Video work a big hit for small team: Dominic Ow, founder of Singapore's Project Peanut

Mr Ow started Project Peanut in 2008 and it has grown to its present three-person team with an annual turnover in the six-figure range, he said. The firm has created documentaries, dramas, commercials and more for the Government and clients in the pr
Mr Ow started Project Peanut in 2008 and it has grown to its present three-person team with an annual turnover in the six-figure range, he said. The firm has created documentaries, dramas, commercials and more for the Government and clients in the private sector. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

In conjunction with the World Intellectual Property Day celebrations themed "Eat, Live & Love IP", SME Spotlight is showcasing four local firms at the forefront of innovation and creativity. In the last of a four-part series, Mr Dominic Ow, founder of home-grown production company Project Peanut, tells Sheryl Lee about the importance of IP in the creative industry.

Q When was Project Peanut founded, and what type of creative work does it do today?

A I started Project Peanut in 2008 with an initial start-up capital of $20,000. Back then, it was just me; now, we have three people. We used to do more work for government agencies but, recently, half of the work has been from the Government and the other half from the private sector.

Q Why is intellectual property (IP) important to the creative industry?

A Everything a creative company produces is IP, whether it is created with an intention to be sold or sponsored by a client, so IP is intrinsic to the business.

Sometimes, clients will say things like "Can you do an ad like this one?", so then we may adapt some ideas from the referenced video or combine the idea with another to make a new concept, but we never rip off. That kills your credibility.

Q How have you protected your IP?

A We haven't applied for IP protection. Usually you apply for it because you're worried someone else will copy your stories and concepts but, in Singapore, everything you produce is automatically copyrighted, so there is no need to.

Apart from copyright, there's another type of IP called the trademark. We're thinking of trademarking The Age Of Terror, which is our free-to-view dramatic Web series that consists of three videos. It was our initiative and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) helped fund it. It cost a five-figure sum to produce and we released it in March.

It's about communist terrorism in colonial Singapore in the early 1950s, and tells the story of a Special Branch detective hunting down a communist killer behind a series of murders.

We were thinking of trademarking The Age Of Terror because from a Web series it could be developed into a franchise, which can include products such as a TV show or even a graphic novel.

Q How is copyright shared between the financier and the producer?

A In the creative industry, ownership is generally negotiated between financiers and producers as a percentage of the copyright.

The producer has a larger share if the financier is in charge of only the funding, compared to if the financier is an executive producer as well - for example, if he helped to find stars or gave creative input.

It varies from project to project, but creative projects are usually very collaborative so copyright can be split among many parties.

For advertisements, it is straightforward: If you make an ad for a company, the company owns the copyright.

Q What's the significance of having part of the copyright?

A If the project makes money, the percentage of profits you are entitled to is based on copyright.

For the Chinese comedy Red Numbers, I negotiated for IP ownership as the director of the film. So I have a 7 per cent equity share, like a shareholder in a company.

But also like a shareholder in a company, I don't have the right to determine how the film is managed, from the marketing to the finances. That is done by the producers.

Q Have you had any regrets about relinquishing copyright?

A I have a small regret with work for the Government. Government agencies usually get you to sign a comprehensive contract and they end up owning all IP.

Q How might copyright ownership affect revenue?

A You have to see what your business model is as a creative company, whether you're a service provider or operate like a manufacturer.

Right now, Project Peanut is mostly a service provider, so we help clients make videos instead of trying to sell the videos we create.

Online video creators who operate like manufacturers may have videos that look successful in terms of the number of views received, but they may not bring the creator much revenue at all.

As a service provider, the videos you make for other companies translate to actual sales revenue even if you don't own the IP.

Sometimes, owning part of the copyright is less important than simply having your name attached to the product, because that helps to increase the awareness and credibility of your brand or your style, which brings in work indirectly.

Q How is Project Peanut doing and what are your growth plans?

A We are a three-person company with an annual turnover in the six-figure range.

Most production companies are actually very lean. In the long term, the barometer of success is producing original work that is critically and popularly acclaimed. If you look at successful TV shows or films produced here, most of them are very Singaporean. Our vision is to go beyond that, to reach a wider market.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'Video work a big hit for small team'. Print Edition | Subscribe