From : Wryrepublic.co.za
The Financial Mail recently ran a cover story asking if South Africa’s local film industry can survive without state support? The answer is “yes”… but not now.
Film still remains one of the highest forms of art, combining theatre, music, and storytelling into a compelling narrative that holds our attention and reflects the pathos of our lives. For those of us that love film, we want to see more local stories – stories that reflect our own experiences in our own environments, but this is not going to happen without investment in developing and building a sustainable industry.
The film industry can showcase a country’s capabilities, but without government support, very few South African films would make it into production. One only has to look at the success of the Cape Town Film Studios and the number of international productions that come to South Africa, to know that we have a world-class, profitable service industry. But you do not want to stay a service provider forever.
The real money is in developing and creating your own intellectual property (IP). Telling your own stories. To move up the value chain, you need investment and local investors are still not comfortable investing in original IP. For the most part, local investors have a risk-averse “property and mortgage” approach to investing and do not understand original IP or how to exploit it. This problem exists not only in the local film industry, but also in the nascent start-up space where young, entrepreneurial technology companies struggle to attract investment.
Until we fix this, South Africa’s best talent will go overseas. It’s unlikely that individuals like Elon Musk or Neill Blomkamp would have found the success they did in South Africa. I cannot imagine a local investor that would have had the stomach for the kind of risks that Elon Musk or Neill Blomkamp were prepared to take. Our dreams are too small.
In my own experience in working with Triggerfish Animation Studios, I have spoken to the Media & Entertainment divisions of some of the country’s leading institutional investors who have never heard of casual gaming, or companies like Zynga, or even understood the concept of slate financing for film. This is depressing news from the very people whose responsibility it is to drive innovation and investment in this area. We have a long way to go before South Africa gives birth to companies like Facebook, Twitter, or Zynga.
The world is changing. Casual gaming is exploding. The rise of smart phones, digital distribution and the growth of platforms like YouTube, the iTunes Store and Netflix offer a unique opportunity for independent producers to build their own audience. Thanks to social media, the major Hollywood studios are struggling to control the narrative. The exponential growth of start-ups like Maker Studios and the advent of Internet TV signal the disruption that is on its way.
Africa is on the rise. Organisations like the Silicon Cape Initiative are championing the local tech industry. The local film industry is slowly growing and low-budget Afrikaans films are starting to find their audience. At the Cannes Film Festival I saw the massive potential of this multi-billion dollar industry and what it could mean for South Africa. At the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, where Triggerfish had its film Adventures in Zambezia selected for screening, I saw that our animation is world-class. Nigerian start-up Iroko Partners, the world’s largest digital distributor of Nigerian film and African music, received $8m in venture capital from Tiger Global Management, a New York-based private equity and hedge fund firm. Change cannot happen without investment.
Hollywood is in the business of selling dreams just as Silicon Valley funds them. Local investors need to think different. Pixar had its Steve Jobs. At Triggerfish there is an extraordinary talented team of individuals crazy enough to believe they can change the world. We need investors crazy enough to believe this too.