DMG's Dan Mintz on How to Work With China, Remaking 'Point Break' and Johnny Depp's Next Film (Q&A)
This story first appeared in the Dec. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When Beijing-based DMG Entertainment burst on to the global film scene nearly five years ago, curiosity and even intrigue surrounded the company's CEO, Dan Mintz. Who was this fast-talking New Yorker who somehow had built a media empire within China's notoriously restricted economy? Under Mintz, 50, DMG worked with Endgame to co-produce the 2012 indie hit Looper and partnered with Disney and Marvel on May's Iron Man 3, which grossed $121.2 million in China. Next, DMG will team with Alcon Entertainment on the Johnny Depp sci-fi epic Transcendence and the recently announced $100 million reboot of Point Break. Mintz's many ties to local industry players and key government figures -- including a public friendship with Han Sanping, chairman of the state-backed China Film Group, which maintains a tight grip on domestic film distribution -- have made him perhaps the most important Hollywood figure in China.
Mintz first landed in Beijing in 1989 to scout a TV commercial and says he felt an immediate connection to the way the country straddles its ancient past and modern development. "I realized that if I stayed here for five years, I would probably see 30 years of growth and change," he says. In 1993, Mintz founded DMG -- short for Dynamic Media Group -- with Wu Bing, a former national gymnastics champion, and analyst Peter Xiao to capitalize on the country's boom in advertising. After 10 years of producing commercials for such clients as Nike and Volkswagen, DMG moved into film financing, distribution and even exhibition, having opened nine theaters in China with plans for more.
Mintz, who is fluent in Mandarin, says DMG is now China's largest private media company, with 850 employees in 10 offices on two continents. The self-described "busy single guy on the go" keeps homes in Beijing, Shanghai, New York and Los Angeles and says he doesn't book meetings more than a couple of weeks in advance because he has no idea where he will be. He met with THR in his Beijing office to talk about what Hollywood can do to crack the Chinese market.
What has been the biggest change in how Hollywood deals with China during the 20 years you've been here?
In the early years, sometimes I would come back to L.A. and say: "Hey, this is a fast-growing market. We've got amazing locations. If you want to come to China and shoot, we can help you out." And people would look at me like I was insane. They'd say, "Don't they arrest people there, and doesn't everyone ride bikes?" It's hard enough in this industry selling yourself; I felt like I had to sell them the whole country. Well, China sells itself now.
DMG began in TV commercials and marketing then moved into film. How did you make the transition?
Two triggers -- one political, one economic. The political trigger was the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was China's big coming-out party to the world, and as far as the government was concerned, there were two times: before the Olympics and after the Olympics. It was that important. They weren't going to start the culture-industry push until that went off well. The other trigger was economic. Looking at the land mass and population, we judged that China really needed about 5,000 screens before it became a viable film market. There were three factors we waited for: access to screens, relevant content that people wanted to see and the third thing -- which was really key from our consumer research -- the social habit among ordinary Chinese people of going to the movies. Once that happened, we knew the market would really take off.
Your first film, 2009's The Founding of a Republic, was commissioned by the government to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. How did you land that project?
It was our first feature, but we were already very tapped in to the local market. We were shooting so many TV commercials; our crews were shooting 200 days a year. And we were shooting the biggest, most expensive spots for major brands: Volkswagen, the NBA and others. Combined, they were much more expensive than the feature films being made at that time. The consumer insights we had built up over the years were pretty impressive and especially useful for a government. Every government is out of touch, right? That's just standard.