Derek Ting, tech exec turned filmmaker, pursues his passion
You don't have to be 'artsy' to have ideas, says Hong Kong-based New Yorker, who's been able to make, and act in, movies on his own terms
Derek Ting is comfortable in front of the camera, his sharp features making him an ideal leading man. And he has an equally sharp dress sense: his suit and pin-striped shirt on the day we meet wouldn't look out of place among the executives inhabiting the highest floors of IFC.
In fact, the New York native has straddled both the corporate and creative worlds. He was a successful tech executive before finding his true calling: film. And for Ting, the career shift came after a life-changing event for millions of people - the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011.
"The 9/11 attacks kind of changed my life," he says from his studio in Ap Lei Chau. "I was raised for a life in the corporate world where you work hard until you retire. But all that changed for me after 9/11 and I turned to acting. And for those people who say you can't shift from corporate to creative, that you can't have both, well, that's totally not true. Everyone has ideas. You can't say certain people have better ideas just because they're more 'artsy'."
Ting's love affair with acting started while studying at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. "Acting always gave me an amazing feeling, but I never thought of it as a career," he says.
He landed national commercials and bit parts on TV shows. But opportunities for bigger roles were scarce. "I was pursuing acting part-time, but I realised you can't take a back seat. Chances to do well are so small for anyone - no matter what colour, race or religion - so I decided to pursue my passion."
Seeing better opportunities in Asia, in 2006 Ting moved to Hong Kong, where he worked at CNN as a producer - "my first time at being a professional in the media".
And while he enjoyed the work, film was never far from his thoughts, especially after landing a small role in Largo Winch, an international French production starring British actress Kristin Scott Thomas. When filming concluded, Ting said: "I realised then that my true calling was feature films."
He answered that calling by writing, producing and starring in the financial thriller Supercapitalist. Six years in the making and filmed in Hong Kong, New York and Macau, the film was launched in America in 2012 across 10 major cities and simultaneously released on video-on-demand, iTunes, Amazon and other major platforms.
It also starred Hong Kong's Kenneth Tsang Kong (Die Another Day, Rush Hour 2), Richard Ng Yiu-hon (who has appeared in more than 100 international and Hong Kong films) and Golden Globe-nominated actor Linus Roache ( Batman Begins, Law & Order).
Ting says the film, in which he played a maverick New York hedge fund trader sent to Hong Kong to orchestrate a hostile takeover of a tycoon's enterprise, filled a gap as it showed Hong Kong as an international and sophisticated city rather than one run by triads. He even researched the script by partying with bankers in Central.
Now he's back with a romantic drama titled Always.
"The romantic drama genre is not something I would normally gravitate towards, but I really wanted to create characters who people care about, characters who are universally appealing," he says.
To get the project off the ground, Ting turned to crowdsourcing site Indiegogo, and if all goes to plan, it will premiere in Hong Kong in October, followed by worldwide digital distribution. Although at the time of print the campaign was 35 per cent funded with 11 days left, he says he has faith in the crowdsourcing concept.
"If you go and check out our campaign, you get a better idea of who we are and what our goals are," he says. "It's a great way to connect with people in a centralised place - a great way to galvanise a community."
And the Indiegogo proposal looks slick. In the film, Ting plays Liam Chan, a successful lawyer in Hong Kong who gets romantically involved with Yan Li, heiress to a hotel empire on the mainland. (Li is played by Danni Wang, star of the 2015 films Misfits and East of Hollywood.) The film has already enjoyed some success. It premiered at the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival in the US in April, which led to a Los Angeles Film Review Awards nomination for best cinematography. Adding more weight is the addition of British sound engineer Ben Wilkins, who won an Oscar for his work on the 2014 film Whiplash.
But film is not Ting's only creative outlet. He is also co-founder of Random Art Workshop (RAW), a cutting-edge media company engaged in content production, distribution and financing. "One of the real strengths of Random Art Workshop is that we bring together very practical thinking; we define ourselves. My partner Joyce [Yung] and I created RAW, and our philosophy is that art is for everyone.
"And we don't follow what other people do - that traditionally a movie should be X or Y. We follow what we think is right. That's what it takes to be a leader in the industry; you can't just copy what other people do. That's capitalism. We're more interested in being creative, in making lives better."