Getting to Hollywood – via Tel Aviv

Hollywood producer Lynn Roth (left) in discusion with participants in the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Producing Master Class discuss an issue. Among the other lecturers were entertainment attorney Randolph Paul (pictured on homepage). “In Hollywood you don’t get a second chance,” …

Hollywood producer Lynn Roth (left) in discusion with participants in the Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Producing Master Class discuss an issue. Among the other lecturers were entertainment attorney Randolph Paul (pictured on homepage). “In Hollywood you don’t get a second chance,” producer Zvi Howard Rosenman tells a group of American and Israeli filmmakers gathered in the Tel Aviv Cinematheque auditorium on a recent afternoon.

Rosenman (Family Man, Father of the Bride), producer Richard Gladstein (Pulp Fiction, Finding Neverland) and writer-producer Lynn Roth (M*A*S*H, The Paper Chase) are leading a seminar on how to be a successful producer.

What is the role of the producer once the film starts shooting? Can a producer offer tips to the director? Should the producer be in contact with the writer during filming?

The three mavericks take their time in answering each and every question fired at them by these young professionals hoping to gain some insider tips.

These three Hollywood producers, joined by other American film industry executives, were in town for two weeks as part of the seventh annual Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Producing Master Class, held this year during the last two weeks of June.

The group of young professionals and film students are hoping to secure a first chance in Hollywood. About half the participants are American. They came mainly for the cultural exchange as there are ample places to get film related advice back home.

“I love new filmmakers from foreign countries and the new avenues there are for co-productions,” says participant Rachel Miller, who recently launched her own production company, Tom Sawyer Productions, in Los Angeles. “I didn’t come for the classes so much as for meeting the new Israeli filmmakers and exploring connections from different countries. There are a couple of very talented people I hope to work with here – both Israelis and Americans. I never would have had access to the Israelis if I hadn’t come here.”

For two weeks, both the American and Israeli film students and young professionals learned how to (hopefully) conquer the industry. Classes touched on scriptwriting, directing, producing, pitching, cinematography, and making a name for one self.

The Master Class program is an offshoot of a much larger Tel Aviv-Los Angeles partnership which features a variety of educational, cultural, health and economic initiatives.

Roth, who has taken part as a master four times, says the Master Class is not about Americanizing the Israeli film industry.

“I personally am not encouraging Israelis to become Hollywood cronies. I think filmmaking is a reflection and expression of your own personal vision. And there’s a lot going on in Israel that needs to be expressed artistically,” Roth tells ISRAEL21c. “But I think one or two or three or four or five Israelis will come to Hollywood and make marks. There will be an Israeli director who will become internationally known.”

The Israeli film industry has seen huge growth in the last few years. In 2004, there were 23 feature films made (double the number of previous years), and about triple that number regarding documentaries and shorter films. Last year, Israeli films were screened in over 80 international film festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, “Moma” – New York, Locarno, Karlovy Vary and others. Israeli films won over 20 international prizes in leading festivals. In May of this year, Hanna Laslo won Best Actress Prize for her role in Amos Gitai’s Free Zone.

“I knew this was going to happen because we’re a people of storytellers,” says Roth. It was just a matter of time before the Israelis could really start promoting their films worldwide. The quality is getting better on every aspect. Story, subject matter, cinematography, acting, it’s up there on every level. It’s literally exciting.”

“Israelis are learning from international filmmakers to make tighter scripts, have better editing, and more appropriate casting. Movies have gotten better. You can’t get away with sloppiness anymore,” says Hannah Brown, The Jerusalem Post’s film critic.

And while Israeli films have done well at film festivals, there’s still a way to go in cracking the mainstream American market.

“The best tip is to persevere,” says Randolph Paul, an entertainment attorney. “The Israeli film industry people have to start believing in themselves that they can do it (reach top echelons of Hollywood). Israelis don’t have their Fellinis yet but they have to start telling stories like that. Israelis are good storytellers, they’re bright, and now they have to get out there.”

During the course of Master Class, three issues the Israeli film industry needs to revamp continue to come up: securing financing, learning to pitch properly, and improving scripts.

The last three years has seen a significant increase in foreign and local investments in Israeli Films. Foreign Investments in Israeli Feature Films totaled the sum of $3,600,000, while Israeli private and business investments in local feature films totaled $2,550,000.

“The Israeli film industry needs the ability to be more creative in getting financing. If most of the money is not coming from the funds or the TV stations or the satellite then they have to find ways to branch out and to be able to get money to finance their films,” says Roth. “Whether from private investors, co-productions, or other networks, Israeli filmmakers need to venture out.”

That said, Paul says he is impressed that the Israeli film industry can “make the pictures they do without the revenues available in America.”

Being able to sum up one’s film in a few sentences is also a crucial aspect of the business.

“We’re working on pitching. Israelis have not found how to convey their ideas in a few sentences, which is a good tool for selling one’s wares,” she continues. “We’re trying to teach them to go into an office in Belgium or Hollywood or London and to say their idea, and somebody will say, ‘I like that idea. Here’s $2 million dollars’. That’s what we’re training them to do.”

And finally, according to masters and participants alike it’s time for the film industry to understand that the war theme is stale.

“Israeli filmmakers have to open the type of product they have, it can’t always be about war or variations on that theme. They need to make movies that grab people’s attention,” says Paul.

Oshrat Nir, 29, and Nathan Mandelbaum, 37, both hope to do just that. Nir, who is pitching a script about a piano prodigy, and Mandelbaum, who is pitching a dark coming of age drama, hope one of the producers will take their ideas to the bigwigs abroad.

“There’s a lot of dwelling on suicide bombers, religious-secular divide. Israeli film doesn’t renew itself. There are human stories in Israel, there are people in Israel, not everything is about war,” says Nir.

One heartwarming story that began as a Master Class idea and this year hit the screen was 39 Pounds of Love, the heart-wrenching story of Ami, a 34-year-old severely disabled Israeli, who defied all odds by living past childhood and going on to lead a rich life. “Things are starting to happen,” says Roth, who helped in the making of 39 Pounds which was directed by Dani Menkin.

“Master Class participant, director-producer Ilil Alexander got a grant from an American company. And a student from last year? we liked his idea very much and we’re taking it to all the studios now,” added Roth.

“This is a great opportunity to work with the most professional people about our projects,” says writer-director Mandelbaum. “We can develop and improve our project and maybe get it prepared much earlier than we expected.”

While Israeli films are popular in festival line-ups and art house cinemas in North America and Europe, everyone is waiting for that “one hit” to plant Israel on the film map.

“That one hit movie that sells all over the world. That will do it. And it’s going to happen, I predict in the next five years,” says Roth, who has watched the local film industry grow.

“Israelis can definitely get an Oscar. It’s just a matter of time,” agrees Brown.

Sums up Miller: “I think with this year and last year it’s the first time people have really seen what Israeli filmmakers can do in a mainstream setting and I think in five years I don’t see why Israel can’t get an Oscar. There are talented people here.”

About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. She has jumped out of a plane, ducked rockets and been attacked by a baboon all in the name of a good story. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.