Chris Fenton, former president of the China-based DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group, has written a book, Feeding The Dragon, looking at his career, getting American movies into Chinese markets, notably Looper and Iron Man 3. I recently read it, can confirm it is quite the page-turner, and that there are so many nuggets to share. You can follow along with a few of the stories I'm sharing with this link. We previously looked at Chris Fenton's account of a thousand Chinese farmers being bussed in for the Beijing red carpet event for Iron Man 3 attended for Robert Downey Jr. But there were more challenges to face.
It began with Downey Jr's British security head Dave making his concerns known to the organisers, Chris Fenton, Andy Anderson, then-DMG VP and now co-founder of Ato Entertainment, and Jason Kirby, then-DMG producer and now CEO of Super Bonfire Group.
"Guys, I need a couple hundred more crowd control specialists and security detail before I can let Robert even think about doing this red carpet. Especially one this long!" He gazed towards the temple's gate where the long red tongue of carpet unfurled to a stop. "I mean, look at this thing. It goes on for miles." He paused, staring at the massive, thirty- foot-tall gate and the temple's elaborate interior, just visible through the passage. Kirby was still tinkering with the lighting, so everything danced with colors. First purple, then green, then yellow, and then in various mixtures. It truly was spectacular, even in daylight's smoggy haze. "By the way, that looks f-cking awesome," Dave added. "I'll admit that. Robert will love it." "Thank you." Andy nodded, taking the compliment, knowing it could be the last for a while. His lungs bucked in a spasmic coughing fit, known as the "Beijing Cough."
Dave scowled. "Don't even get me started on the air. It's downright toxic. Felt like I had strep throat when I went to bed last night, and now I'm getting that feeling again." He paused. "Robert will have to wear a smog mask tonight. I hope you know that."
Andy and I rolled our eyes at each other. The smog mask threat was beyond worrisome. While wearing a mask might seem like a reasonable way to protect one's health, here in China, it was the ultimate sign of disrespect. The Chinese were well aware of the filth in their air, but they surely didn't need a foreigner to point that out for them.
But it did not go well, even with the arrival of those farmers.
"This isn't going to go well, is it?" I muttered to Kirby as we both looked on. "And what is up with these guys?" I pointed to the trees throughout the courtyard that surrounded the red carpet. They were filled with fans. On every climbable branch sat a person, some of them twenty feet up.
"No way am I letting Robert down this red carpet. It's done. Canceled. No f-cking way!" He pointed to a row of farmers. "Someone tell those guys to help those people up. Seriously! And for heaven's sake, get those damn people out of the trees."
But Robert had different ideas, when they spoke on the phone.
"I'm good," Robert replied, "I'm excited. Ready to shake some hands and meet my fans…my fans in China."
"Fantastic. They're excited to see you too. I'm so sorry about the red-carpet situation."
"There is no red-carpet situation," he said in his cool-as-ice moviestar voice. The same we've all heard in a hundred movies. Still, I struggled to understand what he meant. "I'm going to do it," he added matter-of-factly.
"Wait…what? Dave told you about the security situation, right?" Andy and Kirby and a few of my Chinese colleagues were now staring at me in silence, watching my reaction closely. The surprised look on my face told them a change in plans was occurring, and likely a good one.
"Of course he did," Robert responded. "I don't care, though. You guys told me about the importance of this movie as a form of cultural diplomacy. The importance of me coming to China, making the Chinese people feel they are a priority. Meeting the people. Shaking their hands. Having direct conversations. Being respectful. Listening. Learning. Showing interest in the culture." He paused. "I want to make sure the Chinese people know I want to be here. Not that I need to be here."
He was on the way.
"Five minutes 'til touchdown," he responded. "Time to change the world, Chris. Let's do this." In a daze of gleeful shock, I was about to hang up when he stopped
me. "Chris, one more thing…you still there?"
"Yes," I said, snapping out of my fog of disbelief. "Of course."
"Just wanted to add that I will not be wearing a smog mask."
"Sounds good," I said, grinning ear to ear.
So, despite all concerns Robert Downey Jr overruled his own security, decided to do the red carpet anyway, including not wearing a smog mask. But what about those trees?
He ran over to the frenzied crowd and started shaking hands. People went nuts, shouting his name, pushing and shoving, climbing over the barricades, shoving anything they could to have him sign, taking selfies, shooting photos, you name it. It was pandemonium. While watching him closely, I attempted to instruct a few of our Reservoir Dogs-black-suit-wearing farmers to work as shields. Suddenly, a shadow dropped from above.
"Guys, what the f-ck did I tell you about the trees? You need to remove those people. Now!" Dave shouted The "shadow" was an overly passionate fan who jumped down into the crowd below to get a closer look at Robert. His falling body took out at least three people. It caused several others to fall over in the commotion. It was hard to tell if everyone was okay, but no one
seemed to care.
"Hey. Hey. Hey. Everyone, please be civil. There's plenty of me to go around," Robert quipped.
"Kirby, please get some guys over here to clear the trees," I demanded respectfully. "We don't need Dave pulling the plug again."
And Robert worked the crowd…
Over the course of thirty minutes, he worked his way through the fan portion of the red carpet. Next step: the press portion. There was a small gap between the two segments, and it lacked proper security fencing and barricades. The awkward layout of the area made it an impossible problem to solve.
"Guys, get over here. Let's build a human shield around Robert," Dave shouted.
I joined Billy, Andy, Kirby, Dave, Allison, five farmers, and two of Dave's direct detail in forming a human wall around Robert. We had to get him roughly fifty yards to the press line. It seemed straightforward, except for the massive crowd starting to encroach on us on all sides.
"This is pretty crazy, guys!" Robert shouted, watching this all happen around him. He wasn't at all concerned, though.
"Hang in there, Robert. Just need to get you a little way further," I said.
"Holy sh-t!" Dave yelled.
A shadow fell from a tree. The object landed squarely on both Dave and Kirby, knocking Kirby over. Dave, however, being built like a Jason Statham-esque brick truck didn't even flinch. He grabbed the shadow off of Kirby. He ripped the shadow towards his terrifying face of fury and stared squarely into the shadow's eyes. The shadow was a stick-thin Downey-crazed Chinese man.
"Robert!" the man yelled in a Chinese accent. "Get the f-ck out of here!" Dave yelled back, throwing him through the air and into a deep trench behind the red carpet. Andy and I looked at each other, scared that Dave may have just killed a Chinese fan. I ran over to check. The guy appeared to hit the bottom of the pit. He bounced, literally bounced back on his feet. The extremely slender, injured man then dashed away. I looked around at the crowd. Not a single person noticed. Not one. All eyes were on Robert.
"That could've been bad," I said to Andy as we finally ushered Robert to the press line.
"That was f-cking crazy!"
"Boys, that was one bizarre way to pep me up for some press interviews! Throwing people at me from trees! Well done!" Robert yelled, running straight towards the shouting reporters.
Iron Man 3 went on to break Chinese box office records. Feeding The Dragon by Chris Fenton is published by Post Hill Press and distributed by Simon & Schuster.