Throughout the years, it’s been a known fact that cartoons are for children; however, FREEJ came along and broke that stereotype. Proving that you can never lose the kid at heart, Mohammed Saeed Harib created FREEJ, the first 3-D cartoon show in the Middle East less than 10 years ago.
The show is based on four grandmothers who live in Dubai, and focuses on living in such a booming city like Dubai and meanwhile, trying to maintain customs and culture.
Here, Mohammed Saeed Harib answered our questions about this hit-TV show and the line between old and new.
How did you come up with the idea of FREEJ?
FREEJ started off as a six page study book in 1998 but it never materialized until 2003 when it was adopted by Dubai Media City. A small demo was created to test the concept and shortly after it was given the official go ahead by the Sheikh Mohammed Establishment for Young Business Leaders (SME) who took on the initial funding of the project.
What is challenging about FREEJ?
Well every season of the show presents its own technical issues and its own creative issues. There is a demand we constantly innovate with creative and fresh ideas, in the same time we have to also be aware that we have to be technically updated so that we not only deliver a show that is creative, funny and witty but also a show that is talking about social issues and hitting on certain subjects on top of all of that we have to make a show that is visual breathtaking and technically advanced – so every year it really gets harder and harder to innovate especially that you might think you might have done all the episodes, story concepts that you thought about.
On what basis do you choose the script?
Sometimes you want to focus on an issue, sometimes you want to think it’s funny in terms of execution, sometime you think because this is an animation you really can take it outside the borders of reality and make something imaginative. So really there is no one thing/ or key to why an issue or episode is selected or a story, more or less what is entertaining so whether it was through the subjects or through the animation or sometimes through the music we always try to go with something that is entertaining.
What did FREEJ change on home screens?
Oh many things, FREEJ changed major viewership habits – usually the family was segregated, the family did not sit together as one unit when watching TV and that is because adults used to watch soap operas, kids used to watch children shows but with FREEJ it is a family entertainment show where the mother, the father and the grandmother sit together and watch the show and because it is a cultural show it opens up this dialogue between these generations about exchanging information while they are sitting and watching this show.
How does FREEJ unveil social issues?
Our main aim is really not to tackle social issues we are a cultural show that celebrates culture but we have to put it in a context of social issues which we have to highlight them cleverly without saying in your face here this is the issue and this is how you solve them. There is a trait in Arabic programming where the viewership is very passive – basically they show them the problem and they spoon feed them the solution – we want to open the imagination a little bit more and really hint on things and maybe the viewers can help solve those problems
How many viewers watch FREEJ?
We don’t have any statistics available at the moment.
Who is your target?
The target is 18-35 mainly female but we know that the entire family is watching the show so we try to deliver something that is good for all ages but the tone of communication is for that age group.
What type of messages is FREEJ keen on passing?
Cultural messages, social messages we talk about certain bad things in our culture certain habits we want to go away or we talk about an existing issue that has been there for a while and sometimes we do things for the fun of it.
How does FREEJ display the image of Arab women?
They are super heroes of this not only Arab women but senior Arab women – rarely do you see in TV programming a show that is based on females only and to have as grandmothers whose culture as they say is very important message of women empowerment of equality – who says you cannot do a show with female only!
Are there any ideas like FREEJ in the pipeline?
Oh yes we are working on a Season 4 which will have more characters to introduce more special women to talk about, more fun hopefully and entertaining subjects
Dubai is very cosmopolitan yet traditional, how do these two worlds meet?
In FREEJ basically, it’s very apparent in the first shot of the show where you have the whole setting of the neighborhood and behind them is the skyscrapers of Dubai and I think that is what makes Dubai and the show unique because it is the fusion of the old and the new and with all its positives and negatives
Do you know what women want?