Sitting prominently behind Dan Mintz in his Beijing office at production company DMG are wooden crates, the kind you imagine might be used to pack a certain superhero’s metal armor. The crates, a promotion for “Iron Man 3” are, excuse the pun, a stark testament to the DMG topper’s success at teaming up with Marvel to make the third installment of the franchise a success in the famously difficult market that is China.
To help sell the film, the New York native even got Robert Downey Jr. to make an appearance in the Forbidden City, the ancient imperial palace at Beijing’s heart.
Mintz’s mantra when advising others on how to break into the Chinese market is “access and relevance,” as in access to the right people to approve a film, and relevance of the project — and the company — to China. Mintz believes the success of his projects so far shows DMG’s adherence to both tenets.
“We felt very early on that China is a defining market, but there is a skill-set you need to get under your belt,” he says, looking out over a rare Beijing day with a smog-free skyline. “China is completely different, from language to culture.” To Mintz, knowledge of the U.S. market, the entertainment industry’s most mature, and China, the world’s fastest-growing, have provided a necessary mix.
DMG started out as an ad agency — a partnership set up 20 years ago by Mintz, chairman and finance expert Peter Xiao and group president Wu Bing, a former national gymnastics champion.
Since adding film production to the group portfolio, DMG has had a strong run, starting in 2009 with the propaganda (Mintz prefers “government”) epic, “The Founding of a Republic,” and continuing with domestic success “Go Lala Go!” in 2010, Rian Johnson’s “Looper” last year, and now “Iron Man 3.”
There is no question that DMG’s strong connections with government officials and the state film colossus, the China Film Group have helped it navigate the sometimes choppy regulatory waters of the world’s second-largest film market. The journeys of “Looper” and “Iron Man 3” were not exactly smooth, with questions over whether they would qualify as co-productions, which enjoy vital benefits in distribution, immunity from blackout periods and a far greater revenue share.
Mintz won’t divulge details of exactly how the two films were defined on release in China, and says there is a great deal of misinformation surrounding such things. “Co-productions have been around for 100 years,” he says. “Two studios work together, it’s a co-production. That’s the definition we use. So ‘Iron Man 3’ is a co-production.” Any finer points, he adds, are irrelevant. “It doesn’t affect our business here,” he says.
Mintz concedes that as a Chinese company, DMG did well by the deals.
“Our access was as good or better than co-production status,” he says. “We’ve been marketing from the beginning, and we are the Chinese element that needs to be in a film to achieve the things we want to achieve.”
Still, he maintains, there is no shortcut to making movies in China. All the usual ingredients — financing, development, production, marketing and distribution — need to be in place for a film to succeed. He readily notes, however, that China does add a bit of the unknown to a business that already deals in a mixture of “magic and science” as he terms it.
At the time we speak, “Iron Man 3” has notched around $100 million at the China box office. Mintz says the process of getting projects like it and “Looper” to screen in the country has validated DMG’s approach, and hopefully cleared the way for other projects.
“Let’s be honest,” he adds, his face brightening with the skyline “it’s pretty obvious we have the wind at our back and the support of the government — you couldn’t have Robert Downey Jr. rising from the depths of the Forbidden City if you didn’t!”