“Supercapitalist:” a super film project

betty ming liu Art, Inspiration, Money 19 Comments

For those of you with unfulfilled dreams, meet Derek Ting. With one film credit and a handful of bit TV parts to his name, he could’ve been just another struggling actor. Instead, he’s starring in a thriller set in the world of high finance — a vehicle that he wrote and produced himself. And how he’s done this is a tale to inspire us all.

“Supercapitalist” is about Manhattan hedge fund manager Connor Lee (Derek), a self-doubting college drop-out with superb analytical skills. The boss transfers him to the firm’s Hong Kong office, where he gets caught up in a dirty deal that tests his character. Along the way, he encounters hot babes, hot cars and hot stocks. All this, in a flick shot for barely $500,000.

The movie is ranked No. 6 among independent movies selling on iTunes, where the list of positive comments from satisfied customers keeps growing. It is also enjoying favorable write-ups from business reporters at both Forbes magazine and the New York Times DealBook blog.

But top movie critics have been brutal. “Dry as a bank note,” declared the New York Times. The New York Post was especially mean: “A Wal-Mart ‘Wall Street,’ the hedge fund drama ‘Supercapitalist’ is junk merchandise stamped ‘Made in China.'”

Ouch. Then again, congratulations to Derek! The fact that major players deem “Supercapitalist” worth rating means that he’s  in the game — at a time when the game is reorganizing. After all, critics don’t make or break pictures anymore. In today’s Internet-driven global economy, entrepreneurs rule with the power to directly cultivate their own own audiences. Our dreams, our markets!

“Supercapitalist” had its Aug. 10th New York premiere in a packed East Village theater. The multi-ethnic crowd featured numerous Asian faces both in the audience and on the big screen. Up until that moment, the only thrillers I’d ever watched were slick blockbusters made for tens of millions of dollars, like one of my favorites, “The Bourne Identity.”

I’ll admit, sitting through my first low-budget thriller was a bit of a culture shock. But “Supercapitalist” looks pretty good and the story hangs together. As a movie with a racially-diverse cast led by Derek, I also liked how he worked with his born identity!

While the critics keep this flick in their crosshairs, Derek is leading us to the crossroads of a new way to do the business of art. Do-it-yourself is the way to go. Remember, he’s only 36. Imagine all the on-the-job-training he’s gotten on “Supercapitalist” as its leading man, screenwriter, producer and salesman. Think of what we would’ve lost if he had played by the old rules, not done the movie and was simply honing his craft in acting classes and going through the motions of endless casting calls. How boring!

I’m also extremely impressed by a little exchange during the Q&A session following the “Supercapitalist” premiere. One of the earnest young Asian-American women in the audience asked him about being a community role model. He gently deflected the question by saying  he made this movie for one reason: He loves acting. Period.

As he said to me afterwards in a phone interview on the role model issue, “I think we’re past that. Why is it even necessary to go there?” Derek, a second-generation Asian-American, says that when reviewers refer to the movie’s protagonist as Asian-American, “it annoys me…Why am I Asian-American? I’m just a character.”

Thank you! So let’s get past all limiting ourselves. Derek says he did not make an Asian-American film per se. He’s just working with a context he knows. “I think the movie is international,” he says. “That’s why I did it in English. A lot of people will identify with this film. A lot of people are returning to their homelands, learning about themselves and figuring out what they want to do in life.”

Here’s what else I learned about him during our chat:

Derek  grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley region, an Orange County native. His parents are Chinese of Fujianese heritage, who immigrated from the Philippines. Mom is a housewife, Dad is a doctor and Derek is the youngest of three siblings. He said his parents are “very cool” and always supported his ambitions.

At Cornell University, he majored in statistics. During his senior year, he took an acting class, was hooked, did a little theater, then forget about it all once he graduated. He came to Manhattan to be an analyst of pension benefit statistics. After a year, he jumped to DoubleClick, where he rose to IT project manager (much later, the company was bought by Google for $3.1 billion).

The office was on Broad Street, right by the World Trade Center. While he wasn’t there on Sept. 11, 2001, he went back to work right afterwards. Being around Ground Zero changed him. “The smell was the worst of it,” he said. “It made me feel like I wanted to do something different.”

