Hit Movie Red Dog and Its Mining Industry Funding

Read time: 5 mins

WERE all used to a bit of product placement in today’s movie industry.

The latest mobile phone is pinned to the ear of an international spy. A popular brand of beer is gulped by an anti-hero. The latest sports car roars through a street chase.

This embedded marketing is as much a part of a trip to the cinema these days as overpriced sugary drinks and stale popcorn (also overpriced).

But a new feel-good movie from Australia, set in a small mining outpost, has eyebrows raised due to its substantial in-kind and financial support from the same said mining industry.

Red Dog, starring American Josh Lucas, is set in the 1970s in tiny Dampier in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara region. The film is based on real life exploits of a stray dog which roamed the area, hitch-hiking between settlements and bringing people together as it traveled.

The characters, who work for Hamersley Iron (an actual company and wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto), are roguish and likeable. The cinematography sweeping across the red Pilbara landscape is momentous. Already the largest grossing Aussie-made film for 2011, Red Dog managed to take more than Hollywood blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens (Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig) in its opening weeks. Now a UK and US release are in the offing.

The film itself is well and truly focused on the exploits of the dog and is based on Louis de Bernières's depiction of the legend in his short novel Red Dog.

So who gave what to the film?

The movie’s budget has been widely reported as standing at about $8 million – small fry in the world of big screen cinema.

About $3m came from the Australian Government-funded film development organisation Screen Australia, according to its annual report [pdf]. 

International mining giant Rio Tinto gave the filmmakers free accommodation, food and access to mining sites and the use of a freight train. The company even got to see the script, although there’s no suggestion they changed it.

Director Kriv Stenders told industry magazine Encore about the importance of the support.

Without that we couldn’t have made the movie and we were incredibly supported by them, it was overwhelming – they were welcoming and excited. The mining industry has been misaligned recently; it was a chance for them to remind Australians that this is a part of Australia, an amazing, vital part. We were really paying tribute and honour to the pioneers who built the place.

Major gas company Woodside, currently awaiting Australian Government approval for a $30 billion gas hub in Western Australia, also provided “funding, logistical support and a handful of acting extras”, according to the company's Trunkline newsletter.  

Mining equipment company Westrac, which sells the world-famous yellow and black CAT earth movers, was also a supporter. Somewhere along the line, one of the companies even loaned out the use of their helicopter for aerial shots. The film’s producer, Nelson Woss, told The Australian

We basically show the heartbeat of the Australian economy - we show the mines, we show the trains that take the ore to the conveyor belts, we show the conveyor belts and the crushers then we show the ships being loaded and the iron ore being taken to China.

An online Q&A by the Australian Film Institute asked Stenders to respond to claims the film was “a massive public relations exercise” for mining in Australia.

What we tried to do with the film is actually make Australians aware of the history of the place and of the industry. And people can criticise it all they want. I mean the film isn’t really about that. It’s about the formation of a community, and an incredible part of our history. 

But there is plenty of product placement in the film. The name “Hamersley Iron” is on the front of the seemingly endless iron ore train and on the side of the staff bus. The Hamersley logos are on the hard-hats of the workers who hang around sheds, drink in the bar and stand next to the CAT-branded heavy earth movers. Hamersley developed the mining outpost of Dampier where the story is set, but you don't see the workers doing any actual mining. 

There’s also the sporadic appearance of a tussle-haired lady in a Woodside company uniform. She drives a Woodside company vehicle.

During the closing scenes, there’s a large billboard with the Woodside and Rio Tinto logos in clear view.

There’s been no deliberate attempt to hide the fact that mining companies were behind the film, although casual movie-goers would be unaware.

The company logos do appear in the small print of the movie poster and if you hang around long enough (as I did), the film acknowledges their support at the end of the closing credits. Some company executives even get a mention. 

The film wasn’t instigated by the mining industry but from early on, there's evidence the industry knew it was getting behind something which would show it in a positive light.

