Chris Fenton, the former motion picture group president of DMG, is in advanced talks to head Saudi Arabia’s nascent film initiative, Variety has learned.
The exact job title has yet to be determined and no deal has been set, but the post would be a plum one, giving Fenton influence in a country with vast economic resources and great potential for growth. Fenton would help manage a $10 billion fund for Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Culture. He would report to its chairman Ahmed Almaziad.
Saudi Arabia is a conservative country with many layers of bureaucracy, but it is also a rich nation with an appetite for Western culture. In many ways it is akin to China, a country that Fenton has deep ties to from his time at DMG. That company was founded to produce entertainment content that would work with U.S. audiences and would attract consumers in the Middle Kingdom.
“It is premature for me to comment as no full commitments have been made by either side as of yet,” Fenton said when reached for comment.
The Saudi money could be used in a number of different ways, all of it with an eye toward establishing the Middle Eastern country as a center for film production and investment. One scenario being discussed would have Saudi Arabia invest in major studio film slates under the condition that those studios would provide expertise and advisement with regards to producing movies in the country. Investment may also be contingent on commitments to do some filming in the Kingdom. The goal is to encourage major studios to eventually view the Saudis as entertainment insiders, not dumb money.
Saudi Arabia is considering partnering with a major Western film school so that it can develop its own educational initiatives. The country would then try to encourage students to go into the arts, perhaps through some sort of tuition breaks.
The $10 billion is carved out from a larger $64 billion fund that the country previously announced would be earmarked for entertainment investments. Saudi Arabia has tapped several search companies to fill the film initiative post and is also looking for candidates to head up its fine arts, music, and theater investments. Money for those initiatives will come out of the $10 billion fund.
To give a sense of the many layers in Saudi Arabia, the General Authority for Culture reports directly to the Crown Prince’s cabinet, specifically, the Ministry of Culture and Information, which then reports directly to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Despite the intricacies, Hollywood is very interested in Saudi Arabia and financial ties between the two centers of power are strengthening. Saudi Arabia is lifting a 30-year ban on movie theaters, and chains such as AMC and iPic among those hoping to build cinemas in the country. All of that construction hinges on approval from the Crown Prince, but the hope is that theaters could be open this spring. American movies that screen in Saudi Arabia will have to pass through a rigorous censorship process, details of which are still being hammered out. Saudi Arabia only made it legal for women to drive in 2017, so “Fifty Shades Freed” probably won’t be screening in the Kingdom any time soon.
During his 17 years at DMG, Fenton supervised the development, financing, production, marketing, and distribution of the company’s entertainment content, as well as produced and supervised 20 films, including the hits “Looper” and “Iron Man 3.” Fenton helped orchestrate DMG’s purchase of comics publisher Valiant Entertainment and its acquisition of the library of fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson.
Fenton previously was an agent at William Morris.