You guessed it. He enrolled in acting classes at T. Schreiber Studio and NYU, ordered up headshots, found an agent and started moonlighting in TV commercials and print ads. There were also bit parts in experimental theater and on TV shows and a stint volunteering as the president of Asian American Film Lab, a filmmakers’ organization. But real acting? Not so much.

Which led to Act 2: Derek moved to Hong Kong, initially as TV producer for CNN. On the side, he began writing “Supercapitalist.” He said he was close to failing countless times but kept pushing. The last three years of this six-year venture were so intense that he went full time on script rewrites, investor meetings, production schedules and distribution headaches. The movie was finally shot over the course of 20 days in Hong Kong, six days in New York City and two days in Macao. His wife Joyce Yung is a co-producer.

Derek isn’t ready to talk about his next project. But maybe we’ll find clues in knowing that he he describes himself as “a popcorn guy” who loves superhero movies, action flicks and commercial blockbusters. For personal heroes, he is inspired by Matt Damon, Will Smith and Sylvester Stallone. (Btw, can you imagine a film critic ever reviewing a Will Smith vehicle and referring to him as ‘the African-American character?!'”)

In closing, here’s some advice from Derek om making dreams real: “Just go out and do it. Be smart about it and do it. Don’t be waiting for someone to write your ticket. There are no lucky breaks; it’s just how hard you work. Just be honest with yourself about what you want…it took me a long time to figure out what I want.”

On his blog, Derek describes himself as “just an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things.” Don’t we all wish we could say that about ourselves? And yes, we can!

P.S. — If you want to know more about Derek, here are the links to his LinkedIn resume profile, IMDb actor’s profile, “Supercapitalist” Facebook page. I just bought a copy of “Supercapitalist” on iTunes; maybe you will too.

P.P.S — Special thanks to my friend Rachel Sha, the well-connected real estate impressario. She took me and a bunch of her buddies to see “Supercapitalist.” Later, she introduced me to Joyce and Derek. We all need supporters like Rachel on our side. Here’s to friendship! xo

 

Comments 19

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  2. The immortal Joseph Campbell said “follow your bliss.” There is no better career advice, especially for the young. I tell my sons “go where your heart leads you. Do what it is you truly feel called to do. Take the chance. It gets harder and harder as you get older.” Derek Ting is wise to try. He now knows more about what he can indeed accomplish and knowing that, can accomplish still greater things.
    The trailer looks excellent. As for the critics – most of them are self-absorbed wannabes who make themselves seem clever by acid criticism of others. I say that as one who has written a great many reviews of books, films and theater. My guiding principal has always been my grandmother’s advice: “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” Poor work will sink of its own accord. The reviewer is more useful, I think, in finding the good in the arts and promoting that and it is a rare work that has no redeeming aspects at all.

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    Thank you, Toby! As a fellow parent and writer, I am totally support your advice. You and Derek are lucky to have had parents that let you live out your dreams. That’s why I am branding myself as a “recovering daughter…” the rest of us can get there too, if we start by helping ourselves.

    Two more things…I am switching from posting on Tuesday to Monday, which is my day off. Which means that I can feel free to chat with you in the comments section. Impossible to do that while I’m at work. :)

    The other thing is that Derek gave me tons of great quotes. I couldn’t fit everything into this post, which is already so much longer than usual. So maybe I can sprinkle more info about him in the comments section, depending on what you all have to say.

  4. Nice article, and I fully support Derek and his film.

    One thing that is a bit surprising is the role model aspect. What is so wrong about being a positive role model for other Asians? We actually need more of that. I think many minorities embrace the chance to show they can make it.

    In America, we are definitely not beyond it if you take a look at how some minorities are still treated today. For example, how many Asians get casted for roles that are even meant for Asians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nightingale_casting_controversy).

    I guess it may be perspective, but I don’t see how this limits oneself. It is more about empowering others. I think African-Americans don’t typically believe that being a strong African-American role model limits themselves.

    The reason he made the movie – he loves acting. That is great and should be the core focus. If you happen to be representing a group that is grossly underrepresented, great. You can mentor, help, and influence others to change a negative perception. I hope someday I will be lucky enough to have the chance to do so.

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      CK, I knew someone would call me out on this point about role models. Thanks for raising it!

      I can’t speak for Derek but here’s my take…yes, of course we should give back to our diverse communities and help others. I love doing that. It’s a priority for me. But it’s not the reason for pursuing my passions. I do what I do because my heart of heart demands it. I am wired to write/paint/draw/collage/whatever. It’s my reason for being.

