It’s no secret that Israeli movies have attracted worldwide attention during the last decade. What they haven’t done, except in rare cases, is turn a profit.
But that’s all about to change, if a young director named Eitan Reuven in Hod Hasharon gets his way. He is currently editing a movie he filmed recently called Another World, about a lethal virus that gets loose and kills most of humanity. Filmed in and around Hod Hasharon, the movie is not specifically set here and features an English-speaking cast.
“I made this film for the international market,” says Reuven.
Told that the plot sounds very similar to the science-fiction hit 28 Days Later
, directed by Danny Boyle (who went on to make Slumdog Millionaire
), he is flattered by the comparison.
Although there has been a renaissance in the local movie industry over the last decade, the films made here are still almost exclusively of the art-house variety. But for a young, aspiring filmmaker like Reuven, who wants to make a good living from his work, there is something missing – commercial films. “Last year, two films out of 18 made money,” he says.
Those two were Ajami
, a complex crime drama that was nominated for an Oscar (and won a host of other awards at film festivals worldwide), and A Matter of Size
, a frankly commercial comedy about sumo wrestling with well-known comic actors.
Not surprisingly, the Israel Film Fund, a government body that disburses money to filmmakers, did not invest in Another World
“They don’t want to invest in films that couldn’t represent Israel at Cannes,” says Reuven. “Most of the filmmakers here don’t make a living from their movies, they all have other jobs. In the rest of the world, movies are made to make money, not to win prizes at festivals.”
In an earlier era, during the heyday of producers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan, for example, Hollywood movies such as The Delta Force
, starring Chuck Norris, were made here. Recently, a few international productions have shot scenes here, usually stories about biblical times shot in and around Jerusalem. But Reuven is convinced that the country can once again be a movie-making center.
REUVEN, A movie-crazy guy who “wanted to make movies from the age of five,” earned an MBA from the Open University in Ra’anana. He got into the business when a friend needed someone to produce his movie, Antarctica
. The film, a gay love story, ended up playing at festivals around the world. But when Reuven talked to international distributors, he was told, “It’s a fantastic film, and if it were in English, it could get distribution.” For the last couple of decades, there has been a strong prejudice in the American market against films with subtitles. Many of the big movie chains simply won’t accept them.
This experience got him thinking about how to make low-budget but profitable genre movies here. “I read all the scripts I could,” he says. He studied books on filmmaking and listened to the director’s commentary on DVDs. He then decided that a sci-fi thriller with minimal special effects, a la 28 Days Later
, was the way to go. “I wanted to make a tense, exciting film with a threatening atmosphere,” he says.
He had the basic idea, but brought in novelist Michael Birinbaum to write the script.
is about the last six days on Earth,” the director explains. “There’s an element of the creation story. Each day is like a biblical day in reverse; the planet is being destroyed. A radio announcer gives various theories about the cause of the virus: Could it be from meteors? Was it a virus that killed the dinosaurs? We really looked into some scientific theories about the dinosaurs.”
When the news about Reuven’s film got out, he says he was approached by many agents representing well-known Israeli actors, who wanted to appear in it. In the end, however, he didn’t use any stars. “I knew the film had to be in English, so I wanted someone who would be fluent. Also, in a movie like this, it’s good to cast unknowns. Otherwise, you’re just thinking, ‘Nothing can really happen to this star.’”
FOR HIS five leads, he went with one Israeli-born actor, Zach Cohen,
who has appeared on West Wing
. Carl McCrystal played
a bad guy in the 1999 James Bond film, The World Is Not
. Unknowns Susanne Gschwendtner, Davina Kevelson and
David Lavenski were all thrilled to have their first starring roles,
according to their director. “For them, it was living a dream.”
Since the Israel Film Fund declined to participate, he found financing
privately. His MBA training came in handy as he solicited funding.
“Inventing a product, that’s the easy part. But selling it is really
Trying to create a technically perfect movie that involves large-scale
action sequences here was especially challenging. In places like New
York and Los Angeles, people are used to having their daily commute
interrupted by filmmakers on location, but here that isn’t the case.
The logistics of the shoot were daunting.
“The manager of a huge company doesn’t work as hard as a movie
producer,” Reuven discovered. “If one thing is missing, or messed up,
the whole scene is ruined.”
Although the film was made here, the location is never specified. “I
looked for buildings and sets that could be in America.” Many of the
scenes were actually filmed at a high-rise apartment building in Hod
Hasharon. “It was a 16-story building with 300 apartments. We had to
get everyone to cooperate.”
Reuven is grateful to those tenants, as well as to the local police and
government. “One of the biggest action scenes, we shot in a sewage
treatment plant. We got permission for that, and to use lots of other
Reuven and his crew had to overcome other obstacles along the way. The
biggest challenge was filming scenes with a crowd of 100 extras. Reuven
found these extras by putting up ads and notices, on the Internet and
around the country.
“In America, you have people who want to act and they work as extras to
make money. They’re professional. Here, some people who saw the notice
just came to have fun. You can see in some of the photos from the set
that some of them are just having fun and not taking it seriously,” he
says. “The ones we really used in the scenes are ones who really tried
There were several days of preparation for shooting, in which the
extras learned how to move and what to do. They also had to agree to
wear and be comfortable in heavy makeup, with a lot of fake blood. The
makeup artist was one of the few crew members brought in from abroad.
“A lot of the people who worked on the film are Israelis who work in
Hollywood and live here. They were happy to work close to home,” he
says. The fact that many experienced movie crew members make Israel
their home base is another reason Reuven is optimistic about the
possibility of developing a profitable film industry here.
But will the film succeed? Since Reuven is still in the editing room,
it’s too early to tell. A clip he released from a rough cut looked
pretty scary. But Reuven says he has another few months of editing
ahead of him. He’s aiming for a January release. This is another mark
of his professional savvy, because January is traditionally a time when
popcorn movies with no Oscar aspirations hit theaters in the US.
If it does succeed, it will be a boon for the local filmmaking
industry. Soon, Israelis may nod wearily like New Yorkers at barricades
around movie productions, and say, “Oh, what are they filming today?”
---------------------------------------More movies we’d like to see made here The Slow and the Furious
– Johnny Depp plays a Romanian worker trying to extend his visa at the Interior Ministry. Bar Refaeli makes her acting debut as a clerk who refuses to process his application – at first. Soon, though, love blossoms. But will he get a work permit? A suspense-filled drama.Invasion of the Body Snatchers
– In the fourth remake of the science-fiction classic, spores from outer space grow into pods that turn people into soulless clones. On the plus side, the clones are excellent drivers. And another unexpected benefit is that there is suddenly peace in the Middle East, since no one has any emotions anymore. Will Smith stars as an IDF officer of Ethiopian descent who has a mysterious immunity to the pods. He joins forces with a Palestinian scientist played by George Clooney to stop the outer-space creatures.Sex and the Holy City
– Scarlett Johannson plays a kooky alternative medicine healer, who meets Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal), a strait-laced yeshiva student, when she comes to Jerusalem for a conference. Assi Dayan is her yoga instructor, while Jack Nicholson plays Joe’s wisecracking rabbi, and Tina Fey is Johannson’s best friend. Can these two crazy kids find love, and if they do, can she get a wig that stays on during her yoga lessons?The Blue and White Lagoon
– Israeli heartthrob Oshri Cohen plays Eyal, an IDF vet on a trip to Thailand who gets stuck on a deserted island with Ingrid (Cameron Diaz), a Scandinavian activist who supports an international boycott of Israel. It’s hate at first sight that slowly develops into a romance, as the activist can’t function without her iPhone and gradually comes to depend on Eyal’s survival skills.