Block Kong Breakfast is a series of interviews with blockchain-related entrepreneurs and financiers in Hong Kong, brought to you by Charles D’Haussy.
For decades, when you thought of Hong Kong, you thought of its movies. The ghostly romance of Anita Mui in “Rouge”, Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon”, the tangled noir of “Infernal Affairs”.
Hong Kong once boasted the world’s third biggest motion-picture industry, after Hollywood and Bollywood; it was for a time the second largest film exporter. Its golden years reflected the city’s melting-pot culture, one that gave us megastars and directors, from chop-socky innovator John Woo to auteur Wong Kar-wei.
No Block Kong series would be complete without breakfast with a blockchain-based film financier and producer who is using smart contracts to write a new script for the industry.
But where to meet? Well, there is Avenue of the Stars in Tsim Tsa Tsui, by the Bruce Lee statue and plaques naming 108 local film legends. However you cannot eat a star in a sidewalk. Not even Jackie Chan’s.
Instead we settled for Paradise Dynasty, which is located above Lee Theater in Causeway Bay. This iconic building was erected by the Hysan Lee family in 1925, catering to patrons of the local Cantonese opera house. My interest was more culinary: the place is known for its mouthwatering xiaolongbao steamed dumplings.
However, our planned homage to the great performance traditions of Hong Kong turned out to be yet another victim of Covid-19. Poujol was stuck in France, having traveled to Europe to participate in the Berlin Film Festival.
My dream of xiaolongbao pops like a busted dumpling.
I must converse with Poujol by video conference. So how does one become a blockchain movie financier?
“I am a bit of a hybrid, like many people in the industry,” he says.
Poujol taught himself programming at the age of 12 on an Amstrad 6128, Europe’s answer to the Commodore 64. As a young man he went into banking and capital markets at Allied Irish Bank in Dublin, but the 2008 global financial crisis prompted a change of plans after AIB went bust.
After a sabbatical, not entirely voluntary, Poujol convinced the Irish Ministry of Culture to showcase the country’s films at the Shanghai Expo of 2010. He visited the city with a team representing 35 films and carrying 380 kilograms of movie reels. The experience thrilled him and he decided to remain in China and help promote Western movies.
“At the time, it was amazingly easy to get in touch with big Chinese producers and directors,” he says. It was a great time to learn the local industry. He discovered how money was raised, spent, and spread around the movie business – which was a lesson that went beyond what he expected.
“Film is one of the many industries where it is possible to cook accounts.”
Speaking of cooking, finally! My Uber Eats has arrived with my order from Paradise Dynasty: ooh la la, black truffle xiaolongbao. Poujol is calling me from Pays Basque in southwest France, drinking coffee and fasting. I will not be deterred.
Poujol considered quitting the film industry because of some of its dodgy practices. But in 2015, while visiting Hong Kong, he met Nicolas Mendoza, a former editor of Bitcoin Magazine and a PhD student at City University. The two found they had a lot of shared interests. Poujol noted the governance problems in the film industry, and Mendoza pitched a novel idea: perhaps blockchain could help?
Poujol accepted the challenge. He poured himself into understanding the technology and how it could be put to work in the real world. Several years later he emerged, blinking in the daylight, with a 635-page PhD thesis, which in 2018 he then turned into a 400-page book.
As any self-respecting author should, Poujol launched the book with as much fanfare as possible, and in the excitement he created the Lumière Project – named in honor of the Lumière brothers, Lyon-based industrialists who invented motion pictures.
This is an ERP (enterprise resource planning) platform designed to help finance and produce film projects.
“Centralized movies platform such as Netflix and Alibaba are only a step towards purely decentralized systems,” he said. The vision of Lumière’s team is to make transparent production budgets and spending, and reduce risks – liquidity risks, commercial risks – that investors face.
Using tokenization and other blockchain tools, investors can finance a movie using prepaid, pay-per-view economics. Viewers can participate too, like a Kickstarter program, and either collect revenues or back projects that will air for free.
“This brings sophistication to film financing,” explains Poujol.
The vision became a business plan in September 2019 when he teamed up with another Hong Kong company, FinFabrik. They made history by creating the world’s first tokenization of a direct investment into a movie, “Papicha”, an Algerian film that was nominated for Best International Feature Film in the 2020 U.S. Academy Awards.
With this success, the company is raising funds to support its growth and product rollout. ESG funds (promoting environmental, social and governance factors) have expressed interest in an investment method that promotes transparency and fairness.
The timing is unfortunate, with COVID-19 scuttling productions around the world.
Poujol is not fazed. “Like the story of Rocky, you keep getting punched in the face, only to rise again.”
- 99 Percival St, 6/F, Lee Theatre, Causeway Bay
- Signature Original Xiao Long Bao HK$62
- Black Truffle Xiao Long Bao HK$118
- Uber Eats delivery fee: HK$20
- Patrice Poujol’s coffee: unknown
- Total: HK$200