      When my work inspires others, I’m so, so happy. But I don’t want the burden of “role model.” That implies that people view me as some kind of template for their behavior. It also puts me above the person who is modeling after me. And that’s bleh. Many of us come from cultures where relationships are based on respect for those with higher rank or greater experience. Speaking for myself, once I let myself bow before a teacher, respected artist or whomever, I instantly lose my ability to have a truly energetic, two-way open conversation.

      The role model thing is paralyzing, at least in my opinion. Once I start trying to be a role model, to set an example, my work loses its vitality and honesty. I start worrying about people’s reactions, which muffles my ability to hear my own voice. I have found this true in my creative projects as well as in my experiences as a college journalism professor and even as a mother. The key to inspiring people is to not try to inspire. So I simply try to be in the moment and true to myself as I live my life. If people get anything out of being with me, that’s nice. :)

      Does this make any sense?

  5. Hi Betty, thanks for the response. Greatly appreciated.

    At a high level, I completely agree. Passion should drive your work/art and pursuing the goal to be a role model is not the right path. Pursuit of passion is the only sustainable way. My hope is that we do not shy away from being a role model if that happens to come along.

    I keep hearing Charles Barkley through this dialogue…this is actually a somewhat-related good read (from 1993!): http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/1993/06/27/i-m-not-a-role-model.html

    I guess people define role model in different ways. I wouldn’t necessarily label someone as a role model to mean that I want to copy their life in every single aspect, though I can see how some people may actually do that. I typically think of a role model as someone who is a positive example for having done something. It’s a bit of validation/inspiration that makes others inspired/empowered to do the same.

    Barack Obama, for example, may inspire an African-American kid to try to become president whereas before that, maybe some have had that dream before but this validation is even more powerful. Now is Obama’s whole identity and life revolve on being a role model? No, but it’s a nice to have someone to play that role.

    I believe the caveat you are talking about of bowing down is more idolizing than treating as a role model, but it is definitely something that happens. I can see how people do not want to be in that position.

    So yes, what you say makes sense, and I agree. Your goal isn’t to become a role model, but if it is a byproduct of your passions, that is great. That positive influence is a good thing to foster and encourage others, REGARDLESS of say ethnicity. For example, Derek can be a role model to anyone who wants to create films. I think that’s great. Influencing an ethnicity at the same time is great too especially if that minority group has challenges already in that field due to cultural barriers.

    Whether we like it or not, we still have not reached racial equality in this world. Look at the commentary during Jeremy Lin’s explosion (though there is a lot of positive support too) which shows how much racism and misperceptions that still exist. Yet, has he inspired a lot of Asian kids to think they can play in the NBA. I’m willing to gamble yes. Do we want to be pigeon-holed as only an Asian? No. That has to be a frustration too. Look at the stats. Look at the movie I made. I think the desire is to be evaluated on our work regardless of ethnicity. But please, inspire and make people believe too. It’s a hard thing to balance.

    Helping people believe they can accomplish something is powerful. Thanks!

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      CK, we’re talking about the same thing in many ways. And you spell out the issues so clearly and on a level that I relate to. I guess I detest the phrase “role model.” But if you ask me about my personal heroes, that’s different!

      I would also say that Barack Obama inspired more than just black folks. He was a breakthrough that went beyond one community. Same goes for Jeremy Lin, don’t you think? He has fans of every race and color — filmaker and Knicks loyalist Spike Lee, an African American, can’t get enough of him!

      Maybe that’s my point. I don’t want to model for a community. I just want to be me and have people relate to me because I’m Betty. Seems to me that once we get beyond the bonds related to color as the unifying factor, we are really connecting soul-to-soul on a pure, human level. Yes?

  6. Agreed, we actually agree on a lot of things even if some things I present may not be clear.

    So yes, whatever phrasing is used, the bottom line is people influence and inspire others.

    Yes, I’m not saying Barack or Jeremy only influence a single community. Sorry if that wasn’t clear. You can see that in my phrasing that Derek inspires anyone who wants to create films. Sentence before that notes that there is influence beyond ethnicity. That was never my assertion that only a single community is influenced. What I would say which others may disagree with is that the impact on certain communities are more powerful.

