A New Era: The unlikely journey of Malik Nejer and Abdulaziz Almuzaini

A New Era: The unlikely journey of Malik Nejer and Abdulaziz Almuzaini

With Netflix hits Masameer County and Head to Head, Malik Nejer and Abdulaziz Almuzaini have been instrumental in writing a groundbreaking chapter in Saudi film and TV
01 October 23

The world finally has its eyes on Saudi, with the shift sending shockwaves across the industry.

To Hollywood, new voices have seemingly risen out of nowhere to claim the creative throne, but the truth is, its audiences in the Kingdom were lost long ago. The true creative revolution happened when people like Malik Nejer and Abdulaziz Almuzaini — the visionaries who began publishing boundary pushing content on YouTube — inadvertently became the voices of a generation.

"We didn't even mean to, but we found the secret sauce," Nejer says. With just cheesy soap operas featuring boring caricatures of Saudis, young people couldn't relate, he explains. "Then we started publishing our foul-mouthed cartoon characters and everything changed."

The legendary partnership that birthed Head to Head and Masameer County began via a lucky break. In 2009, Almuzaini, then a renowned daily newspaper cartoonist, felt he was involved in a dying artform and needed a new challenge.

Almuzaini, a good businessman able to "see where things are going," according to Nejer, has always acted impulsively. He was 16 when he first sought a cartoonist job (he'd just failed maths and needed to impress his father). Panicking, he traced a cartoon, drove to the publisher, and met the editor with the doodle in hand. He immediately landed the gig, without knowing the stylistic aspects. He’d figure that out later, he thought.

After a service wanted to turn his drawings into cartoons, he said he would only go ahead if a Saudi who understood their humour did it. With leeway to find someone, Almuzaini discovered Nejer, but the service had already hired an Egyptian expert. Almuzaini quit instantly.

He grasped the lucrative opportunity and suggested to Nejer they do it themselves. Nejer, a self-taught animator with initial reservations, shared the software he’d been toying with and they immediately got to work. The shorts were an immediate success. While their creations garnered attention, they eventually bid adieu to focus on different projects.

Then in 2012, Nejer signed a contract to produce Masameer for Saudi TV, and Almuzaini called to congratulate him. He was thrilled for his friend, but could tell Nejer wasn’t happy. After finding out he only had three months to finish the job, Almuzaini joined him.

“Together, we had the most backbreaking three months imaginable, but we did it, and then some,” Almuzaini says. They stopped going home, would take turns to sleep for three hours, and lived on Red Bull and M&Ms.

“By the end, we were broken down mentally and physically, but we managed to complete 60 episodes, including two other projects we sold in the interim and all of it was the best work we’d ever produced,” Almuzaini adds. In 2014, they founded Myrkott Animation Studio, the first-of-its-kind in Saudi. And, when international production and movie theatres started operating from 2018, Myrkott and Telfaz11 were the first to hop on the new opportunities, vowing to lead the way for others.

The two companies were "fuelled by a shared pain," according to Nejer. They were both passionate about film-making and television, but nothing substantial was being produced in Saudi. They wanted to sensibly fix things.

“Everything we’ve made since is driven by a conviction to tell Saudi stories that feel true to the real Saudi – the Saudi we know. Now, the world will know,” Nejer says. The duo’s dynamic is a familiar one – Almuzaini is the indefatigable “ideas” man, and the more cautious Nejer helps bring them to life once convinced.

“It works because we trust each other. When I got the idea to create a movie in 2019, it seemed insane, because we knew it would cost us everything. But Malik trusted me, and we made it a huge success,” Almuzaini says.

The triumph of Masameer: The Movie led to a five-year deal with Netflix to turn it into a TV series, rebranded as Masameer County. Their fan base grew as their storytelling evolved.

Despite the deal, the ever-restless Almuzaini set up Sirb Productions to focus on live-action feature films, without Nejer. Years of hearing they were only successful because they had no competition propelled Almuzaini to prove otherwise. “I saw no value in taking baby steps – I wanted to jump into the deep end right away,” he says about his cousin’s idea to start with a short film.

Head to Head was his first completed script, and after a Netflix nod, he knew there was only one person who could bring his vision to life as director – Nejer. Anxious to show a Saudi the world had never seen, Nejer knew he could add his own brand of chaos. “People always think of hyper modern cities or desert dwellers on camels, when there’s so much in between,” Nejer says.

Following the film’s success, the men are parting ways once again, but with a bond that’s stronger than ever. Nejer says he’s excited about how they can each go 100% behind something and see how they compare. “We can’t wait to find out where our unique creative impulses will take us – and what they even look like.”