Posted by Danielle Berrin
The news of 48-year-old superstar Whitney Houston’s death has rocked and saddened the music world as well as the singer’s legions of fans.
Houston, who had struggled to revive a once stellar career following years of depression and drug abuse, had been poised for a comeback—and not on the billboard charts this time, but at the movies. In November, Houston wrapped the movie “Sparkle,” a remake of the 1976 film about a group of singers from Harlem New York who in their rise to fame and fortune are torn apart by drugs, crime and death. In the new version, Houston plays the mother of three girls who seed the beginnings of a music career while singing in the church choir.
Howard Rosenman, a producer on the film, said he had just seen a rough cut of the film on Friday and was “devastated, shocked, saddened” by news of her death.
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” Rosenman said when reached by The Journal Sunday morning. He had last seen Houston at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Wednesday, and said she seemed as healthy and spirited as she was on the set in November.
“She is just incandescent and brilliant [in the film] and was on her way to make this huge comeback,” Rosenman said. “She was fabulous on the set, she was beloved by the crew, she was a total professional.”
In addition to her starring role in “Sparkle,” Houston also served as one of the film’s executive producers. In fact, it was she who had purchased the film rights to remake “Sparkle” which deals thematically with both religion and music, two subjects that were dear to her. Although the film is not yet complete, Rosenman said Houston’s work on it was finished, and Sony studios announced this morning that they plan to release the film in August.
Rosenman also said he did not detect signs of the private turmoil that has plagued Houston over the last decade.
“She was totally not into that mode,” he said, referring to her history of drug abuse. “She was totally into a ‘pro’ mode. She knew her lines, she was always on time, she was very motherly. She [seemed to be] in incredible health and had an incredible attitude and this is such a shock. I doubt very, very much that [the cause of her death] was drugs.”
Rosenman, who first met Houston around 30 years ago, said he attended Clive Davis’s pre-Grammy extravaganza party at the Beverly Hilton last night, where the mood was fraught, surreal.
“Everybody was totally flipped out; everybody sang for her,” Rosenman said. “Clive [Davis, the record producer and party’s host] was brilliant about her. He said, ‘The show must go on – Whitney would have wanted that.”
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February 10, 2012 | 10:02 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
In 2008, “BeTipul” became the first ever Israeli format to become an American television series as HBO’s “In Treatment”. Four years later, Showtime’s “Homeland,” based on the Israeli format “Hatufim” won the best television series Golden Globe. Inspired by the success of those two shows, Hollywood has increasingly turned to the Holy Land for ideas about creative content. A feeding frenzy has ensued.
“Every Israeli who ever put pen to paper — talented or not — now thinks they’re going to become millionaires in the United States, and it’s getting a little bit ridiculous,” Rick Rosen, a partner at William Morris Endeavor said.
In December 2009, Avi Nir, the chief executive of one of Israel’s largest broadcasting and production companies, invited the Hollywood agent Rick Rosen to spend a day at Keshet’s Tel Aviv office. Nir, who has a reputation among his Hollywood counterparts for being an aggressive visionary, sensed an epic change afoot in the Israeli entertainment industry. Soon, it would be producing more content than the country could commercially support. So Nir turned his hungry eyes toward the American marketplace. Hollywood, he figured, could offer opportunities. Not only as an entrée into a lush foreign market, but also as a model for how to export entertainment around the world. And Rosen, he thought, could teach the Israelis a few tricks. With the right sell, Rosen, a partner at the renowned William Morris Endeavor agency, could even become an advocate.
After a handful of morning meetings, Nir took Rosen to lunch at an Italian restaurant, where he described a new Israeli series titled “Hatufim,” or “Prisoners of War.”
“Do you know who Gilad Shalit is?” Rosen recalled Nir asking, in a recent interview. “Well, imagine if there are three Gilad Shalits, and two come back as heroes, and then you find out that maybe things aren’t exactly as they appear to be, maybe one of them was working for the Mossad. Do you think that could work in the States?”
Rosen thought for a second. “Absolutely,” he said. “If the returning soldiers are Americans from Iraq or Afghanistan.” Before 9/11, Americans may not have had an appetite — or an understanding — of living in a nation perpetually at war, but suddenly, Israel and the United States had something psychically important in common. “I know the perfect person to do this,” Rosen told Nir. “Howard Gordon.”
Rosen remembers Nir’s excitement at the prospect of Gordon, the award-winning producer of “24,” working on an Israeli show. A few days later, when Rosen touched down in Los Angeles, he called Gordon from the airport. “I have your next show,” he said. And thus, “Homeland” was born.
