Wayne Fitzjohn Simon Swart c Shannon Roberts Charlemagne Olivier

Source: Shannon Roberts / Charlemagne Olivier

Wayne Fitzjohn, Simon Swart

Nthibah Pictures has been growing rapidly since being established in South Africa by venture capital company Talent10 Holdings Investment Group in 2018. Now chairman Wayne Fitzjohn and CEO Simon Swart have ambitions to expand the company internationally, creating franchises from the IP it owns.

The company, which has offices in Johannesburg and Los Angeles, is about to launch its most ambitious film, martial-arts thriller Boy Kills World starring Bill Skarsgard as a deaf-mute action hero with an inner voice, on just under 2,500 screens through Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions in the US.

The company recently received $50m in funding from parent outfit Talent10 and the newly-announced Project Legion is the first feature to be greenlit from that investment. Nthibah has also been singled out by the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa (IDC) for a multi-million dollar investment in a planned Boy Kills World franchise.

The IDC is a self-financing, development finance institution formed in 1940 to promote economic growth and industrial development in South Africa. It’s investment in Nthibah is the first time it has partnered with an entertainment company on this scale to make commercial projects.

Sipho Nkosi, ex-head of Exxaro, one of the biggest mining companies in South Africa, is a co-founder of Talent10.

Nthibah’s earlier feature Redeeming Love was distributed by Universal in 2022, while I Am All Girls, directed by Donovan Marsh and starring Erica Wessels, Hlubi Mboya and Masasa Mbangeni, was released on Netflix in 2021.

“Biggest South African film”

Nthibah fully financed Boy Kills World, which Fitzjohn believes is the largest film ever funded by a South African production company. He won’t reveal the budget but claims the film cost more to make than Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom starring Idris Elba, which had a reported budget of $35m.

“We were introduced to the project,” Swart says. “We remember reading the script, looking at the short [that co-writer/director Moritz Mohr had made as proof of concept] and going, ‘This is unlike anything we have ever seen before’. It was a wild and crazy mash-up of all our favourite movies and favourite genres, action, animé, comedy.”

Mohr, who made his feature directorial debut on Boy Kills World, had attached heavyweight US producers Sam Raimi and Roy Lee to the project at a relatively early stage but the project was “in turnaround at a couple of other studios” when Nthibah came aboard.

Boy Kills World shot entirely in South Africa. “We never left Cape Town,” Fitzjohn explains. “We shot Indonesian-type jungles, we shot run-down ghettoes, we shot massive haunting landscapes, we shot wide city shots with bays – and all within a 25-minute radius.”

One scene even had snow, he adds. “It’s an incredibly versatile place with a crew that speaks English and has vast experience.”

The film premiered in a Midnight Madness slot at Toronto last year in a not-quite-finished state. It has been tightened up since then. “When the [US actors’] strike ended, we could finish our movie and put in all the bells and whistles that are now there,” Swart explains.

Franchise potential

Wiht the twin investment boosts, Nthibah is now looking for other spin-offs from the IP it is developing. For example, an arcade video game called Super Dragon Punch Force 2 is featured in Boy Kills World. The company and its gaming development studio (Talent Digital Art) have already created a digital video game called Super Dragon Punch Force 3, based around the characters inside the game and also launching this week. Meanwhile, a completely original new animated TV series, inspired by the digital game, is in the works.

Nthibah’s projects to date have been varied. Donovan Marsh’s I Am All Girls was a mystery thriller based around sex trafficking. Fitzjohn, who co-scripted it, calls this picture his version of The Silence Of The Lambs. “We made a beautiful little movie for $5m. Most people can’t even shoot ads for that.”

I Am All Girls went on to win several awards including best feature at the South African Film and Television Awards and Fitzjohn claims that it had 32 million ‘completed views’ on Netflix over a 12-month period.

Now, the Nthibah team is looking to create other franchises. Action fantasy Project Legion, to be directed by Jozua Malherbe, a producer on I Am All Girls and director on BBC crime series Devil’s Peak, promises to be on an epic scale – and it will again be made in-house. 

“Everything we’ve done til now, we’ve fully financed ourselves…there is not a single aspect of it we have outsourced,” Fitzjohn says. “It has been us in the trenches with the crew. We’ve done it and we are going to continue doing it.”

“What makes us a little different is that we are making content for the global marketplace. We are not just an investor, not just a producer. We have an end to end solution because we will go all the way through distribution and marketing,” Swart adds. “Every project we have done has had a note of audacity and freshness to it. We are not looking to do things that are formulaic.”

As Nthibah Pictures expands, so could the South African production sector in general. The Nthibah Pictures principals believe the local industry is capable of “three to four times growth. It can easily be doubled, tripled or more.”

Recent US projects to shoot in South Africa include Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, The Beast and The Woman King. However, market share for South African films in South Africa remains very low: in 2022 it was 2.5%.

Nthibah Pictures aims to change that.