    Yes, Jackie Robinson likely influenced many people, but the impact on the African-American people is greater. Yes, Rosa Parks influenced many people, but again, the impact is greater. Yes Jeremy Lin influenced many people, but the impact on Asian-American men is likely greater.

    Finally, fair enough. Some people don’t want to be a model for a community. That is a choice that people have the right to. In case you couldn’t already tell though, I wish more Asians would embrace that if they are given the chance. Why? There really aren’t enough role models though there are more these days than before.

    I do recognize the ideals of connecting on a soul-to-soul on a pure, human level. I am hopeful for that day but also recognize that we are simply not there. Back to the Jeremy example, why did many articles (a lot, not all) focus on his ethnicity? In the ideal world, there would only be stories about how great his basketball playing is and nothing else. Get an even more crass view by looking at people’s comments on articles, you get some great praises but also a lot of racist comments (an Asian who can finally drive, how can he shoot without opening his eyes, etc.).

    Same parallel when Barack became president. Why was it such a big deal that we elected a black president? Why were not articles just about what a great president he can be? Would it be nice if we were there. Yes. I agree with you there. Reality says otherwise though.

    I definitely did not grow up being unaware of my ethnicity and feeling I was just me. We are not pure humans yet. I have felt the sting of racism. I have felt positive Asian role models lacking. This is one person’s experience though. Others may have not ever felt different or always felt fairly treated.

    We all have identities. Olympics just passed and think about what that is about. People identify with their country and represent their country (and yes, often multi-ethnicities in a single country). People identify with their colleges and colleges want their famous alumni to be role models. Ethnicity is another identity. We can not avoid identities.

    So, until we get there, I hope to inspire others. Yes, all people, not just Asians. But, I want to inspire Asians to know they can accomplish in areas they may not have believed possible before. I wish I had more Asian role models growing up. Time to work on my basketball skills so I can actually become one…haha…j/k.

    I hope this all makes sense and is clear. No strong arming anyone to be or not be a role model. Just presenting a viewpoint. Thanks for the dialogue.

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    Aha! CK, now we’re talkin’. You’re right, we cannot avoid our born identities. But we can bust out of the chains imposed on us by others…

    We are on the same page on the issue of needing inspiration. And I’m glad you explained why Obama & Co. are special to their specific communities. Now, may I suggest a switch in terminology? Instead of calling these folks “role models,” how about referring to them as “personal heroes” to their communities?

    Words count! Back in the early ’90s, I was a New York Daily News columnist covering diversity issues. At one point, I wrote an outraged piece with this theme: Don’t call me a minority. There’s nothing minor about me. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a minority!

    So let’s go back to the Q&A right after the “Supercapitalist” premiere. A young Asian woman raises her hand and has a question for Derek:
    “I love your movie. It’s so different! How do you feel about being a role model for the Asian American community?”

    Cut!

    Let’s re-shoot the scene. She asks this instead:
    “Derek, I love your movie because it’s going to make a difference. How would you feel about becoming a personal hero to the Asian American community?”

    I don’t know about you, but this second scene gives me a whole different feeling. I’ll bet Derek would have engaged with a very heartfelt, interesting answer.

    Personal hero vs. role model….

    I find the role model concept suffocating. It bespeaks of bereft communities and individuals, sitting on the fringe, in an inferior position. The role model earnestly helps others to gain a footing in a larger more powerful society.

    But personal heroes are fun! Just thinking about them makes us glow. They provide a spark, a light, a reason to smile. They have won our hearts just by being who they are. And very often, they are the ones who challenge the social order. A hero knows how to break rules.

    If any of this makes sense to you, CK, I ask you now…do you still want to be a role model? Isn’t there an even greater opportunity to inspire others, on our own terms? :)

    P.S. — Parting thought…I don’t think it’s possible to ask you or anyone if you want to be a hero. Isn’t it kinda ludicrous to try planning that? It’s also rather impossible. Heroes just go about living their lives when, in the moment, they are called to act. Stuff happens and they are there to roll with it.

