John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: 'Boy' funding push raises questions

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Taika Waititi's online campaign raised $106,595 to give to Boy's US distributor. Photo / Norrie Montgomery
Taika Waititi's online campaign raised $106,595 to give to Boy's US distributor. Photo / Norrie Montgomery

In an online campaign, Kiwis have dug deep to subsidise the United States marketing costs of Taika Waititi's Boy and wound up giving the US distributor $106,595 - $16,000 over target.

By 5pm yesterday 1761 had contributed and six of them gave $2500 or more.

It's all part of the creative world of film finance and it makes sense to draw in your fans, create a community and help the bottom line. What's more, hoi polloi don't get anything back in the end even if the movie becomes a huge hit.

It's quite a clever idea and if people want to give their money, good luck to them. But how did our most successful movie ever - made with taxpayer funding and with a record local box office of $9.2 million - wind up putting out the begging bowl for US distribution?

Why didn't the Film Commission give Waititi money to help subsidise the US release?

The online "kickstarter" campaign from US production partner Unison Films invited donations of $1 to $10,000.

Most of the money promised to the US distributors came from Waititi's adoring New Zealand fan base, many of whom would be attracted to his artfully distracted persona.

Boy was funded by the taxpayer through the New Zealand Film Fund and the New Zealand Film Commission acted as sales agent - in theory selling on the rights to the movie in the US and elsewhere. It has no role in the risky overseas releases, which are the responsibility of the distributor.

So if the distributor can't afford the cash needed to market the film to its arthouse audience, what about Waititi himself?

Ainsley Gardiner, who was New Zealand producer for Boy with Cliff Curtis, said one of the things that would surprise people was that New Zealand's biggest-ever hit movie did not give rich rewards to the film-makers behind it.

As for the kickstarter campaign, Gardiner doubted anybody contributing to the cause really believed Waititi would actually see the money himself.

TEN SWAPSIES

Another top TVNZ news boss has jumped ship to the Network Ten in Australia.

Paul Patrick was head of daily programmes and arguably the second-ranked journalist at TVNZ.

He will be joining his old boss Anthony Flannery who now heads Ten News, and replacing Ten Sydney news boss Ross Dagan, who is replacing Flannery here.

It is a case of swapsies between the two networks amidst a period of management limbo at TVNZ. Another top TVNZ journalist, Cliff Joiner, left last year after missing out on Flannery's job and is now producing Marcus Lush's breakfast show on RadioLive. Flannery also poached Paul Henry from MediaWorks for Ten.

FAIR GO, JEFF

Comments by TVNZ programming boss Jeff Latch at a recent meeting of Fair Go staff, and the subsequent discussion at a commerce committee hearing in Parliament yesterday, add to a sense of marketing intervention in news at TVNZ.

This column has commented before on the dumbing down of Fair Go over the past two years, and the marketing department push to take control of the programme, making it more about light entertainment.

A news department alliance with a market research company active in the advertising sector last year signalled dark days ahead, and the departure of long-time presenter Kevin Milne last year removed one of the great stalwarts for independence in the programme.

My sources say he was hated by the marketing folk and was seen as a stick in the mud, but he slowed the slide of standards on the show.

Yesterday, under questioning from Labour's Clare Curran about what she said were warnings staff should not upset advertisers, Latch told the commerce committee he had attended a meeting of Fair Go staff.

Latch said he had made "the observation that we operate in a commercial environment and that Fair Go, like all our programmes, needed to exercise care in terms of the way they handle stories, they need to make sure they're always balanced because in a commercial environment a story that is not balanced could be something that we would not want to run on this network".

It is understood staff protested afterwards about Latch's comments, and rightly so.

In my opinion these comments to the committee alone send a chill through one of New Zealand's longest running journalistic programmes which has spent decades maintaining balance. Latch says he was not instructing staff not to annoy advertisers, but that was the message they took.

CARPET BURN

Kevin Milne used to keep the marketers at bay, but now he is into advertising boots-and-all, working for a carpet company and appearing on Air New Zealand internal communications.

He says he has not had his Kapiti Coast home recarpeted as an add-on to his lucrative and high-profile endorsement deal with Carpet Mills, but he might try it on.

Milne is cheerfully up-front about his decision to endorse the carpet company, saying he had waited a year since leaving Fair Go and resisted approaches from other people, including financial institutions.

What he is selling is "trust," he says.

The responsibility for media endorsement has been under the microscope with new rules introduced and public scrutiny of Richard Long's endorsement of Hanover Finance.

Milne says for that reason he decided he would not work with a finance company, partly because it was so difficult to keep a handle on their financials.

Brian Edwards is a Fair Go founder, media trainer and media commentator who has known Milne for decades.

He says the question is what Milne has sold with his endorsement and what expertise he has to offer on whether it was a good product.

But he did not think Milne's endorsement undermined the credibility of Fair Go as a consumer show.

WHO'S THE BOSS?

MediaWorks staff at TV3 and its radio networks will be on tenterhooks this week waiting to find out if controlling stakeholder Ironbridge Capital has indeed stopped rival private equity company TPG's back-door takeover of the broadcast company.

On Wednesday Ironbridge announced a deal that included a $50 million cash boost for the company, depicting it as badly needed money for more programming.

But it is clear much of the money is already accounted for, with a balance of about $28 million to be repaid for the Government's $44 million rescue loan for radio frequencies. And they may well face a payment of more than $20 million in a long-running legal dispute with the Crown.

Ironbridge is confident it is on the cusp of a deal that would secure banker support for three years, albeit subject to unknown banking covenants.

It is understood the deal secures senior debt at the current level of $388 million, while second-tier debtors appear to have taken a severe haircut reducing secondary debt by $100 million.

Overall the restructuring is is expected to take $20 million a year off the interest bill.

It's not clear what second-tier debtors kept under the deal, but it is probably better than any arrangement if TPG had bought up senior debt and wiped them out altogether. Ironbridge is confident but it is understood it will be mid-next week before the three-year banker security is tied up.

Maybe TPG offered banks a low-ball offer in the first place, and might come back with a much better deal.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

Read more by John Drinnan

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