DMG's Dan Mintz on How to Work With China, Remaking 'Point Break' and Johnny Depp's Next Film (Q&A)
What did you learn from that experience about working with the Chinese government?
For effective U.S.-China collaborations, everyone needs to understand one another's agendas -- to build trust and deliver value for both sides. A lot of people in Hollywood are very focused on ticking the bare-minimum number of boxes to get into the China market, but what you need to understand is that all of the specific requirements that are set up for co-productions, for example, are there because someone on top said: "We want to be part of these films. We don't want to just be a location and a place for them to come to project their own culture." They want Chinese culture to spread around the world so that they are known and have influence. So we look at the problem from the macro level to figure out what we need to do so that all our partners -- U.S. and Chinese -- feel like their needs are being met. If you can genuinely solve that macro-level policy problem, your other problems go away. Hollywood often seems to be looking for the loophole or the shortcut, but there are no loopholes here. Say you get one movie in, and maybe it meets the bare-minimum requirements somehow or you worked some sneaky one-off deal, but it obviously didn't fulfill the spirit of what they were looking for -- and there are lots of past examples of this. Well, maybe you'll make some quick money, but next time they will crush you.
How can studios improve their relationships in China?
The first thing I would do is set up a core team that handles China, rather than this many-layers-removed, satellite-office scenario. Another thing is to be rigorous in selecting your partners. When you look at people's track records and what they've achieved, you need to be able to see that they follow international best practices, have accountability and know the regulatory environment in both markets. It can't just be, "This guy's got special connections," because maybe he won't next time.
Would the U.S. government applying more pressure on behalf of the film industry help?
Lobbying has its place, but it's not going to solve all your problems -- certainly not in the short term. When China opened the market up to 34 Hollywood imports in 2012, everyone thought everything was all good. But then there were the scheduling issues -- movies opening against each other or opening late -- and people had trouble getting paid. For some films, the studios are in an even worse position now.
Did Iron Man 3 showcase China as much as you would have liked?
I think it was an amazing first step. Just to get it to that point -- figuring out what would add value from a story perspective -- was quite a journey. Nobody is going to make a movie and throw some Chinese elements in it just to appease a market; that's not going to work on any kind of long-term basis. But the fact that there are some Chinese elements in there at all, in the Marvel universe, is an amazing first step.
What will DMG bring to Transcendence and Point Break? Will there be Chinese elements?
There's a line in Looper where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is deciding what city to restart his life in, and Jeff Daniels' character, who's from the future, tells him, "Trust me: Go to China." That's actually the line during testing that got the biggest laughs. It's not that another country wouldn't have worked; it's just that China worked better. And that's the kind of thing we're looking for -- where it's not forced, it just works better because there's a little added value there. These are the elements we're interested in, not dragons or red lanterns.
The big China box-office story of 2013 is the sudden surge of local movies, which grossed $1.57 billion during the first nine months of the year -- up 94 percent. What do you make of this?
This is a very important time for China. It's not about preparing for this market anymore; Hollywood missed that opportunity six years ago [when China's film sector began to expand]. Now you need real help, and fast. India and China combined are half the world -- does Hollywood want to surrender the field in half the world? The script isn't written, but Hollywood is going to have to make some bold moves to turn this thing around.