  8. Pingback: Three Asian American works I have not read or seen but might recommend | bigWOWO

  9. I Betty,
    This disparity between the ‘Critics’ and a movie being a good movie is not all that unusual. There was a movie that was released in 1946 that the Critics hated and was a total ‘flop’ . The general view of the movie was so bad that the studio didn’t even want to pay the small amount to renew the copyright. As a result TV studios could play the movie for free around Christmas (it was set around Christmas time ). It is now listed as #11 on AFI 100 years… 100 movies list. What was this movie? Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”
    The reason the critics at that time didn’t like “It’s a wonderful Life” was due to the TIME in which it was released. Most critics said it was “too depressing” having been released just as the country was coming out of the Great Depression. Critics opinions are in grained in the current culture. There are always good movies don’t fair well simply because they came out at the wrong time. Quite often these become ‘cult classics’ and even, in the case mentioned a classic.
    It seems like Supercapitalist:” is of this type of movie. A victim to the culture. Let’s face it, memories of the stock market crash and people such as Bernie Evers are still in peoples psyche. No critic wants to recommend a movie which is this close to reality. It is just too painful. However time and better day will come one day and this movie will perhaps have great merit. So scarf up a copy, if it is that good it may become a ‘cult classic’ one day!

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      Anonymous, thank you for sharing! Frank Capra’s movie is a good example in making your point. As for me, I am a proud owner of a copy of “Supercapitalist. ” Derek’s project’s are on my radar and I can’t wait to see what he does next. The prospect of watching him grow as an artist and entrepreneur is going to be fun. Hope you’ll stop by and chat again with us soon. :)

  10. This is what I love most about this blog…feeling connected to things outside my immediate circle. By chance, I could’ve heard about Derek Ting, but imagine if I was left to that? I wouldn’t be so wowed right now, planning to get at least 3 or 4 others to read this post and do a Google search on Derek Ting. I’m about to do that myself!

    His story is quite inspirational, not because he is Asian or American or human. I agree with him writing from a place he knows about (that’s just being authentic) without trying to fall into some stereotypical stuff. Sure, his ethnicity is a part of who he is, but just a part. His role on film is just a character who happens to be Asian-American.

    Since he mentioned Will Smith as a personal hero, I think of so many films Will Smith acted in where the characters could’ve been of any background. Sometimes actors just have to walk in and go after roles they’re not being targeted for. Or, as in this case, create your own role…you know what you can do best! Halle Berry has said a few times that she has auditioned for parts that did not want an African-American character or even a female. Nailing the audition would cause the directors to not only cast her, but sometimes change parts of the script to accomodate and welcome her ethnicity. I don’t think that’s just because she’s Halle Berry, I think it’s because she refused to hear no. Actress/producer Nia Vardalos also took matters into her own hands when she wasn’t getting the roles she wanted. She wrote and starred in a one-woman show that caught the attention of Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks and lo and behold, there came My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    I think about one of my son’s favorite entertainers, Justin Bieber, who rose to fame because he jumped on the DIY bandwagon and uploaded videos of himself performing. After my son bugged my for nearly 2 summers, I finally agreed to let him create his own YouTube page today so he can share with cyberspace whatever he wants. He may not sing or be the next Bieber, but he will certainly be the first ”just him” figuring out who he is and having fun doing it. (He’s on the phone in his room right now, talking to his best friend and brainstorming).

    Kudos to Derek Ting, tell him he’s a Superrolemodel and I’m planning to check out the trailer right after I write this.

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      Well said, Skye! You explain so clearly the balancing act of acknowledging our ethnicity without being confined by it. You’re also a very adventurous mom. So that’s what kids want these days…their own YouTube channel???! And the toddlers want iPads. Wow.

      If that world has changed, then there’s gotta be room for a guy like Derek Ting who wants to play a hedge fund manager, who just happens to be of Asian American heritage. If Will Smith and Halle Berry can do it, then Derek can too!

  11. Betty,

    Sorry, your comment got caught in my spam filter! Oi. At least WP could send me a notification!

    Thanks so much for recommending this. And congrats to Derek Ting!

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  12. Hey There Everyone! And Hi Betty! I just wanted to thank you all for the encouraging words and glad to see a discussion is blossoming. After a long trip across the states, I am back in Hong Kong to launch here and Singapore. Wishing everyone my best!

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      Derek, how nice of you to drop by. This is yet another reason why you’re going to be a smashing success — you take time to remember us little people. Thanks for commenting on this post. Thanks too for your good wishes. Looking forward to hearing more about your progress. Good luck!

  13. You made some decent points there. I looked on the web
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