Animag Online: We've heard a lot of news about Big Bad Boo in the past few months. Can you update us about what's new and exciting at the studio?
Aly Jetha: Last time we spoke, we were just starting production on our second series 1001 Nights. We brought some sample episodes with us to Mip Junior last year and ended up placing # 6 in the screening rooms. I think they presented more than 1000 properties so that was quite a nod for the show. Since then of course, we have been working very hard on getting the show produced and getting network interest. I am happy to say 1001 Nights was just nominated for four Leo Awards in British Columbia and we’ve also signed up Disney Southeast Asia, Al Jazeera Children’s Network, MTV3 Finland and are working on many other TV deals as we speak.
Why do you think there is such a need for animated shows that highlight multicultural perspectives and experiences?
Shabnam Rezaei: We’ve always felt that there is not enough “color” on TV and that having different perspectives and angles can teach kids what goes on outsitinde of their country. Fortunately for us, the 1001 Nights brand is considered a world brand so we have a huge leg up when introducing the show for the first time to buyers. It helps that our stories are well written, our character designs pop off the screen and there is a lot of comedy in every episode. We are working on 1001 Nights comic book series as well and hope the merchandising will have lots of applications.
What has been the biggest challenge for your studio in the past year?
Aly Jetha: Our biggest challenge remains in finding good talent and nurturing them in the art of animation. We feel strongly about good animation and a good place to work and hope we create that environment for our staff. Of course, it is also difficult to be a small independent studio and get distribution. That is probably our other challenge.
Shabnam Rezaei: We also have a lot of balls to keep up in the air at the same time. We are constantly pitching ideas to networks, working on existing material and trying to keep an eye on all of our new business ideas. There is a lot to keep track of.
With the wisdom of hindsight, what kind of advice would you give indie animation entrepreneurs who want to follow in your footsteps?
Aly Jetha: My advice to independent animation producers would be to think outside the box and to always do your homework. There is a lot of thought and preparation that goes into a typical pitch or even a development project and there are many resources that teach you about the industry before you decide to take the plunge. It’s an exciting time though for independents because we are able to reach our customers on our own and so for the first time, we are able to break the mold. For instance, we are just launching our own distribution site in www.oznoz.com. On the site, we have multicultural products that are not just our cartoons but books, games and toys from other independent producers that are able to reach customer directly. Over the next year, we plan to roll out 6 other languages and also provide digital downloads and streaming television.
What is the most frustrating aspect of pitching animated shows to the big TV outlets out there?
Shabnam Rezaei: It is frustrating when networks don’t pay attention to you or when they are so overwhelmed with requests that they take forever to respond to you. I think that is very normal because there are lots of creative and fun ideas out there and not enough places to take them. With the Internet and media going more niche, this will change and the consumer will have more control over very specialized content that they can watch. This is where we think our brands like Mixed Nutz and 1001 Nights will do well, even years beyond the TV runs. We are starting to take advantage of social media to get our messages out and these tools will continue to help the independents.
What do you love about your job?
Aly Jetha: We enjoy working together and always coming up with new ideas, whether it’s a new show idea, a new business idea, or a new process implementation idea for the studio. We are very lucky because we get to do that together and seeing it all come to life is very exciting. Our staff is also incredibly diligent and pleasant to work with and that is a key reason why we are have been able to successfully produce 1001 Nights.
Who are your animation idols and why?
Shabnam Rezaei: There are so many of course from classic show creators such as Blake Edwards (Pink Panther), Georges Rémi (Tin Tin), William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Jean de Brunhoff (Babar) and the amazing Walt Disney. Growing up in Iran, I watched these shows of course but I also watched a lot of Japanese, Korean and Iranian animation. Some of my favorites were the old Vicky the Viking (directed by Hiroshi Saito), Pinocchio, and of course Sinbad. These days though, our favorite person in this industry and in business remains Steve Jobs. He is incredibly disciplined and a true visionary. I can’t think of a single Pixar film I have not liked and that is mostly because they really focus on good stories and strong characters. I think if every animator or director thought this way, they would be successful.
There is a lot of hype out there about creating animation for multiplatform outlets and "monetizing the web." Do you think we're going to see this really helping indie animators in the 2010-2011?
Aly Jetha: We are very much in the process of building these channels certainly for our content and for the multicultural and educational niche in which we are playing. With oznoz.com we already have a very strong Persian customer base that buys products from us. This started out with our first product Babak & Friends – A First Norooz which a direct-to-DVD holiday special about the Persian New Year. Since then we have introduced board games that teach Farsi. We have introduced language learning books, flashcards, magnets, and other fun DVDs for different age groups that serve this purpose. In addition to streaming and downloading, we also hope to take advantage of new mobile devices such as the iPad. With iTunes we are able to reach a lot of people and there is no reason not to. I think it will take some time but we are here to build this out for multiple cultures and think there is a real market for it.
You were involved in a wonderful promo for Apple iPhone..how did that come about?
Shabnam Rezaei: We were very fortunate to have Apple feature Big Bad Boo on their site for using the iPhone. We are huge Apple fans as you can imagine.Aly and I each have two iPhones, we have the iPad, several iPods, Apple TV, Macbooks, and to top it off, our entire studio from pre-production to post is decked out with Apple computers, servers and software. So they called and asked if they could feature us. Apple products are just so clean and easy to use and in this creative space, we want our artists and animators to love the workspace they have and be proud of every single piece of artwork they produce every day. When you have so many people working, it’s easy to forget how important a prop or character design or clip of animation is but every person contributes. Having a nice clean station, good materials to work with and a pleasant environment really adds to that and we are very happy about it.
Where would you like to see your company in the next five years?
Aly Jetha: we see the company growing out in multiple ways. We would like to continue animating in our studio in Vancouver and building our distribution in New York. We are currently working on getting Season 2 of 1001 Nights green lit as well as more comic books and related merchandising. We are also working on other development projects with 2 major TV stations in Canada and the US and some co-production opportunities with two partners. With oznoz, we would like to grow our cultures and customer base, not to mention the range of age groups and delivery methods. We are also working on new proprietary proprieties to cover topics and age groups that Mixed Nutz and 1001 Nights don’t cover.
You wake up every morning and there is still so much to be done! That really keeps us going and it keeps our jobs very exciting.