When the industry backing was made public early last year, Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh said it was “an exciting opportunity to showcase our industry”.

Respected Australian movie critic David Stratton rejected the idea that the movie was a propaganda piece. But one less generous online reviewer put it this way

In a time of a mining tax debate in the current Australian political zeitgeist, this PR stunt does feel like a relationship based in mutual exploitation.

Red Dog (2011) Official Trailer

Get DeSmog News and Alerts


It seems when you get big enough as a corporation you just start doing these things to improve your image as much as possible.

 Totally unnecessary.

Most of these efforts are misplaced unless they are actually selling a product directly to the public -  like a car or a soft drink.

Reminds me of the dumb coloring book thing. Mining companies should just forget about burnishing their image. Mining will be profitable as long as people need stuff.

Just dig your hole in the ground and be happy with it.

It seems when you get big enough as a corporation you just start doing these things to improve your image as much as possible.

 Totally unnecessary.”

Totaly agree. I’m getting sick of the product placement that is pervading more & more of our films & t.v ( not that I watch any T.V.) . TV shows over here like the block & master chef have beed criticised for all the building company, food chain & microsoft advertising.


I realise that film & t.v makers look for sponsors to help pay for expenses which might mean the show or film never gets off the ground in the first place. But the sneaky surreptitious advertising is getting annoying. 

It’s the reason I rarely ever watch T.V anymore except for documentaries or debate/discussion type shows. Although, my only refuge, the internet is being infiltrated by these advertisers also. You cant watch many you tube clips now without watching an ad first. Or a news video on a news site.

I don’t know what the answer is & I realise that TV & film makers need to turn a profit to survive & provide us with more film & t.v, but many people now P2P tv series, because they want it on demand & don’t want the ads.

I wonder how Red Dog would have been received if there was an ad before the movie started or something that said “This film is sponsored by the following mining companies” ?

This all reminds me of Jack Ambramoff & “Red Scorpion”.


If you watch the trailer, it actually looks like a fun movie. I guess it’s entertainment, that’s all, and most people have been around long enough to ignore the brand placement in most of the films these days anyway.

I’m no fan of mining industry PR. But honestly, who did you think was going to sponsor a movie about a dog roaming the Pilbara? Product placement and sponsorship in movies these days is the norm, not the exception.

The reality, if seeing the movie the other night was any indication, is that mining industry sponsorship in the movie was the absolute last thing on the teary patrons minds, unless your mind is already overwhelmed with political views before you enter the cinema. In which case what’s the difference anyway?

Red Dog did not keep company with conservationists, or solar panel manufacturers, or city dwellers. He lived and roamed around a mining community.

And yep, I’m a very biased Kelpie owner too! I saw the movie for what it was -  a touching and funny story loosely based on real events (I have read commentary by several people who actually met Red Dog back in the 70s) which is just a really good movie to see.

I don’t like the way mining companies operate, or the extent of mining that is allowed to happen. I have mixed feelings about product placement. Advertising in general has got way out of hand, but I’ve been on the other side trying to raise funding for films. I could say that I’ve only ever approached companies I believed were ethical, but what’s ethical to me may not be to someone else. Long debate … but that’s just background for what I really want to comment on. I lived in Dampier in 1971, the year the story of Red Dog began. There’s a bit of artistic license apparent in the film but overall it’s a very accurate representation of the lifestyle in Dampier at that time. It was a closed town, owned by Hamersley Iron and there were reminders of that everywhere, from the name and logos on equipment to the fact that everyone’s home was owned by Hamersley and most of the population worked for Hamersley (not me!). Making a film (especially a film based on a true story) set in Dampier in the 70s without Hamersley product placement would be unrealistic. I believe the film needed to show just how much life was intertwined with the company. I don’t think the discussion needs to be about product placement specifically, but rather about the ethics of accepting funding from Rio Tinto. Or are the two inexorably connected?