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  • Together with her family and friends, Giam Lay Hoon formed an investors’ club. (Photo courtesy: The Straits Times)

If you have S$200,000 (US$142,000) to spare, you could buy yourself a piece of the Hollywood dream.

Singapore-based Indonesian businessman Eddy Syahputra, 35, has done that. The owne r of two skincare product companies invested over US$200,000 with a Los Angeles-based film-maker who is making a biopic of convicted Wall Street trader Bernie Madoff.

The Singapore permanent resident was introduced to writer-producer-director Edmund Druilhet by a friend.

Syahputra, who put his savings into the deal, accepts the fact that there is a chance he might not see his money again.

He says: “It is a high-risk investment but when there is a high risk, there is a high return.”

The $1.4-million movie (US$998,000), considered extremely low-budget by Hollywood standards, has no star actors but Syahputra thinks its topicality will help it clinch a deal for cinema, TV or DVD distribution.

The first-time film investor also feels the investment has helped him gain entry into the private club of the Hollywood elite, contacts he hopes will help his beauty product business.

If the movie, due to be completed around the end of this year, finds an audience, there is another payoff for him.

He and his wife have roles in the film and his skincare line is also featured.

“Put t ing my pr oduc t s in the movie was an incentive. Being an actor was also new and interesting.

I have had a desire to be an actor but I never pursued it,” says the father of twin 4 1/2-year-old girls with wife Akiko Yokota, 39.

Drawn by the promises of profit and exposure, he i s the kind of punter who may choose to take a few short-cuts to break into showbusiness, industry experts say.

Visiting associate professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Asia Gillian Gordon, who teaches film-producing, is sceptical whether a low-budget project based on the life of a millionaire can be made.

“How will you have the helicopters, the furs and the house in the Hamptons in the movie?” she asks.

Despite this, she believes that if investors follow good practices, such as hiring professional script-readers and lawyers who specialise in media, the speculative risk in film-funding is lower than, say, opening a restaurant.

It seems that some serious investors believe this too, as The Straits Times has unearthed a few people here who think it worthwhile to park their money in film projects.

Stephen Clark, chief operating officer of Singapore-based film production company RGM Entertainment, which is producing Point Break 2, a sequel to the 1991 cult hit starring Patrick Swayze, says: “The film business has a certain allure. Who doesn’t love watching films? Investing in projects can also give investors an inside track on how the business works. There are film premieres, set visits, thank-you credits. A major investor may be listed as an executive producer.”

One of RGM’s investors is Frank Ong. The 45-year-old Malaysian and Singapore permanent resident, an oil trader, has been a shareholder in the company for three years. He says he invested in the company because it has a track record of making wellregarded movies featuring recognisable names such as Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver.

Although he declines to say how much he has invested, he has also put money in individual movies produced by RGM. While few would think of movies as a surefire investment, he is no flighty fan blinded by glamour. He says profitability is paramount and that it is rare for an investor to lose everything, as long as a project is developed in a professional manner.

“It is unlikely for any movie not to have any viewers at all,” he says. “The beauty of investing in movies is the revenue does not end with the box office but continues with DVDs, cable TV and in-flight entertainment.”

Although he did not invest in Point Break 2 because his funds were tied up elsewhere, he thinks the action film has great prospects: “The original Point Break was an international success that achieved a cult-like status.”

He says his investment in RGM has so far been profitable although he declined to give details. Its movies, such as the mystery-drama The Girl In The Park (2007, starring Kate Bosworth and Sigourney Weaver) and the crime drama Winged Creatures (2008, starring Kate Beckinsale and Dakota Fanning), have been released in cinemas and on DVD in the United States and Europe.

He points out that not all movie investments are equal. Investing in a professional production outfit such as RGM is different from putting money in highly personal and artistic movies destined for the arthouse cinema or Singapore’s tiny local market. The small scale, limited payoff and high risk of these Singapore productions do not interest him, he says.

“The real money is in Europe and the United States, where there is a bigger market and less piracy,” he says.

Another investor who is serious about movies is Giam Lay Hoon, 46, a lawyer by training and an experienced private investor.

Giam, her husband, mother, father-in-law and friends put $5.6 million (US$3.9 million) into the company making the animated feature Astro Boy.

They are now minority shareholders in Hong Kong-based Imagi, the animation studio that created and co-produced the picture.

Astro Boy is the robot lad from the 1960s manga created by acclaimed Japanese cartoonist Osamu Tezuka.

The character is known worldwide through comics, TV cartoons and films. The movie is the group’s first foray into the movie business. Astro Boy’s US$65 million budget is large by Asian standards. The movie grossed US$7 million over the weekend when it opened in the US.

Giam jumped at the chance to be involved with an Asian animation project with standards that she says are as “as good as Pixar’s or Dreamworks”. The story’s central theme of love between father and son also struck a chord with the mother of two teenagers.

Declining to give exact figures, she says Imagi’s Hong Kong-listed share pr ice has cl imbed beyond what she paid for them.

Imagi also worked on the financially successful animated feature TMNT (2007), based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, and its next project is Gatchaman, a movie based on the popular anime series.

In contrast to Ong and Giam, who are drawn by profit considerations, another category of investors seeks creative input. Prominent plastic surgeon Woffles Wu, 49, is credited as producer and executive producer in the 2006 independently made drama, Singapore Dreaming. It was written, directed and produced by the husband-and-wife team of Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen.

“I consider myself a film-maker,” he says, albeit one who has no time to create and lead a project from scratch. He was involved in the film only because “Colin and Yen Yen were very much going in the same artistic direction as myself”.

Goh and Woo declined to comment for this story.

Dr Wu and the group of investors he roped in raised $650,000 (US$463,000) of the film’s almost $1-million (US$712,000) budget. The box-of f ice gross was $452,586 (US$322,000) although residual income from DVD and rights sales could mean the investors might recoup their money in the future.

Dr Wu had a say in the script, the choice of actors and also flew to New York, where the film was edited, to offer input. The man who paints and has acted on stage, TV and film believes the investor-creative partner model is the correct one for a mature film industry.

The person footing the bill should help steer the production in a direction that makes sense to him, he says.

“I would invest provided I have some say in the creative direction. Directors should realise their responsiblity to investors and well-wishers,” he says.

These days, he is often approached by young film-makers asking for funding but they baulk at his conditions.

He says: “In Singapore, we think the director is the film-maker and the executive producer is a figurehead, the uncle who puts up the money. I don’t want to be that uncle.” (By John Lui in Singapore/ The Straits Times/ Asia News Network)

MySinchew 2009.11.11



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