February 8, 2012
How Tel Aviv became big business in Hollywood
Could Israel's newest export reshape its image?
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
“There is a danger of people creating content as a tryout for the American market,” Gordon agreed. “It’s the whole Start-Up Nation syndrome, where the liquidity event seemed to have informed the product at some level.” But Silverman said this is a common worry — as an industry becomes more commercialized, there is always fear that creative purity will be diluted by profit.
But the reverse is also true —- power, too, can undermine content. Some Israeli creators have become embittered by Hollywood’s enormous appetite for control, especially in the area of adaptation. It is a dubious premise, for instance, that all formats are equally translatable. Tishby said she hesitates to even look at formats that deal with the Israeli military or religion. Ironically, perhaps, that was one of the most significant changes brought about by Gordon’s success with “Homeland.” “Hatufim” was about returning war heroes, but Americans, Gordon realized, don’t warm to their returning soldiers the way Israelis do, so he introduced an entirely new character in the form of Danes’ bipolar CIA agent. And instead of hailing soldiers returning from captivity, he made the returning Iraq veteran an object of post-9/11 suspicion, adding plotlines about his conversion to Islam and possible collusion with terrorists.
Adaptation sometimes leads to creative exchange: Gordon and co-writer Alex Gansa’s invention with the first season of “Homeland” influenced Israeli creator Gidi Raff’s second season of “Hatufim.” And in another ironic twist, the cable channel Yes! recently purchased the rights to air “Homeland” in Israel.
But it doesn’t always go so smoothly. Armoza said one of his shows, “The Ran Quadruplets,” which CBS put to pilot, was changed so dramatically, the show was spoiled. It was not picked up as a series. “Sometimes it seems like changes are made just for the sake of making changes, or to bring in American creators,” Armoza said. “[American network executives] need to learn to follow the success and not change it. Take the risk.”
Altering an original format can change a show’s fortunes. “Traffic Light,” about three college friends who in their 30s find themselves in different stages of life (one is single, one has a girlfriend, one is married with a child), is entering its fourth season in Israel and its third in Russia, but was a failure on Fox. “Israeli TV tends to be more daring and edgy and little more blunt than American television,” Shiloach-Uzrad said. “The American version of ‘Traffic Light’ had to have its ‘awww’ moment. It had to be sweet and cute and feel good, and it lost its edge.”
Some of these personality differences also show up in business negotiations. Israelis complain that American executives are timid and evasive. “In Israel, there are no niceties, there’s no politeness, there is no decorum whatsoever!” Tishby exclaimed. Serving as a kind of liaison between the two industries, Tishby said she often has to dance around different behaviors.
“In America, it’s a lot more subtle — I call it ‘The 17 Shades of Great.’ We know that when an American says ‘great’ it doesn’t mean, ‘Great! Let’s make a deal.’ It can mean, ‘Great! I never want to see you again.’ For someone who doesn’t swim in both cultures, it’s very hard to decipher. For Americans, Israelis can come off as extremely rude and in-your-face, and for an Israeli, Americans can come off as fake. It’s very confusing.”
Yet, from the American perspective, Silverman says, “Israel is still the hardest market to close a deal in. They’re the toughest negotiators around — when you think the deal is closed, there’s always usually one more point.”
Fortunately, parties on both sides seem to have a sense of humor about minor personality differences, because, well, 99 percent of the people involved are Jewish.
“It became so obvious to me [when I went to Israel] that Israeli networks were operated exactly like American networks,” Rosen said. “The only difference was the [Israelis] were all wearing T-shirts and flip-flops.”
Ultimately, though, the Jews of Hollywood and the Jews of Israel have more cultural similarities than differences. “In terms of values, in terms of interests, in terms of how we define ourselves as nations, we’re all very similar,” Tishby said.