Chris Fenton was an agent at William Morris, president of the Chinese-based DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group, and General Manager of DMG North America (owners of Valiant Comics), and Senior Advisor to IDW Media Holdings. He is a China media expert, hoists delegations to China, and is CEO of Media Capital Technologies. He has also been in legal dispute with DMG after filing a $30 million breach of contract lawsuit last year, receiving a counterclaim from the company. He has now written a book, Feeding The Dragon, looking at his career, his rise, his fall, and subsequent rise again, dealing with getting American movies into Chinese markets, notably Looper and Iron Man 3 and the longterm implications of this. He paints this as a moral imperative for both cultures to communicate with each other, as well as a money-making opportunity for those who can see it. And, even with more recent turns in the behaviour of the Chinese government, sees this kind of activity as the only way forward.
He also shares a lot of anecdotes along the way, many of which you will never have read before. This is one man telling them, of course, and one who repeats through the book how he was able to manipulate the media. No doubt Bleeding Cool is part of his game plan. But we are glad to share some of these stories and note that the book makes for a damn fine page-turning read, even as Fenton, always the hero of his stories, appears to be blind to certain aspects of his life along the journey. Whether that's his hirings and firings, his theft of hundreds of tiramsus from Olive Garden, his exercise of privilege, and having a Moneyball approach to international trade relations with Marvel, Disney and more, I read the whole thing yesterday in one swoop, and Bleeding Cool will be running quite a few stories coming out of it over the next few days I feel.
We'll start where Fenton begins the book and also as he almosts ends it, with the red carpet premiere of Iron Man 3 in Beijing. A movie that was made in co-operation with Chinese production companies, actors, locations and the government, with a private infrastructure ill-prepared for the arrival of international movie stars like Robert Downey Jr. And in dire need of security. Fenton writes, of his dealings with Jason Kirby, DMG events director.
"We need more security," I said, "and barricades that actually barricade."
"Well, as far as additional security personnel, I did discover a plan of last resort. Not going to be pretty, though." Kirby turned and shouted some Mandarin orders into his headset, balancing two conversations in two languages simultaneously…. "We can call in farmers." "Farmers?" I raised my eyebrows.
"I got a connection to a guy who can get us farmers—one thousand of them. Just need a little bit of notice and a big wad of yuan." "Sorry, Kirby," Andy said, "I'm still not following. What are we going to do with a thousand farmers?" "This guy, my contact, is hooked in with the local villages beyond the ring roads. Remember, beyond the fourth or fifth ring, it gets pretty rank with old-school China sh-it. Go beyond that, and you start hitting farmland and little backwards villages. Millions of farmers out there and this cold weather sucks ass for farming. They got nothing going on."… "This guy just takes buses with loudspeakers out there and shouts out a potential gig in the city. Tells them to jump on the bus. Rounds them all up. He's got some other guy in the city who he can grab a thousand cheap black suits from. He gets all these farmers to wear them. They love it too. They get to go into the big city wearing fancy clothes,"
Kirby explained. "Oh yeah, and since it's for security purposes, he'll make sure they're all six feet at minimum."
Five hours before showtime. One thousand farmers in suits. And they get them.
"From the buses, serious-looking Chinese men dressed in ultra-cheap Men in Black-style suits streamed out in an organized, almost-disciplined fashion. Picture hundreds of Yao Ming-sized farmers, dazed and confused from what was likely their first time in Beijing proper, stepping into a sea of overwhelming celebrity-crazed insanity. If we needed a calm, collected, confident security force, this wasn't it. Their leader walked toward me and Andy, who was, as usual, yelling endless instructions in Mandarin into his headset. Kirby raced over to meet us, also screaming into his headset. We all shook hands, and the leader now started shouting instructions to the confused farmers. They responded, frantically lining both sides of the red carpet, spacing themselves evenly along the vast stretch to the temple's gates. Once they were in position, I observed the fake security guards. At first glance, the quarter-mile line was impressive. Hulking, stone-faced men in suits created an awesome display of force. However, upon closer inspection, the façade became obvious. Their faces bore signs of confusion and fear. These guys had been taken from their familiar countryside, dropped into an urban world of sensory chaos and asked to stand in neat rows. Not one of them looked comfortable. And they surely didn't look like they knew what the hell to do if something went wrong. They were strong and able-bodied, but the celebrity-crazed threats to RDJ would be much more intense than an unruly mule or goat. Yes, they looked foreboding from a distance, but beyond that, they were an impediment.
But what about in practice?
Just then, the crowd began to push against one of the barricades, excited by something. I saw heads turning towards it at first, and then the commotion made sense. They had mistaken Dave, the handsome, athletic, white guy in a nice suit, to be a celebrity. And Dave, sensing the impending stampede that was soon to trample him, yelled to the translator who shouted at the nearby farmers. "This is bad. Really bad!" I said to Kirby, as farmers looked at each other dumbfounded. Some of them even backed away from the ruckus, fearful.
The translator, seeing his orders ignored, even turned a farmer toward the crowd and like a puppet, tried desperately to move the farmer's arms into a position of authority. But it was futile.
But it all works out at the book's conclusion. Spoilers, obviously, as a certain someone makes his face shown…
Intermittently I forced myself between overzealous photographers, journalists, and fans who encroached too closely upon him at times. Dave was on his game though, orchestrating the most competent of our hapless, overdressed farmers to work, almost seamlessly, with his own men. Fans were right behind us and all around us. The massive physicality and tremendously large quantity of farmers were a big reason why we could continue with the event, the constant security breaches by the ravenous crowd. Dave smartly placed them together, interlocking arms, creating a wall. Like posts placed only inches from each other on a fence, with each post being a good six to seven feet tall. The farmers got more secure with their role as the night wore on. Some got so good at handling unruly fans, I noticed the few competent Chinese security personnel scouting them as new employees. Too bad for the herds of sheep back home. Some of those guys were destined for the big city life very soon!
Read the book to see how Robert Downey Jr takes to it all.