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