EXCLUSIVE: Chris Fenton, the General Manager and Motion Picture Group President of DMG, has opted not to re-up with the Beverly Hills-based global media company after his latest contract expired last month.
Fenton will instead plan to transition to a consultant role for the company and focus on his near-term responsibilities as trustee of the D.C.-based US-Asia Institute. That org is in the process of creating a diplomatic backdrop for crucial ongoing USTR and WTO trade negotiations between the U.S. and China, in addition to advising Congress on pending CFIUS legislation.
Fenton, a former William Morris TV and film agent, co-founded management/production company H2F Entertainment with now-DC Films President Walter Hamada and sold it to DMG in 2012. He has been with DMG for 17 years. The China expert, who has been instrumental in bridging the gap between Hollywood and the Middle Kingdom, has been the top executive under the company founders Dan Mintz, Wu Bing and Peter Xiao.
During Fenton’s tenure, DMG grew from 35 employees to more than 900 today, with its value increasing from $100 million to a market cap of roughly $5 billion.
Among his DMG responsibilities, Fenton supervised the development, financing, production, marketing and distribution of DMG’s entertainment content. In addition to managing DMG’s IP library, he oversaw the M&A and strategic investment usage of DMG’s capital resources. He also produced or supervised 20 films ranging from big budget franchises like Iron Man 3, Point Break and 47 Ronin to more niche films like Looper, Waiting, Blockers and Chappaquiddick. The latter has yet to be released, the rest have grossed nearly $2B worldwide.
When DMG shifted its focus to the film business, Fenton began acquiring movies for theatrical release in China. Soon after, DMG made Lionsgate’s Knowing, the first ever non-major studio movie to receive approval as a quota film. Fenton also acquired other titles that DMG successfully released including Resident Evil 3D, Priest, Twilight, The Eagle, RED and Killers.
Evolving the business, Fenton pivoted DMG’s U.S. efforts into co-financing and co-producing strategies with Looper and Iron Man 3. Looper was historic in incorporating China components so as to be qualified as a local production. With Iron Man 3, there was massive China push and the film opened day-and-date with domestic, in fact bowing a day earlier in the Middle Kingdom. It grossed five times more than the first two movies and set records for opening day and weekend.
IP acquisitions under Fenton include comics publisher Valiant Entertainment, the Brandon Sanderson library of books and a stake in Mini Marilyn.
Importantly, Fenton has led efforts to educate U.S. lawmakers and regulators on the business dynamics between the Hollywood studios and China and to showcase how collaborations between the two could foster stronger relations.
“There aren’t many individuals who understand the complexity of U.S.-China relations with regards to the entertainment and media business. Add to that Fenton’s extensive understanding of the creative aspects of producing content, along with the scope of his Hollywood network, and it makes him a very rare and extremely valuable breed,” says Stanley Rosen, senior professor of political science at USC.