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28 June 2017Last updated
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Real Life

My working life: The cartoon creator

Goal-driven mum Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz on how she never gave up on her hit animated show, Shimmer and Shine

Natalie long
16 Apr 2017 | 12:00 am
  • Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz

    Source:NICKELODEON

Anyone who has kids probably already knows Shimmer and Shine – but for the rest, what is the show about?

It’s about teeny twin sisters who grant wishes for their best friend, Leah. They don’t always grant them exactly right; they face obstacles and they work together to overcome them. The theme is resilience, working together and being kind to eachother. They are never catty when someone makes a mistake and they see mistakes as opportunities to find new solutions.

How did you decide on those themes?

It’s something important for kids to learn and also for adults. You find so often when someone is faced with a challenge they just stop, they give up. If you’re trying to work towards a goal, you can’t do that. You have to find another way. You have to teach kids that because it is a skill to think that way, and the more you can think that way, the further you’ll get in your life.

Is that your approach to challenges?

This is one million per cent my approach to challenges! I am absolutely that person who finds a way. When I was a supervisor, my line producer on Dora would be like, ‘we’re not going to be able to make this delivery date’. I’d say, just tell me the problem, and before she finished the sentence, I’d give her five possible solutions. That’s just the way my mind works – give me a problem, I’ll find a solution. That’s just how I have always been, it’s something I hope my kids have; it gives you that extra drive to make it when other people may stop.

That’s a teachable moment for children, but what can adults learn from that attitude?

It’s funny because I have people tell me all the time that I inspire them because of the way I am. When you are around somebody who is doing something like that, it inspires you to be a different way too. That’s something I’ve done in my life. I am not an envious person at all; if I see someone do something accomplished and amazing and fantastic, I try to position myself to be near them because I want to learn from them. We all have the ability to grown and learn and change. It just comes down what we want out of ourselves.

How did you get into the industry?

I went to school for animation, most people don’t realise that because I had been working in production. I had always been creative and drawing, and I knew had to be in the creative world in some scope. I started as an intern, and when I got to Nickelodeon, I got to see how specified how the jobs were. I fell in love with Nickelodeon, it really felt like a family environment. I moved out to LA and decided I was going to work there. I got hired as a production assistant, and then a post-production coordinator for Go, Diego, Go!, and then a post-production supervisor for Dora The Explorer. I am a very goal-driven person, so when I became a supervisor, I knew I had to find another way to grow, because as a ‘post sup’, that’s your limit. So I started pitching shows in the background. I was pitching for about five years before I finally landed on Shimmer and Shine.

How did the show come about?

I pitched at least 50 versions of Shimmer and Shine. The first pitch was a show about literacy, there was only Shine, no Shimmer, and if you could spell the word your wish was granted. Every time I failed and I didn’t get a show, I got one step closer to figuring out what it took. It all leads you to your path in some way. I had someone who held me back. Instead of being angry about it, it just lit the fire under me to prove them wrong. That’s what got me down this course, thinking ‘I can do more – I’m going to show you I can do more’. It’s guess it’s the rebellion in me.

Why do you think the network eventually went for it when they did?

There were a few things. Development is like lightning striking – a lot of things have to line up for lightning to hit at that moment. [Nickelodeon] were looking for a property to use to support Dora The Explorer, bring a girl brand back to the channel.

I would love to continue we are working on expanding the world the magic, the new genies, new magic, and in expanding it, with tie backs to the consumer products line, pushing the tech further, the apparel, this trip has inspired me to talk to our team in the states, 60 per cent of our audience is boys, I want

You mentioned that it’s important that the characters are nice to each other.

A lot of the younger shows show girls being negative and catty. I don’t want to show girls being that way to each other. I don’t hang around women who treat each other that way. It’s an important message that I am hoping girls will pick up. Boys are all just friends, there’s no nonsense, but girls play games with each other. Our girls don’t do that. It’s about treating each other with kindness.

Boys watch the show, too, right?

I was at first a surprise to me, but then I started to think about it and it made sense. There are a few shows around our timeslot that do cater to boys, so boys were already watching the channel – the good thing was they weren’t changing the channel when Shimmer and Shine came on. I think that comes down to the fact that it’s got fun characters in action-packed adventure.

What role does your Iranian heritage play in your work?

Both of my parents moved from Iran in the 1970s. As a creative person, your personal life always finds a way into you work, that’s why creatives hold things so close to their heart – it’s a piece of them. Our world is a big cultural melting pot filled with so many different beautiful things – the world that you can I live in. So for Shimmer and Shine, I pulled from there the things that I feel fit the world of Zahramay Falls. I grew up in the US and all of my family was overseas, we travelled a lot all over the world, I had exposure to so many different cultures from a young age. I think it changed my perspective on things. I find it a very valuable thing.

What reaction do you get from people about the show?

I don’t normally tell people what I do and who I am. When they find out what I do, they freak out. I met someone and I had not told her what I do, and when I did she lost it! They had posted pictures at Halloween dressed up as the characters.

That must feel great.

That is one of the best parts about getting to do this. We all had cartoons that we grew up with, they inspired us guide us in some way. Now what we are doing day to day, getting to interact with kids like that is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. Every once in a while you get to see kids connecting to the show and you realise that you are making an impression on their lives and their future.

What were your favourite cartoons growing up?

I had quite a few, I had two working parents so I probably watched more TV than I should have. I loved Clarissia Explains it all, My Little Pony, She-Ra, Jen, The Snorks, Care Bears.

Shimmer and Shine airs in the UAE on Nick Jr. Merchandise from the show is due to arrive in the Nickelodeon store in Dubai Mall this year.

Natalie long

Natalie long