Edward E. Frumkes, former Warner Bros. president of international theatrical distribution and marketing, has joined China’s Shanghai Hippo Animation Corp. as president of its international division.
It is highly unusual for wholly owned Chinese companies to install a Westerner in a top management position rather than in a customary figurehead role. Therefore the Frumkes hire is potentially transformational for Hippo as the company grows its animation business and expands into technology services for the entertainment industry and beyond.
Frumkes, who has been living in China for approximately a year, says Hippo is looking to tap his experience and skillset as the company scales up its production capacity and seeks strategic and financial partners.
During his 13-year tenure at Warner Bros., Frumkes was a frequent visitor to China and played a key role in opening up the Chinese market to U.S. distribution in the early 1990s. He launched to global success titles such as “The Fugitive,” “The Bodyguard,” “JFK,” as well as the “The Matrix,” “Batman” and “Lethal Weapon” franchises.
Over the years, he built strong relationships within China’s private sector as well with government officials. That will serve Frumkes well in his new job since China has become a major territory for U.S. releases and is on the brink of becoming the largest entertainment market in the world.
“Edward will add further depth to our talented team as we move to the next stage of our planned growth by creating global strategic alliances, attracting equity investment, and positioning our studio for successful IPOs in China and abroad,” said Hippo founder and CEO Kerr Xu, in a statement.
In a phone interview from Hippo’s Shanghai headquarters, Frumkes told Variety that he found his way to the company through his private equity connections and is looking forward to building Hippo’s international footprint and strengthening its ties to the U.S.
“Our balance sheet is strong,” said Frumkes, whose appointment took effect late last month. “We have been in business for 11 years developing our proprietary technology, and now we plan to monetize that internationally.”
Since its launch in 2003, Hippo has released five animated features — “Animen,” “Animen 2,” “Jungle Master,” “Farmhouse” and “Farmhouse 2” — through its own distribution infrastructure, which in the future may be additionally used for gaming projects and high-end simulation software and hardware.
“Jungle Master” was released in the U.S. through Grindstone Entertainment and Lionsgate Home Entertainment with an English-language voice cast that included David Spade, Victoria Justice and Jon Lovitz.
The company is currently working on animated feature “Water Planet,” directed by Xu.
Hippo, which has quickly grown into an animation powerhouse in China, now sees potential to step up and produce entertainment products, including film and games, targeted at a global market.
“We plan to fully realize the tremendous potential for Shanghai Hippo Animation to act as an OEM (original equipment manager) for leading international entertainment brands, while continuing to develop and produce our own slate of intellectual property for commercial exploitation,” Frumkes said.
Frumkes added that Hippo’s proprietary technology, especially in high speed rendering, enables the company to work faster and more competitively than its rivals, and that it is able to deliver content that is “HD extreme.”
“Hippo could be considered as a technology company that has animation as part of its portfolio,” Frumkes said. He explained that the company’s ambitions in entertainment include a wide range of CGI products including VFX contracting.
The company’s technology is already being applied to flight simulators and is likely to be expanded to firefighter simulation.
Hippo is backed by high profile investors in China, including Kuan Capital, whose principal is Michael Kuan, a co-founder of China.com, the first Chinese company to launch an IPO in the U.S.; Hua Han International; Chen Rong, an RMB billionaire with investments in more than 20 different listed companies; and Zhen Wen Ping, an RMB billionaire investor in secondary markets.
The company said that both its high-technology side and its domestic animation production business are profitable.
“There is a high level of interest from the investment community in investing further in Hippo Animation. The company will decide if and when the appropriate time may be to undertake an IPO,” Frumkes said.
Prior to joining Warner Bros. in 1988, Frumkes was VP of advertising and publicity for Columbia Pictures in New York.