Integration Goes Nutz
Big Bad Boo started a few years ago when I realized there was a gap in the market for culturally rich content for children. So my husband and I partnered with a gentleman by the name of Dustin Ellis to do a direct-to-DVD cartoon, similar to the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. And we call that DVD Babak and Friends, A First Norooz. And the idea with that DVD was to teach kids about the Persian holiday of Norooz. It was a half-hour DVD. We produced it in English and in Persian and we used very famous voice-over artists to do the show.
And it was a small sort of side venture that we had both stepped into. That did really well. Babak and Friends did very well. We screened it in over 40 museums across the world and showed it in Apple stores. And based on that, we realized that there was a big gap in the market for culturally rich content for immigrant families. If you're an immigrant living in North America, how do you hold onto your culture and your language and teach those traditions to children? And out of that came the idea of Mixed Nutz, which is we like to say, the Peanuts for international children.
It's a show about four kids who are from four different countries and their daily adventures in school and at home. Babak is the boy from Iran. Plus we have Damaris from Cuba. And there's Jae, who's Korean, and Sanjay, who's Indian.
And all the things that they go through, as an example, we have Jay's grandfather coming to visit from Korea. And in that episode, they sort of go head to head. They have a language barrier and a generational barrier. We explore those issues in a really fun way. Mixed Nutz is going to be on PBS later this year.
We believed really strongly in the social value of what we wanted to create. We felt that major stations were not representing the minorities on television. So while you have a show like Maya and Miguel or you have Dora, they're not really getting to the core of the cultural issues. And they're not really getting specific to representing an ethnicity.
As an example, we took Mixed Nutz to a very large corporation to pitch them the idea to raise money for it. And this was an entertainment company. They said, "Well, we really like the idea. But why don't we take Jae, and instead of Jae being Korean, we'll make him Asian, you know, because that will hit a larger demographic." And we thought, "Well, that's exactly what's wrong with what's on television right now is that you're trying to think of it as demographics as opposed to, 'Well, maybe the Korean holiday of Thanksgiving is really interesting. So why don't we explore that? And Americans would be interested in that. And other people are interested in that.'" So while we're learning and teaching kids something, we're also getting the benefit of the entertainment value.
I mean, part of the problem, I think, is in the creation and development of stories. We don't have enough diverse people writing the stories and representing typical issues that are happening every day in American homes. It's sort of the same thing with the Winning Woman program. You know, you want to have enough women represented in corporations so that it's sort of well-balanced. That's exactly what we're getting in the entertainment and media. I mean, if you turn on the television right now, there's just not enough color on television in terms of representing all the different shades of people that are living in this country.
So that's definitely our mission; that's where our sweet spot is. And with Mixed Nutz, we're definitely carving out that space.
Building A Business
Some of it was our own funding. So we had labor in kind. We also had our initial investments in the firm. And some of the money came from foundations that believed in the cultural value and the social value of what we were doing. Because with these cartoons, obviously, we can reach a really large population. It's a very scalable business that has some social value attached to it.
We raised that money and sort of went blind and developed the show. We opened up our own animation studio in Vancouver, Canada, because there are a lot of tax credits there and the animation talent is just superb. In fact, Pixar just opened up a studio there a few months ago--they're doing their short programs there. So we're in Vancouver with a large animation studio, and we developed and produced the show entirely on our own. And then we went out and showed it to PBS. We have been able to reach over 26 different educational stations in the U.S. alone.
Right now we're really excited. We're working on our next show, which is called 1,001 Nights. It's the ancient tales. It's better known here as Arabian Nights. And some of the stories you would know from the Arabian Nights or stories like Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Sinbad. Now there are 998 other stories that have never been animated and never been told. So we had the idea of making that into a TV series.
Every episode starts with Shahrzad, the famous storyteller, which has never been animated. And the situation in the Persian court where we open up with the kids, they get into a fight, Shahrzad comes in. And she says, "Don't fight. Learn to share." And she tells a story that's related to what's going on. And typically it will be a story from 1,001 Nights. And we try to infuse a lot of comedy into it. So we're producing that show right now in Vancouver.
Diversity of Voices
We're all about all kinds of products and all ways of reaching children. We're looking at, for example, iPhone apps right now. IPhone is huge. There is the pass back, what we call the pass back in the industry, which is a parent is driving their kid around and they have their iPhone and they passed it back to the child to keep them entertained. And that could be an educational game or it could just be interaction with the characters from the show.
And we also have an online presence. Obviously, now, that's a huge, huge place for us. We have educational games that feature the characters. We have an extended online experience with those characters in the shape of downloads and wallpaper and coloring sheets and all kinds of goodies so that we can reach our audience directly. We have and online distribution platform that we're building right now called Oznoz.com. And the idea with Oznoz is while we're reaching these immigrant families that are interested in Mixed Nutz, they might be interested in other cultural and language teaching tools for their kids. So now we're not just producing the content ourselves and selling it, we're also procuring other content from other producers that are all about teaching culture and teaching language.
And that site is specifically, you know, Korean, Chinese, Iranian, Hindi. It's divided up by language so that if a parent is interested in their child watching a program in Hindi, let's say, in different age groups, they can do that. And they can grow up bilingual, which is happening a lot now in this world, not just in North America. People are more and more diverse, more and more mixed up. Families are from two different countries or two different races. And it's becoming more and more important to embrace those values and to make the child feel that both of those cultures are important. And they should embrace that.