Hollywood meets Holy Land: media moguls converge on Jerusalem

Key industry players discuss top trends in the broadcast industry and collaborations with Israeli creators.

A view of the iconic Hollywood sign (photo credit: KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/REUTERS)
A view of the iconic Hollywood sign
The television industry’s top echelon of executives and writers arrived en masse in Jerusalem to participate in an international conference exploring the latest innovations in content and streaming technologies.
Organized by Israel’s Keshet, arguably the leader in transitioning its homegrown programs into wildly successful offerings on the international market, in partnership with Deadline Hollywood, the sixth annual Innovative TV Conference (INTV) saw Israel and America’s best come together in Jerusalem’s iconic YMCA for several days in order to take part in a number of important sessions as major networks unveiled new content and discussed emerging trends in the rapidly-developing field.
At the keynote session, streaming giant Netflix’s Cindy Holland, Vice President of Original Content, told attendees she believes “international acquisitions are essential for the lifeblood of the company.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity for all the big entertainment companies,” Holland stated. “I don’t think anything has been decided yet. On-demand television is still in its very early stages. There’s plenty of room for a lot of players to be very successful.”
Holland noted that Netflix is focusing much of its energies at the moment on providing compelling content for viewers and clients outside the U.S., and as such has turned towards more poignant forms of local storytelling.
CBS executives also highlighted the growing trend towards foreign language programming and underlined how local stories, including Israeli ones, can be adapted to international audiences.
“Is [the story] authentic?  Does it speak to them?,” David Stapf, President of CBS Television Studios rhetorically asked The Media Line. “I mean, that’s what we’re looking for: the specificity and the authenticity of storytelling.”
“We have a five-year-old streaming service at CBS,” Julie McNamara, Executive Vice President of Original Content at CBS All Access, told The Media Line. “We are looking for great content. So yes, I’m here with my eyes open.”
During a panel examining the rise of documentary filmmaking, Academy Award-nominated director Julie Cohen as well as CNN exec Amy Entelis discussed the importance of documentaries. Entelis stressed that while taking on a controversial film carries with it a certain amount of risk for any news network, such movies must also always meet the quality and journalistic standards of CNN.
“I think it is very important to have a very well-formed idea if you are ever in a position to pitch to a network or a platform,” Entelis, Executive Vice President of Talent and Content Development at CNN Worldwide, conveyed to The Media Line. “You really should have a terrific plan as to how you would execute that idea and to be passionate about it. I think the most successful content that I’ve worked with has come from people who truly have a passion for the idea and a knowledge of the idea and [are] not trying to shop the latest thing.”
With the rise of streaming platforms, mobile broadcasting options and global entertainment brands, industry players agreed that the world has entered the golden age of television. However, the market is often over-saturated with fresh content and interest from investors and, as such, in order to truly stand out creators need to pitch unique ideas.
“I think what’s missing is truly amazing content,” Todd Hoffman, Founder and CEO of Storied Media Group, asserted to The Media Line. “There’s so much noise out there right now so what we always look for in the stories that we package and sell is anything that can rise above the noise. We call it loud content and loud content can be a period drama, but it can also be an action movie or something that’s really unique that speaks to some part of the human connection and the human condition.”
What exactly makes for a great story remains a topic of debate, but notably must include well-developed characters and the ever-elusive grain of authenticity.
“Indigenous global programming; something that feels authentic, is very specific to the area in which it takes place but yet can translate throughout the world,” Marc Korman, Partner at the Scripted TV Department of the Beverly Hills-based William Morris Endeavor (WME) talent agency, related to The Media Line. “[Take the Israeli show] ‘Fauda:’ How do you do that in the United States? It’s very specific to here. So it’s the idea of embracing the notion that it’s exactly for here but it’s [also] something the world can watch.”
Israeli Content Is King
Many in attendance at the INTV conference also claimed it is the golden age of Israeli content. The Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which grants funding and rebates for productions taking place in Jerusalem, has invested in more than 70 feature films and TV series in the past decade.
“Our aims are [two-fold]: We want Jerusalem on screen with all of its heroes, not the usual stories that we see on television but [things like] making love and seeing young students’ nightlife,” Yoram Honig, Director of the Fund, explained to The Media Line. “The other idea is to build an industry in Jerusalem that existed here after the 1980s but went downhill.  So [far], we’ve succeeded very much in both goals.”
Many of the projects the Jerusalem Film and TV Fund contribute to are co-productions with European and North American creators that have gone on to garner international recognition at major film festivals around the world. According to Honig, the Israeli government has responded very enthusiastically to the endeavor and has therefore allocated an increased budget to the fund, though he declined to specify the amount.
“Last year, our films were 25 percent of Israel’s market share but we gained more than 70% at the local box office, which is a great success,” he highlighted.
According to a report released last year by the K7 Media international consultancy group, global industry players view Israel as a leading contender for original drama series. The country’s top original dramas are dominated by stories exploring the Israel-Palestinian as well as other internal conflicts, like the shows “Kfulim” (False Flag), “Fauda”, “Prisoners of War (Homeland)” and “When Heroes Fly.” Israeli exports like “Homeland” and “Fauda” in particular have reached international success.
“A great story is a great story,” Rick Rosen Co-Founder of WME Entertainment said to The Media Line. “It can be a romance; It can be a comedy; it can be true crime [or] political in nature, [so long as] there’s really a great story and a great script.”
Women Break Into Industry
Another trend in the ever-changing Hollywood media landscape is the growing push towards diversity in any search for top talent. One of the biggest challenges television executives are addressing is the pressing issue of female underrepresentation.
The Women and Hollywood website notes that of last year’s top 100 grossing films, only 4% of the directors were women. Similarly, only 15% of writers, 3% of cinematographers and 14% of editors across the board were women. Kathryn Bigelow remains the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director and only one woman—“Mudbound’s” Rachel Morrison—has ever been nominated in the Cinematography category.
Despite these less-than-encouraging numbers, CNN’s Amy Entelis argues that things are finally heading in the right direction.
“I think we’re almost at 50% of our films being directed by women,” she affirmed. “We’ve worked with a lot of diverse filmmakers. We’ve worked with young filmmakers so I think it’s been one of the real points of pride in our team that we are open to all kinds of people who bring great ideas.
“Speaking for CNN films, we do work with a lot of women and we’re very open to women that just bring us a great idea and the ability to execute it.  My team inside CNN is mostly women. Again, not by design. That’s just kind of the way it worked.”

For more stories, visit themedialine.org.