Just imagine it: snuggling up in a cozy blanket with a remote in hand browsing through movies and shows on Netflix. It’s the perfect, lazy Friday night. There’s Chef’s Table, House of Cards, and Salahadin. Wait, what? Yes, you read that correctly. Salahadin.
Filmmakers Ahmad Hussam and Nick Armero have just made history in (most likely) getting their show about the life of a 12th century Muslim leader on Netflix. Their approach was to effectively cut the middleman and have supporters of Salahadin make their #NetflixListen campaign go viral by hashtagging it everywhere.
As word spread of #NetflixListen, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, started paying attention. What did he have to say in return? Recently, Netflix US tweeted “You’ve been heard! … come in for a pitch? #NetflixListen.”
Needless to say, Ahmad, Nick and supporters are ecstatic. First, Salahadin managed to raise over $84,107 on KickStarter to bring the show to life. Now, $5,344 has been raised on LaunchGood to transport the Salahadin team to the Netflix Beverly Hills Office to pitch Salahadin in person.
The Muslim Observer sat down with Ahmad to ask some pressing questions about their feelings on this journey, their greatest challenge, their success, and much more.
The Muslim Observer: Wow, Netflix tweeted that you’ve been heard! Yay! What does this mean for you guys? What do you think will follow?
Ahmad Hussam: This means that we have accomplished exactly what we set out to do and that is the most exciting blessing ever. This is the first time anyone has ever used social media to get a meeting with a network in order to pitch a show. We are currently preparing our pitch to Netflix. We have accomplished something special but this was just half the battle. Now we need to ensure we knock their socks off and sell them on this show.
TMO: Can you believe you’ve made it this far? Looking back, did you expect to be where you are today?
AH: It’s a mixture of belief and disbelief. We always believed in ourselves, which is the most important thing, but we also knew the journey was going to be a struggle. We had our low points and there were always the doubters that discouraged us. However, we kept at it and here we are today. People spend their entire careers trying to get in the door and pitch their show. We understand the magnitude of this accomplishment and we are so humbled by the experience and the opportunity. Despite all the doubt and negative energy, we have to say that deep down we knew we get here somehow some way. Perhaps it’s our destiny. Only time and effort will tell.
TMO: How did you formulate such an amazing – and successful – campaign/social media strategy? Who are the masterminds behind it?
AH: We were in California meeting with people to share our work and connect. We already had a tough time connecting with agents that we felt were dedicated to our project. We finally got a meeting with someone out in LA, so we drove six hours during Ramadan. When we finally got there, the person completely bailed on us. We tried to reschedule but the person refused to honor their commitment to a meeting. We were so frustrated and embarrassed. We realized that we have to just take matters into our own hands. I got the idea to just pitch it publicly through social media. Why are we sharing our idea with busy people who don’t care? Let’s share it with the world and skip the people who don’t care. We were honest with our supporters and called them to action. We designed our pitch to be entertaining but inspiring in order to attract people. We had volunteers from all around the world sign up to help spread our message. Within days, we had an entire volunteer Twitter team on whatsapp working together to reach people. We filmed over 50 individualized videos with our story and our mission and reached out to actors and producers from the Netflix originals that we referenced in our pitch video. With every share and every retweet from an actor or producer, we legitimized our work, reached Netflix, and gave our followers a successful milestone to measure their effort. Our first video release was a new teaser. The idea was to rekindle the fire and get the emotions and excitement going. Our second video explained the plan. Our third video was the official pitch that we wanted Netflix to see. We made it entertaining and clever to make it fun for people to watch and to share, but we included the pitch at the very end because we knew Netflix would eventually come across it and get the message. Of course, we never knew if this would work. It was all just an idea. We succeeded.
TMO: What was the inspiration behind creating Salahadin?
AH: He’s a complex character with the greatest accomplishments and a fascinating story. I grew up learning about him, but I never really knew him until I began reading about his early days. A friend and I were watching Vikings on the history channel and we thought to ourselves, “Wow! What an awesome show. Why do I resonate with a Nordic Viking? What if we could share a story about a famous Muslim figure and have others resonate with that story?
TMO: What’s your ultimate goal?
AH: Make Salahadin a TV series on a major network. Share this story with the world.
TMO: When and where can viewers see the pilot episode – or is this reserved (hopefully) for Netflix? How many episodes would there potentially be for Salahadin and how long would they be?
AH: This is reserved for Netflix.
TMO: What’s been the greatest reward so far?
AH: This entire experience has been a reward in itself. We have learned so much and met so many interesting people. Seeing people unite over your idea and support it is something so beautiful.
TMO: What’s been the greatest challenge and how have you handled it?
AH: Persistence and perseverance. This is something that takes time and takes effort. There are no guarantees. Trying to keep at it while understanding that there might never be a finish line is not easy. If you’re patient, if you are persistent, and if you plan it, you can make it.
TMO: How will the Islamic and historical accuracy be verified?
AH: This is history. There are obviously different interpretations about how things went down. We are researching all angles and taking everything into consideration. Our team is well versed on the time period we are exploring and our writer is an expert in Middle Eastern history. We aren’t interested in taking sides and we aren’t interested in satisfying the opinion of a certain group of people. We are interesting in telling a story that everyone would be interested in. I think, at the end of the episode, everyone will be satisfying and asking for more.
TMO: Who would potentially be casted for the show?
AH: Reserved for Netflix.
TMO: What are some unexpected events you experienced during this journey?
AH: Netflix responding so soon was a bit unexpected.
TMO: Describe the experience of creating the show and some of the most memorable moments. Day one. Filming the trailer. Everything came together.
AH: Day one. Filming the trailer. Everything came together.
TMO: What kind of impact do you think Salahadin would have if Netflix picked it up?
AH: I think this show could have tremendous benefits. We could educate people through entertainment and dialogue and offer society a chance to unite over ideas. Bridging the gap between culture and societies is a great thing.
TMO: If there’s one thing you could tell the world about Salahadin, what would it be?
AH: He lived a great life, but the state in which he dies says a lot about him. After establishing a massive empire, he dies with very little in his purse. Scholars say that what he left behind could barely afford to pay for his burial. I don’t believe he was motivated by desire for wealth. He was motivated by purpose.