Lehman Bankers Chase Film Dream, Ivy-League Investors
Adam Garrett went into the credit crisis an equity quant trader for Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in Tokyo. He came out Guy Orlebar, director, film financier and producer of “Future Fighters,” a sci-fi action movie starring Kill Bill’s Gordon Liu.
As banks and insurance companies wrote down $1.8 trillion after the September 2008 collapse of Lehman, a few of the 346,000 workers they fired invested their leaving pay in pursuing dreams. Others left voluntarily for work outside finance -- from protecting tigers to making skis. Lehman’s Tokyo office produced two film makers. One was Oxford-educated Garrett, who uses his two middle names for film-related work; the other was Eric Nyari, whose first movie, “Wakiyaku Monogatari,” opens in Tokyo next month.
Orlebar and Nyari are competing for backers among former colleagues, clients and a network that spans Asia’s investment, Ivy League alumni and independent film communities. Both have one film under their belts and are raising funds for a second. Nyari, 28, hones his pitch at Havana Cafe where he and co- producer Engin Yenidunya, a Yale graduate, hold a weekly fund raiser disguised as a cocktail party called “Take Your Cut.”
“I have all the numbers you need,” Yenidunya tells Ozlem Battal, a human resources executive for a U.S. health care company in Tokyo, at one such gathering last month, handing her an investment prospectus and steering her to a quieter corner to talk. Battal said later she will invest in the project because she “likes the focus of creating a good artistic product.”
Nyari and Yenidunya gathered more than $1 million for their first film “Wakiyaku Monogatari,” and have raised the same amount for their second, “Cut,” about a Japanese filmmaker who tangles with the Yakuza while trying to find money for a movie. Their production company, Tokyo Story, aims to give filmmakers outside Japan’s movie establishment a chance to make a feature.
Orlebar’s first picture, “Lost in Love,” a semi- autobiographical love story that cost HK$1 million ($128,662), is set in Hong Kong, where Orlebar was living at the time. It was shot over the course of a week in August 2007 and screened at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival and Toronto’s Indie Can Film Festival in 2008.
Orlebar, 32, wrote, directed and produced the movie after attending a two-day film course run by Hollywood’s Dov S-S Simens, whose former students include Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie and Baz Luhrmann.
Taking Simens’s advice, Orlebar divided the HK$1 million budget by 10 investors. “Being with Lehman I got 80 percent of the money from colleagues,” he said in a telephone interview from Tokyo, where he moved in 2001 to complete an MBA. “They may have laughed, but they also invested.”
“Lost in Love” won a Gold Kahuna Award for excellence in film-making at the 2009 Honolulu International Film Festival, before going straight to DVD with no theatrical release.
“People haven’t gotten their investment back, but I’m very proud of the movie,” Orlebar said.
Orlebar and Nyari didn’t cross paths at Lehman and met for the first time at the Aug. 26 Havana Cafe party after being contacted by Bloomberg News.
“He’s more into genre films, like anime,” said Nyari, who started in film helping his father on a proposal to restore “Rashomon,” Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic. “I like more classical cinema, more drama and art-house films.”
Orlebar said he likes the way Yenidunya tapped into his Yale network and may contact Oxford alumni living in Asia.
“We’re competitors in a sense, but the type of investor that would want to invest in what he’s doing would, I imagine, be very different,” Orlebar said after the meeting.
The Havana Cafe meetings mix mostly non-Japanese traders, fund managers and executives Nyari and Yenidunya know from their careers in finance with the Japanese actors, actresses, directors and writers they’re working with.
“In New York, London and Paris it’s not such a rare thing for young professionals with spare money to invest in films,” Nyari said. “In Tokyo it’s rare.”
“Wakiyaku Monogatari,” (Cast Me If You Can), is a romantic comedy about a middle-aged Japanese actor (Toru Masaoka) who gains the help of an aspiring actress (Hiromi Nagasaku) when his goal of finally winning a leading role is jeopardized by a scandal. The film, directed by Atsushi Ogata, a Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate, opens Oct. 23 at Human Trust Cinema in Tokyo.
Nyari and Yenidunya, who is also an investor, are still raising money for “Cut,” which is currently being shot in Tokyo by Iranian Director Amir Naderi.
“We’re not after people’s life savings -- it’s an equity investment at the end of the day,” said Yenidunya, 29, who runs the Yale club of Japan and by day manages investments at a bank in Tokyo. “I’m putting both time and money into these films. So far, all I’ve lost is sleep.”
Meanwhile, Orlebar is ready to find investors for the $10 million needed to make “Future Fighters,” which he describes as a “love triangle set in space against a backdrop of giant robots.” The movie is slated for release in mid-2012. As well as Liu, a Chinese martial arts actor, the film has attracted X- Men’s Ray Park and director Nelson Shin, a North Korean-born animator who helmed the 1986 version of “Transformers.”
Christopher Antonelli, head of pan-Asia equity finance sales at Nomura Securities Ltd., who worked with Orlebar at Lehman, put money into Orlebar’s first movie and said he’s considering investing in “Future Fighters.”
“Anytime you don’t get your money back it’s disappointing but as an investor that’s the chance you take,” said Antonelli. “I don’t typically invest in movies but Guy’s one of those people who’s pretty clever and his mind works a little differently. I was willing to help him get off the ground.”
Orlebar began writing the script in late 2008 after Nomura Holdings Inc. took over Lehman. By December he was out of a job as Nomura cut the equities trading team.
“I thought: This is my chance,” he said.
In March, he established Hong Kong-based Triumphant Film Funds with Ricky Wong, chief executive officer of Hong Kong production company Cine-Century Entertainment Ltd., and Mike Leeder, founder of casting and talent management group, Screen Ops, to find investors for Asian sci-fi and action movies.
“The idea is to bring Hollywood quality at Asian prices,” said Orlebar, who took a job in April as an equity trading strategist with Mizuho Securities Co. in Tokyo. “We’re trying to make a $30 million movie with $10 million.”
He splits his time between Japan and Hong Kong, where his wife and child live.
“The chief reason I joined Lehman was to pay off my student loan,” said Orlebar. “There comes a point in life where if you really have a goal, it’s only you stopping yourself from achieving it.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at firstname.lastname@example.org.