Coffee Break: How to finance 1MDB — The Movie

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 24, 2018 - September 30, 2018.
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In 2007, Leonardo DiCaprio and Warner Bros outbid the competition with a US$1 million offer for the rights to turn Jordan Belfort’s memoir, The Wolf of Wall Street, into a movie.

It’s anyone’s guess how much Tom Wright and Bradley Hope will clinch for the rights to turn their fast-selling novel Billion Dollar Whale — on Jho Low, the mastermind behind 1MDB — into a feature film. But there’s no denying the film is going to cost a bomb to produce. The Wolf of Wall Street, replete with luxury properties, champagne showers and midgets being thrown at dart boards, cost north of US$100 million to produce. Any movie on 1MDB will have to feature not only multi-million-dollar parties in the most exclusive clubs worldwide, private jets, Hermés handbags and jewellery, but also the iconic Equanimity, which costs RM3 million a month to maintain.

Also, DiCaprio took home US$25 million for his role as Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street. I wonder how much he’ll charge to star as himself in a movie. On the bright side, perhaps our former prime minister and first lady would agree to lend their acting chops in leading roles, securing a legitimate and potentially lucrative, taxable income — if they aren’t too busy fighting court battles, that is. If not, well, they could think of it as national service.

It’s outrageous to presume Malaysian taxpayers would fund another Hollywood blockbuster without seeing a sen of it ending back in their pockets. That doesn’t mean financing for such a movie is entirely out of reach, however.

In fact, we really should pluck a leaf out of Jho Low’s book and raise money for the project in true 1MDB fashion: bond issuances.

Maybe this time, we could ensure the investment bankers take home a more ... conservative paycheque from the deal?

If anyone’s asking about returns, we’ll let the numbers do the talking. The Wolf of Wall Street made a killing, raking up US$392 million in gross profit. Crazy Rich Asians, which cost a mere US$30 million to produce, has already racked up close to US$190 million just about a month after its release. Clearly, there is pent-up demand for big-spending Asians on the big screen, and the 1MDB saga fits the bill perfectly.

On top of the money we’re going to be raking in from box office proceeds, we’ll be riding the wave of publicity Crazy Rich Asians has generated for Malaysia because some of the scenes were shot at various picturesque locations in the country.

Now, if we could channel some of the proceeds from those bonds into acquiring strategic locations, perhaps we could collect fees from renting out these sites for movie shoots and tourism. This would kill two birds with one stone — filling government coffers and boosting tourist figures when the movie is finally released.

Anything for good old economic growth, right?

And here’s part three of the grand plan — we’ll package those acquired properties into a real estate investment trust, to be floated on the stock exchange for another round of fundraising.

I know what you’re thinking: so much could go wrong. But don’t worry, just in case the whole thing goes bust and the movie flops, I have a backup plan: set up a comprehensive website explaining that this was all done out of benevolence and goodwill in an effort to boost local film production and tourist arrivals.

The best part about it is, compared to the alleged swindling and bamboozling in 1MDB, this will cost Malaysian taxpayers next to nothing.

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