“Homeland” is now the eminent example of how an Israeli idea can transform into an American sensation. The Showtime series, which completed its first season in December, is a psychological thriller about a mentally unhinged CIA agent, Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, who suspects returning Iraq veteran Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) of having been “turned” by terrorists. Inspired by the Israeli version “Hatufim,” about three soldiers returning from 17 years of captivity in Lebanon, “Homeland” just won the Golden Globe award for best dramatic television series and has been responsible for a surge in the pay-cable channel’s subscribers, helping edge it closer to its rival, HBO. “Homeland’s” critical acclaim has been equally prodigious: The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley devoted an entire column to last season’s series finale, calling it “a clever, maddening and irresistible invitation to keep watching” — just the type of criticism every show craves. Mark Kaner, president of 20th Century Fox Television Distribution, said “Homeland” has been sold into 31 major territories around the world, and he expects the show to produce profits comparable to Gordon’s previous hit, “24,” which Kaner described as an “enormous” financial success.
“It’s sort of embarrassing at this point,” Gordon said of the effusive praise. “I only look at it as having further to fall.”
Read the rest of the story here
February 9, 2012 | 10:21 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
The two most important Jewish creations of the 20th century were Hollywood and Israel. They are both the products of a primal Jewish impulse: the need to escape. To paraphrase my editor Rob Eshman, Jews created Israel to escape the world, they created Hollywood so the world could escape reality. Historically, the relationship between them has been fraught. After all, the Jews who created Hollywood aimed to escape their Jewish identities, and Hollywood, through its cultural shaping of American ideals, became a mechanism to do so. But the Jewish reality today, more than a century after the creation of Hollywood, is much changed; traumas have receded to memory, Jews possess power and influence. By most accounts, this is the most propitious moment in Jewish history to be a Jew, rivaled only, some say, by the era in which the temple was extant. The relative prosperity of modern Jewish existence has no doubt made it easier for Jews to shed past shame. The Jews of Hollywood are no exception, and though it isn’t a steadfast relationship, it is an evolving one.
Welcome to the age of the Hollywood-Israel love affair:
The image of Hollywood as home to so-called self-hating Jews who have perennially distanced themselves from the Jewish state, whether out of apathy, ambivalence, fear, alternate priorities, shame, political disillusionment or, perhaps, just plain career absorption, has given way to the reality of an industry drawing closer to Israel than ever before.
All this is the result of a few strategic initiatives over the past five or six years that have been aimed at getting prominent entertainment leaders to connect with Israel’s burgeoning industry. Among them is an annual Master Class program organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which each year brings Hollywood “masters” like Nina Tassler, president of CBS Entertainment, to Israel to teach aspiring young film and television artists.
Just as pivotal has a been a series of trips by a select group of A-list Hollywood tastemakers that William Morris agent-turned-independent-manager David Lonner has been sponsoring since 2006 — largely on his own dime. Lonner’s guest list has included filmmakers Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”), Davis Guggenheim (“Waiting for Superman”) and Turteltaub (“National Treasure”), as well as producer Darren Star (“Sex and the City,” “Beverly Hills, 90210”) and Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Amy Pascal, whom Forbes magazine once called “arguably the most high-powered woman in Hollywood.”
The timing for all these trips has been both intentional and providential, because they came just as Israel’s creative industry was undergoing an explosion in productivity and quality that many are comparing to the trajectory of Israel’s high-tech industry. Hollywood was able to get in on the ground floor. The start-up nation, as it turns out, is not only adept at technological and medical innovation, as well as energy efficiency, it is also darn good at making movies and television. Since 1964, Israel has garnered 10 Oscar nominations for best foreign language films — four of them in just the past five years.
Even bigger right now is the Israeli television industry, which, since 2007, has seen at least 10 Israeli television “formats” (industry slang for media concepts that can be translated or adapted into different markets internationally) sold into the Hollywood marketplace. Israeli-inspired “The Ex-List” (CBS) and “Traffic Light” (Fox) were short-lived, but many more, including CBS’ “Life Isn’t Everything,” HBO’s “The Naked Truth,” NBC’s “Midnight Sun” and the CW’s “Danny Hollywood” all are in various stages of development. The exchange between the two countries is now so substantial that people often speak of a “pipeline” going back and forth. And the mainstream media, including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and Nikki Finke’s Deadline.com all have taken note.
