Hollywood comes to Jerusalem

The event did feel very Los Angeles, whatever that means.

SUPER-AGENT Rick Rosen (left) and TBS/TNT president Kevin Reilly take the stage at the INTV Conference (photo credit: ODED CARNI)
SUPER-AGENT Rick Rosen (left) and TBS/TNT president Kevin Reilly take the stage at the INTV Conference
(photo credit: ODED CARNI)
"If I told my friends in LA who is here today, all in one room, they wouldn’t believe me,” joked the MC, sporting a haircut I used to wear when I lived in Los Angeles, to the audience at the Keshet-sponsored fifth annual Innovative TV Conference (INTV), held in Jerusalem on March 12 and 13 at the YMCA.
The event did feel very Los Angeles, whatever that means. (For me, it means pinukim, pampering, like the beer that was on offer in refrigerators scattered liberally around the conference areas.) And the MC was right. On stage beside him was Casey Bloys, president of HBO programming; David Nevins, CEO of Showtime; Gary Newman, chairman and CEO of Fox; and Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT. Moderating the panel was Rick Rosen, the head of TV at William Morris Endeavor, a super-agent, probably the most powerful of them all.
Rosen was instrumental in bringing Keshet’s successful drama Hatufim to American audiences as Homeland, which is still drawing audiences eight years later – and directly benefited two of the panelists.
When I asked Rosen – who is confident and determined, a spitting image of actor Michael Douglas – who he represented in that deal, he answered, “Everyone.”
Rosen talked of loving Israel and having family here, but insisted that business is what really draws him to Israel. He and Avi Nir – CEO of Keshet International and a dead ringer for an assassin in a kung fu movie – have been working together for years, selling and packaging Israeli TV formats globally. It was their connections that brought such an all-star panel to Israel.
The conference, whose mission was a bit murky before, was now starting to make sense: a coronation of sorts for Keshet, where they get to show the world what a force they are in content distribution and media technology (another conference they were putting on simultaneously at the YMCA).
And even though Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat talked of Zion as a wellspring of ideas, it was my sense that the capital’s role in these conferences, run by people from Tel Aviv, was as an exotic backdrop to lure guests and attendees.
When I asked a Tel Avivian present at the conference what brought him there, he answered, “One word: Networking. Networking. Networking.” I asked another attendee, who came all the way from the United States, why he made the trip. He talked about the amazing lineup. He then conceded that there weren’t enough social events for attendees and guests to actually interact with each other.
I also found it difficult to engage with the big shots everyone came to see. When I approached the head of programming of a big American cable provider hoping to ask him a few questions, he looked at me like I had just begged him for change, before quickly calling someone over to deal with me.
So was this whole event a show? A top-down affair where everyone was a prop in Keshet International’s quest for more business? Perhaps. But I must say it was quite the sight to see top international agents converge on Israeli creators as they emerged from a panel discussion that showed clips of their work, titled, “Israel’s Drama Creators Show and Tell.”
At that moment, basking in the March sunshine, I did in fact feel transported back to Los Angeles, where many an artist’s spirit is broken by the need to curry favor with these executive gatekeepers and where networking can be a form of delusion, a sad way to go through life. But for the Israeli creators on stage, it was turning out to be a great day.
Their work was compelling. Important people were there to see it. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of these shows end up on American screens.
Omri Givon’s Where Heroes Fly, about best friends with PTSD from the last Lebanon war who go to Colombia to save a friend, is action-packed and exciting, while Yehonatan Indursky and Ori Elon convincingly depict a dystopian future reality in Autonomies, where the ultra-Orthodox have an autonomous state with Yiddish as the official language.
Actor, screenwriter and comedian Adir Miller, who famously drew laughs in Ramzor, owned the stage with his jokes while presenting his show Miller’s Crossing. Keren Margalit’s Sleeping Bears felt profoundly honest.
What jolted me out of my illusion of being in the City of Angels was the throng of pro-Israel bloggers, from Norway to India, exiting the panel discussion next door – part of Digitell, another arm of this Keshet conference, which ran concurrently and was organized by the Strategic Affairs Ministry.
Digitell had brought pro-Israel online advocates from around the world to get to know each other and hone their social networking skills.
I just hope they don’t return home thinking the Jews run Hollywood.