Iron Man emigrates to China

Why Beijing’s DMG has attracted the attention of Hollywood

Iron Man emigrates to China

The next stop for Gwyneth is China

Another tycoon is on his way to China, although this one has a gold-titanium alloy heart.

According to Disney, the third instalment of the Iron Man franchise will be shot within Chinese borders, with a cast including Robert Downey Jr (who plays industrialist Tony Stark in the franchise), Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle all arriving in the summer.

Rumour also has it that one of WiC’s longstanding favourites, actress and fashionista Fan Bingbing, will have a role in the film.

This time around Disney is co-producing the blockbuster with Chinese media company DMG. Although Disney did not reveal how much DMG will invest in the film (nor give any specifics on the plot lines to be shot in China,) industry insiders say DMG’s role will be to scout locations and set up the Chinese film units, as well as keep the script from running afoul of Chinese censors, and then distribute the final product.

Stanley Cheung, managing director of Walt Disney China, told a Beijing press conference last week that the new Iron Man project “is testimony to the importance of this (Chinese) audience to Disney and the local [industry‘s] capability to deliver a blockbuster title.”

Although it isn’t the first time that a Hollywood studio has linked up with a Chinese partner – last year, Legendary Entertainment and Relativity Media both announced partnerships with Chinese companies – DMG is a curious case. DMG (which stands for Dynamic Marketing Group) is a 19 year-old, privately-owned Beijing advertising firm that has turned film producer and movie distributor. It is a partnership itself, between two Chinese shareholders and Dan Mintz, an American.

Mintz, a freelance commercial director, first arrived in Beijing with a few thousand dollars in his pocket. With his seed money and help from a local producer who eventually became his partner in DMG, Mintz set up shop as an advertising firm in a Beijing apartment. His timing was good. Back in 1990, few locals had Mintz’s production skills and many multinationals eager to establish a local presence signed up to become DMG clients.

Mintz’s picked up some high-profile campaigns such as for Volkswagen. Soon he was working with Microsoft, Budweiser and IBM, as well as state-owned firms like China Mobile.

Next, he ventured into filmmaking. Partnering with the state-run China Film Group (CFG), the country’s biggest studio and dominant importer, DMG helped with the production and marketing of two major propaganda films Founding of a Republic and Founding of the Party. The former was made to mark the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2009, and the latter the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party last year.

Both films took over Rmb1 billion at the Chinese box office.

In 2010, DMG also invested in the domestic production Go Lala Go! (see WiC59). Capitalising on his advertising background, Mintz incorporated over 40 product placements in the film (triggering moviegoer complaints that the film was overly commercial). Still, it was pretty profitable too; costing Rmb20 million to make but taking Rmb100 million in the box office.

“Many US film studios just think of China as a big distribution market, but they don’t understand how to promote and distribute a film, or how the lao baixing (ordinary folks) think,” Mintz told Media and Entertainment Industry Reporter, a magazine. “DMG has all the resources and we understand what the domestic market needs. More importantly, we know how to get the work done in China.”

Insiders also say DMG has an edge when it comes to guiding a project through the necessary government approvals. The company even managed to get Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) past the regulators, something of a challenge as horror movies are not usually permitted by the censors.

Small wonder then that Mintz – who now speaks fluent Mandarin – seems well plugged-in with local officials. He often drives around with a police escort, threading his way through the impossible Shanghai traffic, says Variety magazine, admiringly. Speaking the language is only the “admission to the show,” says Mintz. The key point is whether “anybody really wants to hear what you have to say.” And more of Hollywood might be starting to listen. China surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest box office in the first quarter this year, and DMG seems well-positioned to capture some of this growth.

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