Love Stalk stars Angie P. as Sharon Ong, a Hong Kong-based PR executive with a disastrous dating life. After a series of chance encounters with what may or may not be the man of her dreams (played by Ronan Pak), Sharon enters into a romantic game of social media cat-and-mouse to learn more about her mysterious crush. When the tables are suddenly turned, however, Sharon and her best friend (Dada Lo) find themselves the target of what could turn out to be a psychotic murderer.
As director Joe Fiorello points out, the romantic comedy-turned-thriller also serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of social media and online dating.
“A lot of things that were considered creepy ten years ago are now considered very normal because now you just go on to Facebook and look at someone’s entire life to see what kind of person he is,” says Fiorello. “But, how much different is that from, say, peeking into a person’s window with binoculars?”
I felt like I was doing the kind of thing my heroes had done.
Almost as interesting as the on-screen story told in Love Stalk itself is the story of how Fiorello and a small team of indie film people took what started out as a micro-budgeted short film and expanded it into a feature-length project by way of a record-setting crowdfunding campaign. For Fiorello, just being a part of the process was a new and exciting adventure.
“As a Westerner working on a Hong Kong film in Cantonese—that, for me, was like a dream come true,” Fiorello says. “I felt like I was doing what Sergio Leone did when he went to the States and made a western or what Wong Kar Wai did when he went to the States or what John Woo did when he made Hard Target. I felt like I was doing the kind of thing my heroes had done.”
After originally making Love Stalk as a short film for only five-hundred dollars US and with Angie P. in the leading role, Fiorello says the response they received from festival audiences soon had them thinking about how they could develop the project into a feature. From there, they had hoped to go the traditional route of writing a script, taking it to market, and trying to find investors to fund it. However, not only did they discover it was a tough sell, they also came up against what can often be a frustrating paradox of film funding.
“We’d get potential investors who’d say, ‘We’d be happy to invest, but you don’t have any other investment. When other investors come in, then we’ll be more interested’,” he explains. “We even went to FILMART and we didn’t raise a dime. So, we were like, ‘OK, we’re going to have to do this on our own’.”
People actually thought we were kind of a little crazy.
Their solution was to try to raise fifty thousand US dollars—a then-record target for an indie film in Hong Kong—via an online crowdfunding campaign.
“It was just a chunk of the total amount we needed,” Fiorello admits. “But, it sounded like it would be good to promote in the press, like, ‘Hey, local filmmakers raise fifty thousand US dollars’. It was also something we could tell other investors about.”
Although Angie P. had previously helped crowdfund a few smaller projects in the US, Fiorello himself was completely new to the approach. And, with the whole concept of crowdfunding only recently gaining popularity in Hong Kong, they knew they were going to be in for an experience.
“At the time, it was actually kind of out there,” he recalls. “We were trying to raise fifty thousand US dollars and the next biggest Hong Kong-based campaign we’d seen was maybe ten thousand dollars and they weren’t even coming close to their target. So, people actually thought we were kind of a little crazy.”
For those thinking crowdfunding an indie film might be as simple as launching a campaign, sitting back, and waiting for the money to roll in, Fiorello is quick to clear up any misconceptions about the amount of effort involved in doing it successfully.
“It was a lot of work—almost as much as making the actual film. You really need to be going every day pounding the pavement online,” he says. “Every day, we were trying to get at least one person to put in for something to keep it going. You can’t just forget about the campaign and you need to be active the whole time.”
Furthermore, as Fiorello explains, one of the difference-makers in the campaign’s success was his team’s ability to identify and appeal to different groups of donors—both big and small.
“I’ve seen crowdfunding campaigns that failed miserably because they didn’t have enough people to reach out to on all sides,” he says. “You need regular people who are interested in your film and then you need people who are going to throw in a larger chunk. Without both of those ends you’re not going to make it.”
It really helped solidified in people’s minds the belief that we weren’t just going to run away with the money.
In addition, Fiorello highlights the benefit of already having a short film they could use as a proof-of-concept when it came to getting people on side with the project.
“Being able to show that we had made a short film and that we’d done this before really helped solidified in people’s minds the belief that we weren’t just going to run away with the money—that we were definitely going to make something.”
Ultimately, the crowdfunding strategy Fiorello’s team adopted paid off. With a successful campaign behind them and at least some of the financial building blocks in place, they were now able to go back to more traditional investors to bridge the funding gaps. More importantly, they could finally enter into more advanced discussions with potential talent and crew.
“Because we finally had money in the bank we were now able to get people attached,” he states. “We could talk to people and say, ‘This is going to happen’, and we were able to negotiate rates with people because it looked like we had something going on.”
Looking back, Fiorello says he feels the initial excitement surrounding the idea of crowdfunding has largely faded and that—while it may always be an option—it’s not always going to be your best bet. Moreover, he admits he’d be skeptical about his chances of duplicating his previous success without an added hook to rally people around a project.
“These days, you have to be doing something that people have really been wanting and nobody has given them yet,” he states. “If you’re making a documentary about a cause, people care about it, so they want to see a documentary about it.”
(Case in point, the crowdfunding mark set by the Love Stalk campaign was later eclipsed by a documentary about domestic helpers in Hong Kong.)
“So, I can see documentary is very good for crowdfunding or if you have some kind of license or property that already has an audience out there,” he adds. “I would probably feel like I needed one of those things before I’d turned to crowdfunding again.”
And, while the outcome was largely a success, he confesses the whole experience taught him some difficult—if not, unpleasant—lessons about the business aspect of the film business.
“It pains me to say it because it goes against every bit of indie filmmaker in me, but if you’re going to take a movie to market, investors really want to make sure it checks all the boxes as far as what audiences are looking for,” Fiorello says. “As a result, now, I really try to think from the standpoint of where I want to get my message out there, but I do want to know what people really want to watch.”
Love Stalk is available to watch on Flix Premiere and AirHK+. Watch the trailer below (VPN required if your on the China Mainland) or check out the film’s website here to learn more about the project.