Come on SPAA, bring in the low budget filmmakers rates/union arrangements, lets throw this door open and just bin the beaurocracy no one is winning, no one. Except for Avery whos probably laughing all the way onto a US big budget feature not giving a shit after getting paid and everyone else has made a huge loss. But I’ll just be dismissed and some old fool who’s bitter about not being in the club, right?

  38. @mac the ripper. How would you know what Avery got paid? It’s common business for first time directors in Australis to have to reinvest their fees back into the film. I know of three directors who’ve had to do this, none of them have ever seen their fee and remember they are spending years of their lives on these films.

    I enjoyed the film and actually saw it, so unlike you making assumptions without having seen the film or the filmmakers contract I can say that this was not a paint by numbers, this was what the Australian audience was asking for and so a filmmaker decide to deliver that but it still wasn’t good enough.

    The film sold world wide for a reason. The distributor dumped the film, it’s as simple as that.

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