Riding the Shanghai express
For Hollywood, China remains that one major market yet to be exploited.
Dealing with the trappings of bureaucracy, censorship, the language barrier and culture shock has inhibited the major congloms and tenpercenteries. But Dan Mintz, for one, may have figured things out.
As the head of Dynamic Marketing Group, Mintz, who is fluent in Mandarin, runs a successful ad agency, directs movies, develops TV shows and helps companies break through government gridlock.
The Brooklyn native settled in Shanghai 11 years ago because he felt there was opportunity in the chaotic prosperity of the city.
A loquacious workaholic, Mintz typifies the sort of Westerner who is eager to capitalize on the economic explosion that is Shanghai.
His ad campaign for Volkswagen helped the German automaker become all but ubiquitous in China. He’s also worked with Microsoft, Budweiser and IBM and is now tackling spots for telco China Mobil and pharmaceutical clients.
On the entertainment front, DMG connected music group Hanson with VW for a spot that will give the band serious exposure across the country. VW will sponsor the band’s tour in China later this year.
DMG also coached producers of Miramax’s “The Great Raid” and Fox’s “The Flight of the Phoenix” when they were interested in filming in China.
Because DMG entered China as a production company, execs had to quickly deal with the different layers of government in order to close streets and deal with crowds.
“There is no permit office or film commission,” Mintz says. “You’re on your own. You have to have the ability to deal with many different types of people. You learn how to get things done. It really sets you apart.”
With that comes respect.
Getting that respect has meant doing things that few companies, let alone one headed by an American, have been able to do in China.
For a VW spot, Mintz was able to shut down Shanghai’s Bund, a highly trafficked boulevard along the old city’s waterfront. Steven Spielberg had only been able to close a portion of the street for “Empire of the Sun” in 1986.
The shop has also filmed inside Beijing’s Forbidden City, though it’s against the law to shoot there. Mintz persuaded the government to lift the law for 24 hours.
“We don’t stop when we come across regulations,” Mintz says. “There are restrictions everywhere you go. You have to know how to get around them and get things done.”
Being able to speak the language is “the admission into the show,” Mintz says. So is having a personality and people skills. “You may be able to speak the language, but does anybody really want to hear what you have to say?”
Mintz is well plugged in with local officials. He often drives around with a police escort, threading his way through the impossible Shanghai traffic.
Mintz believes the missing ingredient in China has been showmanship. He designed DMG’s offices to reflect this idea. There’s a Western-style CEO suite for corporate suits, an exotic red opium den-like room for creative sessions and even a “Secret Lab,” with separate staff to conjure up bold marketing ideas.
Hollywood is eager to augment some of that showmanship.
Tenpercenteries are eyeing China as a new outpost for its talent and corporate clients, but also as a way to identify and sign talent looking to cross over into the U.S.
Earlier this month, the William Morris Agency opened an office in Shanghai and signed the Shanghai Intl. Film Festival as its first client. Agents from CAA have made trips to the country, and the agency is mulling over its future there. Endeavor has also been active in China.
But a growing number of companies have attempted to navigate their way while trying to do business in China and hit their own Great Wall.
“You can’t buy your way into this scene. It doesn’t really work that way,” Mintz observes. “It can be very frustrating.”
DMG is trying to make things easier for Hollywood by partnering with Los Angeles-based management-production outfit H2F Entertainment.
Company topper Chris Fenton serves as DMG’s Hollywood representative in helping the entertainment biz do business in China. DMG also will provide H2F’s stable of actors, writers and directors with opportunities in China.
Mintz says, “To build a company that has Western management and goals but also the ability to work in a Chinese environment and be successful and high profile is something very rare and very valuable.”
Shop has grown from 15 staffers when it was formed in 1994 to 375 staffers in five cities across China today.
The company is in the midst of developing a slate of movies, TV shows and comicbooks, among other forms of entertainment, through its Secret Lab. Projects will be developed and produced inhouse and will enable DMG’s corporate clients to come onboard as financiers and promotional partners.
Mintz’s first film, “Cookers,” financed in China and produced in the U.S., is making the rounds of the festival circuit and will soon find limited distribution. Mintz’s second film, “American Crime,” stars Kip Pardue, Rachael Leigh Cook and Annabella Sciorra, and is in post-production.
“Original content is a big part of who we are,” Mintz says. “It’s our future.”
“It’s the most amazing place,” Mintz says. “But if you come in and hook up with the wrong person and have a bad experience, don’t blame China. Blame yourself. You hooked up with the wrong people.”