If you produce it, it is no dream

In making aliya, producer Joyce Boll left behind an enviable career in film and television. By launching Sabrawood Studios, she brings a piece of Hollywood here.

Joyce Boll 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy )
Joyce Boll 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Joyce Boll has always set her sights high. "When I was 11, other girls were talking about becoming a nurse or a teacher, and I was saying I wanted to be an international lawyer," the vivacious New Jersey native told The Jerusalem Post outside the Bezalel School of Art at Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus. That ambition may have been sidetracked, but it was replaced by a career as a top American film and television producer with her own production company, where she worked with such media heavyweights as David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey's cable network Oxygen Media and Virgin's Richard Branson on promotional spots, production, venture launches and special projects "I'm the kind of person you want next to you if there's a nuclear war. I'll have all the emergency rations stockpiled, and know exactly what to do," she said in describing a producer's job. Now, after making aliya two years ago, Boll is ready to set her sights high again, with the upcoming launch of Sabrawood Studios - her own full service production studio, in partnership with another American award winning producer who also recently made aliya. Based in Tel Aviv, and named after a story in The Jerusalem Post, the studio will represent properties and be involved in pitching them to Hollywood, as well as provide full service production work, including Motion Graphics, VFX and animation for film and television. "Our motto is going to be 'Where Jews actually do control the media,'" joked Boll an hour before she was due to teach her weekly class at Bezalel called the "Principles of Preproduction." Boll, for whom the driven Holly Hunter producer role in Broadcast News could easily have been based, has become something of a celebrity around campus ever since a Hebrew daily featured her in its magazine last month, puffing her up to be a media mogul with the chutzpa to turn down job offers from Steven Spielberg. "That article was a work of fiction," said Boll, with a throaty laugh. "I've never met Steven Spielberg, and I don't think I would refuse him if he asked me for anything. I think he's brilliant." "And I wasn't Letterman's and Oprah's producer - they have a lot of producers. I worked on promotional segments for their shows, and I was the VP of Production when Oprah and CEO Gerry Laybourne were launching Oxygen Media, which is now a successful cable network," she added. Whether or not Boll was as plugged in as the Hebrew story made her out to be, it's clear from spending a few minutes with her that a lot of Hollywood A-List folks were just a phone call away from her. That access was a key lesson she learned back in in the mid-1980s while studying communications theory at Montclair State University in New Jersey. "I had a wonderful teacher who told us that we're only one or two phone calls away from any person in the world - this was way before Six Degrees of Separation," she said. "He gave us an assignment to name someone we admired and to contact them. And, for some reason, I said Barbara Walters. "I called and got as far as her personal assistant. And that was close enough and I understood that it can be done - I'm 19 and I can get through to Barbara Walter's office." That life lesson stayed with Boll, as she interned with NBC during her summer break, and eventually landed a job with an ad agency which she described as "horrible" but enabled her to learn about the commercial production process. "I became friendly with the vendors - and they walked me through what was needed to do to get talent paid, to get casting sessions together, to book edit rooms, what are the rules, the lingo to book time for a music session or editing session for music or film." With her drive, curiosity and determination, Boll landed a job at one of New York's biggest post-production studios, which was in charge of filming and editing The Bill Cosby Show, among others. "Even though I was in sales, I hung around the engineering guys a lot and asked lots of questions." By the age of 25, that had piggy-backed into a position at National Video Center, the largest privately owned full production studio in the US, as director of client services. "We were handling top ad agencies, but also Spike Lee and his films, shooting and doing post-production on MTV Unplugged, shooting it , and working with the fledgling cable stations like HBO and Showtime," she said. "I was 25 and I was managing a five-person staff of 22-year-olds. I didn't want anyone to know my age. It was ridiculous that I was in charge." AFTER A two-year side trip working for Sony Classical, and being based in both NYC and Hamburg, Germany, Boll returned to New York and established her own production company called Boll Design, building a clientele base that includes Sony Music Entertainment, Virgin, Oxygen Media, CBS, Discovery Communications and more. "A lot of times, companies would call me when they were starting new divisions, and I would lay out the infrastructure, implement strategies for re-positioning existing resources while advising on what new resources they needed," Boll said. "With Branson, we were involved with creating Virgin's first webcasts in the UK. People know that when you have an idea and you can't even articulate what you need to get it on its feet, you put me in. I'm sort of like a production mercenary." Life was good for Boll, she was at her peak professionally, and she was in a serious relationship with a man who had lived in Israel from the age of 10 to 17, and wanted to eventually move back. "He wanted to stay in the US and build his career but then move here. So I was already thinking in that direction," said Boll who described her upbringing as "two holidays a year Jews." She did, however, recall one emotional connection to Israel from her youth. "When Entebbe happened, my father, who was a Holocaust survivor, came alive. It healed that survivor part of him, and he said something that stayed with me: 'That's why Israel's important, Joyce. Only when we have our own army do we have safety and someone who'll go in there and protect us,'" she recalled. While working in Germany for Sony, she had visited Israel for the first time, and it made an impact. "I had traveled all over, and was pretty seasoned. But I got here and I thought I was home - it hit me like a bag of cement." While her relationship in New York ended, her interest in Israel remained, and Boll began to take the idea of aliya more seriously. "If I don't move to Israel now, when am I going to do it? I'm going to give it a try... nothing's written in cement. So I downloaded the forms from the Nefesh B'Nefesh site, and one day, while licking my emotional wounds with Ben & Jerry's in my lap and Dr. Phil on TV, I filled them out." That same day, Boll's phone rang and a friend who had worked with Dreamworks and had over the years tried to lure Boll to Los Angeles to work for them, called and said to her, "If I can't get you to move to LA, how about a job in Israel?" "I hadn't told a soul that I was thinking of aliya," said Boll, but the coincidence convinced her she was on the right track. While the job never materialized, Boll came on a pilot trip, and landed a position with a small animation studio Crew 972, where she remained until the beginning of this year. "They were a good company for me to get here," the Tel Aviv resident said, adding that her absorption into Israeli society has been relatively smooth. "I think being a New Yorker helped - I'm used to a love hate relationship with where I live," she said. With her energies focused on Sabrawood Studios, Boll is frothing at the bit to begin working with some of the top Israeli directors and producers. "There's a renaissance in the entertainment world here, both in TV and film. Hollywood has their eyes on us. It's an exciting time to be here." And with Joyce Boll on the case, it's bound to get more exciting.