Hollywood heart-throb Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, X Men: First Class) is tipped to play the lead role in Slow West, a UK-New Zealand feature film with financing from the New Zealand Film Commission, which starts shooting in the South Island from October.

Producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman from See-Saw Films, a London and Sydney-based production company behind the Jane Campion-directed TV drama Top of the Lake, are developing Slow West with DMC Film, Fassbender's private production company.

Former Scottish musician John Maclean has written the script and will direct the Western-themed movie. His Pitch Black Heist, starring Fassbender, won a Bafta award last year for best short film.

Kiwi film and television producer Rachel Gardner (Agent Anna, Show of Hands) is a producer on the project, says the NZFC.


She is listed as the sole director of Slow West NZ Ltd.

Fassbender, who stars in upcoming thriller The Counselor alongside Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz, is expected to play the lead role, Screen Daily reported.

A production source on the movie told The Diary this week the lead cast are still to be confirmed and contract discussions are ongoing.

A publicist is yet to start.

It is unclear how much the NZFC has invested in the film. A rep for the government agency confirmed the UK-NZ co-production had received production financing in the last round of NZFC funding decisions, but could not tell The Diary how much.

"That has not been published yet."

Celebrity snow spotting

Heather Mills is keeping a low profile in Queenstown ahead of her slalom race tomorrow on Coronet Peak.


She's been spotted on the exercycle at the local gym and ignoring the VIP section at the Winter Games opening bash.
However, it's billionaire Bill Gates and his rumoured whistle-stop trip to Queenstown which has the local press piqued.

"He choppered in for a two-day break last week," Mountain Scene editor Ryan Keen told The Diary yesterday.

"His [Bombardier Global Express] jet was apparently parked at Christchurch. In Thursday; out Saturday."

Quake hits, Len tweets

The earth shook in Wellington on Friday, but in Auckland Mayor Len Brown was suffering a PR fault of seismic proportions. He sent out a tweet boasting about the number of followers he's racked up on the social media site, but was embarrassingly forced to delete the message and apologise for the "poor timing". His campaign manager told The Diary it was "a complete cock-up".

"I now have over 9000 followers, which I've been told is significant. Thanks everyone - stay in touch," Brown tweeted from his official Twitter account. Minutes later he quickly paid mention to those suffering from the 6.6 tremor - but the damage was done.

Peter Heath, who took a screen grab of the two messages and their time of issue, tweeted: "Was about to jump to Mayor Len Brown's defence and claim accident of timing. But no."

Mark Blackham, a PR expert and former government press secretary, retweeted the message and asked rhetorically: "NZ topic of moment is quake?"

Brown's spin doctors could see the disastrous PR fail and reacted quickly. Brown responded on his Twitter feed, as way of explanation: "It was something my team had apparently set up to Tweet in advance - very poor timing. Have taken down."
Melanya Burrows, the mayor's press secretary, told The Diary his Twitter page is now administered by his campaign team, and directed questions to David Lewis.

Lewis, a longtime press secretary to Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark and strategic political adviser to Brown on his re-election campaign, told The Diary the tweet "was inadvertently made by a campaign helper who was not paying attention to events happening around the country.

"It was a rare occurrence but a complete cock-up," he said.

Lewis, who admits he is not au fait with social media, said Brown's campaign team was responsible for his tweets "while he is in campaign mode ... to keep well away from any inference that his campaign is using council resources".

Politicians running for (re)election, who don't run their own social media accounts, should be particularly careful about what messages they peddle. The image Brown posted on Friday was that of a civic leader out of touch at a crucial time.

Meanwhile, Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown told the DomPost this week she's stopped using her Twitter account @WellingtonMayor after an opponent accused her of using it for pre-election self-promotion. The Auditor General's Office stipulates public funds administered by councils should not be used for electioneering, or to benefit one candidate over another.

Shihad issues denial

A Fairfax Sunday newspaper reported Kiwi rockers Shihad were planning to fly to war-torn Cairo to record a new album, but the band issued a scathing statement on their Facebook page on Monday saying the story was wrong.

"Contrary to reports in New Zealand media yesterday Shihad are not travelling to Egypt to record a record. Our management advised the media outlet of this last week and contrary to this information they decided to publish anyway," the band wrote on Facebook. "The published interview content is a month old and pre-dates the recent escalation of unrest in Egypt. Given the recent events Shihad cancelled plans and wholeheartedly support the Egyptian people in their pursuit of a peaceful and lasting solution to the current unrest."

The band are no strangers to conflict in the Middle East. After the September 11 attacks in the US, they changed their name because it sounded too much like jihad. They became known as Pacifier, but switched back to Shihad in 2004. This time around, Egypt sounds too much like conflict.