Spier Films invests millions in Triggerfish’s second animated feature

Production and finance company, Spier Films, recently made an investment in Triggerfish Animation Studio’s second animated film, Khumba. Triggerfish CFO Jean-Michel Koenig, revealed to Ventureburn that the investment is in fact a multi-million rand deal.

Spier has funded a slate of successful films including Master Harold and the Boys, Son of Man and Black Butterflies. This is the first time the company has invested in an animated feature film.

Triggerfish’s first international animated feature, Zambezia, received a R17-million investment from South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) — an amount disclosed by the IDC in its financial results for 2009. Zambezia went on to sell more than two million tickets, raking in over US$16-million at the box office.

Conceived independently and crafted on a budget, Zambezia was well received in emerging markets where it became the highest grossing film in Israel soon after its release and the second most successul independent animated film in Russia — beaten only by Gnomeo and Juliet, an independent film distributed by Disney’s Buena Vista International.

Looking at Europe, Koenig tells us that Zambezia recently crossed the half a million Euro mark in the Netherlands and reached US$2-million in Poland after only three weeks at the box office. Following the film’s successes, Zambezia become the first African animated film to recieve two Annie Award nominations — a prestigious award for accomplishments in animation.

Koenig says that Khumba, a 3D stereoscopic feature, will be technically and artistically superior to Zambezia, and yet, despite the studio’s inaugural success, international investment remains elusive. Khumba, for the moment, remains a 100% South African funded film through Spier Films, the IDC, DTI and the NFVF.

Asked why international investment remains challenging, Koenig says that African animation studios simply aren’t on foreign investment radars yet, but that Triggerfish will change that — Triggerfish CEO, Stuart Forrest, has been invited to speak at the 2013 Stanford Africa Forum hosted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business to promote the African investment story. Koenig says that South Africa’s VC community “is still in its infancy,” and that local investors have a low risk appetite. “Local investors are not willing to pour large amounts — such as the amounts we need — into startups. Steve Jobs poured millions of his money into Pixar before it became profitable,” says Koenig.

With Africa’s perpetual rise, Triggerfish is jostling to position itself as the premier animation studio to bring Africa’s stories to the world. Referring to African themed movies such as Madagascar and The Lion King, created by international movie studios, Koenig says that Triggerfish hopes to tell Africa’s stories through a non US-centric voice.

“We want to win the hearts and minds of Africans to such an extent that consumers would choose a Triggerfish product over a Pixar one. We want to bring African creativity to the world,” says Koenig.

The original story of Khumba, a half-striped zebra who is blamed for the drought by his superstitious herd, was penned by Triggerfish writers Raffaella Delle Donne and Anthony Silverston in consultation with Jonathan Roberts (The Lion King) and has been picked up by Millennium Entertainment for North American distribution.

Zambezia is Africa’s most successful film export since The Gods Must Be Crazy, released over thirty years ago. Triggerfish expects Khumba to break this longstanding record.



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