April 3, 2003
Jewish Odd Couple
Two Israeli filmmakers take a page from their own lives for "Final Draft."
In the blackly comic film "Final Draft," wannabe screenwriters Harry and Marty are a Jewish Odd Couple.
Short, blond Harry (Michael Weston) is an intense, observant American Jew who throws conniption fits when anyone disses "Schindler's List." Tall, dark Marty (Hamish Linklater) is a sardonic, secular Israeli who destroys Harry's Yiddish-language tapes and laughs when his pal falls in love with a German named Helga (Emily Bergl). By day, the roommates edit wedding and bar mitzvah videos; by night, they argue while pounding out their debut screenplay.
"Final Draft" marks the debut of 24-year-old writer-directors Oren Goldman and Yariv Ozdoba, a real-life Jewish Odd Couple. Outgoing, gregarious Goldman, born in Israel but mostly raised in Palm Springs, studies at Chabad and reads Jewish history avidly. The more secular, low-key Ozdoba, who grew up in Holon, Israel, describes himself as "not very sociable" and so blunt he once told a girl she's "not ugly." (Marty borrows that line in the film.)
Their movie is one of eight Jewish-themed films slated to screen at the multicultural Newport Beach Film Festival through April 11, according to the festival's Keiko Beatie. The lineup also includes the documentaries, "A Home on the Range: The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma" and Yale Strom's "L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin!" about Stalin's Jewish Autonomous Region, conceived with the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity.
"Final Draft" began when its creators met in the Israeli army film corps around 1997. Two years later, Ozdoba moved to Los Angeles "with two suitcases and dreams," secured a job editing bar mitzvah videos and let Goldman crash on his studio apartment couch. Before long, the friends were feverishly pounding out a movie: "Initially, we kind of wrote ourselves," Ozdoba said.
"We had absolutely no idea what to write about, so we just wrote [down a conversation] that Yariv and I had [had] earlier that day," Goldman recalled of their first scene.
Eventually, the authors "exaggerated the characters and made up stuff because our own lives were too boring," Ozdoba said.
For example, in the movie, idealistic Harry is appalled that his partner wants to peddle a talking penguin flick in order to succeed in Hollywood. To earn extra cash, the broke screenwriters edit an infomercial about a fictional product, "Keep-a-Kippah," guaranteed to keep a yarmulke affixed to one's head. They get their big break when Marty's affable drug dealer introduces them to his client, an executive at "Misney" Studios.
The hysterical if sometimes uneven film, which features exquisitely lifelike banter between Weston and Linklater, joins a trend of aggressively Jewish cinema to hit mainstream festivals -- most recently Jonathan Kesselman's "The Hebrew Hammer" at Sundance.
In real life, the filmmakers got their big break after Goldman's journalist mother interviewed producer Scott Rosenfelt ("Mystic Pizza," "Home Alone") about his 1993 movie, "Family Prayers." When the producer visited Israel in summer 1996, she invited him to lunch and wouldn't let him leave until he had viewed her son's student short film.
"[Afterward], Scott said that when I get to L.A. to call him and he will take care of me," Oren Goldman recalled. "And so after the army, I left for Hollywood ... and became his assistant."
Four months later, Rosenfelt agreed to produce "Final Draft" once Goldman's brother, Erez, a businessman, had raised its $250,000 budget. Rosenfelt told The Journal he signed on because "[Harry and Marty] are not 'movie' characters.... They are real characters with real flaws and problems to overcome."
The filmmakers had different kinds of problems to overcome during the low-budget, 17-day shoot in Los Angeles. To save money, the actors provided their own wardrobe and crew members served as extras.
Yet the novice filmmakers weren't nervous. They may have been the odd couple, "but as directors we were totally in sync," Ozdoba said.
Do they think their characters are too Jewish?
"Is 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' too Chinese?" Rosenfelt said, sounding as direct as the fictional Marty. "Is 'Kingpin' too Latino? Why the differentiation with Jewish films? [That] smacks of anti-Semitism, no? And there are enough self-hating Jews in Hollywood already."
"Final Draft" screens April 7, 7 p.m. at Edwards Island Cinema in Newport Beach. For information about the Newport Beach Film Festival, visit www.newportbeachfilmfest.com .