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John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

John Drinnan: Hopes high for Dark Horse

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Extraordinary audience reaction said to bode well for reception by international buyers at Toronto Film Festival.

Glowing word of mouth testimonials for the movie The Dark Horse have raised hopes that it will attract international buyers at the Toronto Film Festival next month.

Two other Kiwi movies have been invited - What We Do In the Shadows, a vampire spoof from Taika Waititi, which will play in a late night spot, and The Dead Lands, a Maori language action movie directed by Toa Fraser, which plays in the first weekend.

But The Dark Horse - based on the life of little-known Gisborne speed-chess champion Genesis Potini - is the big breakthrough hope, and Film Commission chief executive Dave Gibson says he has never heard such positive word of mouth for a New Zealand film. "Usually one or two says 'oh yeah it was alright'," he says. "But nobody had a bad word to say about it."

Gibson, a former producer who has travelled the film festival and film market circuit, says The Dark Horse team may have a busy year ahead promoting the film.

In this country, the movie has earned $750,000 in its first two weeks. Its budget is estimated at just $4 million - tiny by international standards, even for an independent film, but some movies belie their budget.

Gibson said the extraordinary reaction bodes well for its reception at the Toronto Festival, which is a launching pad for selling to distributors in North America and elsewhere.

The film is made by Four Knights Film, with writer/director James Napier Robertson and producer Tom Hern.

Financial backers are Tim Wood and his wife Sasha, who were founders of the early internet service provider iHug.

Some people question the cost of appearances at these festivals and all the hoopla that goes with them. But like veteran NZ film producer John Barnett, who saw Whale Rider turn into a big success through the acclaim it received at festivals, Gibson said festival appearances were essential for New Zealand films to reach an audience.

"Toronto is especially important because it draws the film industry from the US buyers."

While some film markets showed movies shut away at industry venues, Toronto provided US distributors with the chance to see how they played to an audience.

Potential buyers might be thinking about spending maybe $700,000 on US rights. "They want to make sure they are buying well and see a movie working with a North American crowd," Gibson said.

New Zealand has had a legacy of feature films with a Maori theme. Barnett, of South Pacific Pictures, was producer of Whale Rider, and said it was valuable to make movies rooted in the culture, because that made them stand out at markets and festivals. One of the interesting aspects of The Dark Horse is that it is another example of a movie set in the East Coast region.

Others include:

Ngati - 1987. Directed by Barry Barclay and produced by John O'Shea, it starred Wi Kuki Kaa and Ross Girven, and holds a special place in the hearts of many NZ film lovers.

Whale Rider - 2002. Directed by Niki Caro and produced by John Barnett, it starred Keisha Castle Hughes and Cliff Curtis.

Boy - 2010. Directed, written by and starring Taika Waititi, it also starred James Rolleston who plays Potini's nephew Mana in The Dark Horse.

Media people are digesting Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics, with its mix of explosive allegations and saying the usually unsaid, about how media and public relations is conducted in New Zealand in the two thousand and teens.

Nicky Hagar at at the launch of his latest book, Dirty Politics. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It's all a bit like the old joke: Making news in an era of fragmentation and tight resources has become like making sausages - the sausages might taste good, but you don't want to see how they were made.

Beyond the major allegations of dirty tricks involving accessing Labour Party computers, and manipulation of Official Information Act inquiries on the SIS for political gain, it will surprise few to hear that politicians choose friendly media people to sell their stories.

Mainstream media traditionally kept their distance, but blogs can be part of the political machine. Insiders say this government has been more direct than others in ignoring the Press Gallery and focusing on friendly bloggers such as Whale Oil and Kiwiblog, hosted by Cameron Slater and David Farrar.

Hager raises questions on the degree to which the relationships have gone beyond feeding friendly journalists, to the point where blogs have become an intimate part of political spin and smear.

The book has implications for public relations, in particular the role of PR practitioner Carrick Graham. According to Hager, Graham - who gives guest lectures to AUT students - wrote articles favourable to his clients, which appeared under the name of Cameron Slater, or a pseudonym. By press time, Graham had not responded to messages seeking a response.

Hager suggests the role of press secretary Jason Ede - a longtime pal of Whale Oil's Slater - means the PM has largely kept his hands clean, but John Key has previously acknowledged that he spoke regularly to Slater and his associates.

It is also notable that Justice Minister Judith Collins, who features extensively in Hager's book, last year decided not to implement a Law Commission recommendation that would have required bloggers to accept oversight from a standards body, in order to claim legal protection.

A research team called News, Renewed believes it has found clear signs of how New Zealanders would prefer to consume online content, in a world where news is kept behind paywalls.

The team's research indicates that people would most like a mechanism where they could access multiple paywalled sites - the digital version of a one-stop shop.

The News, Renewed project surveyed 457 people, exploring their willingness to pay for 10 different news monetisation strategies.

Full results can be viewed at

Research leader Alex Clark said the "pay-once-access-all" model would allow readers to pay one monthly subscription to have access to news from multiple publishers. Only 0.5 per cent of respondents said they would definitely pay for access to a single NZ news website, but 6.6 per cent said they would pay for a global package of all news sites.

People aged 18-30 are the most likely demographic to pay for a global package, with 11.9 per cent saying they would definitely pay.

Clark is under no illusions that the project faces major hurdles, and is travelling soon to talk to foundations in the US to help with funding.

It is early days yet when it comes to creating such a platform, but the News, Renewed team includes developers who have created a prototype that enables bundled subscriptions across several publishers. The prototype integrates with existing news websites and is based on a revenue-share model where measurements of content are used to distribute subscription fees among the publishers involved.

- NZ Herald

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