The Adventures in Zambezia : Hard work pays off


The hard work, passion and resilience dedicated to the production of The Adventures in Zambezia by the producers and team at Triggerfish Animation Studio has paid off. This animation film has finally reached the silver screen. By Karen van Schalkwyk.

Zambezia was picked up by Sony Pictures for distribution in English-speaking territories and will be released in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. It has already been screened in Israel, Austria, Switzerland, Russia and Germany. Overall the film has been sold in over 40 territories world-wide and will be released in South Africa on 26 December by Nu Metro.

The film began as a pilot in 2006 and received development funding from the National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF). Stuart Forrest, producer and CEO at Triggerfish, says that it took two years to write the script and over two and half years in production. This time frame is in line with international animated film production. Pixar Animation takes close to three years to write scripts and as long in production. For a South African animated film shot on a limited budget of $20 million and under difficult circumstance, the turnaround on The Adventures in Zambezia is a real achievement.

As with most films the real challenge was raising the budget. However from the outset, the producers wanted the film to reach a global audience and therefore decided to secure CGM, an international sales agent, based in Beverly Hills, to provide estimates on what the film could sell for. Forrest explains that this enabled them to pre-sell the film and CGM brought a gap financier on board who cash flowed the presales. The next challenge was sorting out the legal documents with the investors who included the IDC, DTI, NFVF and investors in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It took over nine months for the legal work to be finalized so that the funding could be transferred. "Surviving this was a huge challenge," says Forrest.

The Adventures in Zambezia was also the first feature film for Triggerfish, so the learning curves were immense. Forrest explains that they had to learn the lessons the hard way, which often lead to disappointment and frustration. He is quick to point out, that it is due to the amazing team that the film achieved international recognition.

The team adopted a methodical approach. After they secured the financiers, they shopped it around extensively during production. On completion, the film was screened to an invited audience of major studios in LA. This lead to Sony securing an interest in the project and a deal with the Head of International Acquisitions. They also conducted test screenings and were rewarded with an audience feedback of 93% positive for the target market.

Forrest explains that they had over 250 people working on the film with a core group of around 90 people. Most of the animators were Cape Town based with the balance mostly from Johannesburg.

One of the key elements was to keep the film authentically South African even though many of the voice artists like Samuel L. Jackson, Richard E. Grant, Jeff Goldblum and Abigail Breslin are international stars. Forrest says to attract international interest they had to have name actors attached. However, the 'fingerprints' all over the film with regards to the music, design, and story came from the hearts and minds of South African filmmakers.

The long term vision was to send a clear South African voice out to the rest of the world. The other business objective was to develop strategic partners both locally and globally who were aligned with their vision.

The audience feedback thus far is very positive. The film, recently released in Russia on 650 screens in 150 cities, has gained the box office number 2 spot in Russia and was also the number 1 independent film of the summer in Israel and is still playing. Forrest explains that they have had positive response in other territories like Austria and Switzerland although they expected better results in Germany. To date the film has sold over half a million tickets in the first few territories.

Triggerfish are currently working on their second film called Khumba, scheduled for completion in the first quarter of 2013, and are in development with their third project in association with the NFVF. Forrest explains that they have learnt a tremendous amount from interaction with distributors, sales agents and financiers on Zambezia. This has resulted in a clear vision of the kind of films they want to make and that they want to grow into an international company.

Triggerfish is in the process of establishing the company as a global, media and entertainment brand and has already launched a games department as well as eBooks publishing for mobile devices. Forrest points out that the most important aspect is to monetize the intellectual property (IP).