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Online platforms open up alternative way to fund creative projects

By Tommy Lee

David Wong had always dreamed of producing a spy movie on his smartphone but he thought it would be a hard slog saving up the money to make it. He never imagined he would be able to release the finished 10-minute movie this month, let alone that his project would be funded by internet users he has never met.

The amateur filmmaker used a local crowdfunding platform, FringeBacker to raise the funds. Crowdfunding is a way to collect money from individuals online to support projects or works. Creators post their ideas on crowdfunding platforms and set a funding goal for a specified period. In return, backers are given rewards which can range from a sample of the product they backed, a credit, a share in the profits or a souvenir. In recent years, online crowdfunding has become increasingly popular in the United States and Europe, although it is less well known in Hong Kong.

Wong tried crowdfunding following a friend’s suggestion. He checked out the platforms and saw there were innovative art projects online that were similar to his proposal, so he gave it a go last year.
He set a goal of raising HK$ 25,000 in two months and offered backers a range of rewards according to their contribution – from a DVD of the film, to T-shirts, a cameo appearance and even an executive producer credit.

The target sum was achieved after just three weeks and Wong ended up raising HK$85,400. Wong says he feels lucky that he raised so much money. “I’d never tried crowdfunding before, so I wasn’t too confident about getting a lot of money from a crowdfunding platform, especially as artistic creations don’t always guarantee monetary rewards. That’s why I went for a small amount.”

Wong’s initial plan was to supplement what he raised with his own savings, but he ended up being able to pay for the whole production, including location shooting in Japan, from the crowdfunding payments.

Wong thinks his success could inspire others. “It’s not that Hong Kong doesn’t want to do anything or doesn’t like to create.” Wong says. “It’s just that there isn’t a way to get started.”

Maryann Hwee Teng-teng, executive director of FringeBacker, one of several crowdfunding platforms in Hong Kong, says art and cultural projects are more likely to succeed on crowdfunding platforms.

Hwee explains that in crowdfunding, there are many creative ways to interact with backers and inject fun elements when presenting a person or enterprise’s image.

In the real world, most investors only focus on the monetary return of a project. As they offer little or no monetary reward, it is hard for creative projects to get financial backing. It was with this in mind that Hwee set up FringeBacker to support artists.

“Many people have the talent but they may not have the luck,” she says. However, this does not mean that submitting proposals to the platform will guarantee “luck”. Hwee says many proposals are rejected or need to be resubmitted because they are not specific or concrete enough. The platform also charges a commission fee if a target sum is achieved. Hwee says project creators have to take the initiative to run the projects themselves, with the guidance of the platform staff. She tries to be as hands-off as she can.

“The best support is to let them try to do it themselves,” she says. “Then, they will appreciate what they did. It is not helping if we just find a backer to back you $500 or $1,000.”

Besides art and cultural projects, Hwee adds that products with good ideas are likely to succeed too, but there are no guarantees.