“Not since Golda Meir wanted everyone to make and write ‘Exodus’ has there been so much activity,” Ben Silverman, founder and CEO of Electus and the former co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, said in a recent interview.
“I do think there’s a renaissance happening,” said Sherry Lansing, the former studio chief of Paramount Pictures.
Read the rest of the story here.
Read Part 2: Doing (show)business with Israel here.
February 5, 2012 | 11:10 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Don’t be fooled by the ardent Americana on display in the Oscar-nominated homage to silent film, because the only thing not utterly Jewish about “The Artist” is its abstention from dialogue.
The film is in fact the product of a Jewish troika that includes director Michel Hazanavicius, producer Thomas Langmann and movie kingpin Harvey Weinstein.
When I met Hazanavicius for a short interview the other day (he was between lunch and a spot on Piers Morgan), I was surprised to learn that he is the child of both parents and grandparents who survived the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. He seemed at ease discussing it, though his answers were sometimes cursory.
“In France, it’s really different the way you live. It’s a non-religious country,” he explained. “So the public space is not religious; religion is a private thing.”
Not in Hollywood, I told him.
“Here I know that there’s no problem. I mean, I’m not ashamed of being Jewish, but I am also not proud.”
Before you get excited, dear Jewish readers, consider the context. Because language barrier aside, I understood what he meant. He wasn’t being judgmental about his Judaism—in fact, he emailed afterward, “I’m very proud of being Jewish but I’m very private about it, and I respect all religions”—but he simply wasn’t raised with a substantive Judaism. His inheritance was a Judaism of trauma; his parents spent the formative years of their childhood hiding from the Nazis. The war changed everything. The Holocaust left scars… and silence.
“My grandparents didn’t talk,” Hazanavicius said. “There’s a lot of things that you can’t say. You know some of [my relatives] came back from the concentration camps and they tried to say…”
But something is lost in translation.
Hazanavicius goes on to tell me that his parents and grandparents avoided the camps because they were politically connected. When whispered conversations became ominous, they immediately made plans to flee Paris. In the countryside, his grandparents had no recourse but to protect their children by disavowing their Judaism. Hazanavicius recalled that one grandfather, a French resistance fighter, “told all his [Jewish] friends: ‘Don’t go register yourself as Jewish people. Don’t do it, just don’t do it. Don’t wear the yellow star.’”
And this is a Jewish story. It is one in a long, unending thread in a tradition of storytelling that had to endure a moment of silence but is again finding its voice. Funny how a silent movie, in the words of the poet Walt Whitman, can “contain multitudes.”
On Friday, Langmann, the film’s producer and the son of French director Claude Berri whom French President Nicolas Sarkozy called, “the most legendary figure of French cinema” told the New York Post’s Page Six that he and Hazanavicius shared an “emotional connection” beyond the film. Berri, who was the son of a Polish Jewish father and Romanian Jewish mother made his first film, “The Two of Us,” a story about a French-Jewish boy sent to the country to hide from the Nazis.
“The Artist” itself, I pointed out to Hazanavicius, is a story about transformation – a central message of the Jewish tradition. I’m only a little embarrassed to add that I actually sat in that wine bar weaving metaphors about “The Artist” and the Exodus story. From slavery to freedom, from degradation to dignity…!
He probably thought I was crazy.
And yet, he told Charlie Rose almost the same thing: “To me the story is more about how a man, a human being, has to adapt himself in a transition period. And, how when your world is changing, you have to face that period.”
No red carpets in the desert (though Oscar would be thrilled to know there were indeed golden statues).
“I think all the history of the Jewish people is about adaptation,” Hazanavicius told me. “Because for so many so many years, like 2000 years, they were a people that didn’t have any country, so they had to adapt themselves to protect themselves. How do you continue to be what you are but also live with other cultures? That’s the bipolar issue of being Jewish.”
Simon Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier told the New York Times’ Michael Cieply he saw in the film a moral tale about human evolution:
In “The Artist” Rabbi Hier detects the story of a man, Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin, who wrestles with a universal question: What do you do when the lights go out?
“You can either cry about it and make demands,” he said. Or, like Valentin, you can retool yourself. “In the end he finds love, he learns to become a dancer,” said the rabbi, who recalled a passage in Psalms about stretching one’s allotted years to 80, 90 or more by showing inner strength.
Transformation. Adaptation. Retooling. Through silence, “The Artist” teaches the power of communicating without words, the power that lies in a look, a gesture, a dance. But it is also a story about change, the need to adjust when the things we most rely on disappear. And the answer it offers is in reinvention and return, to words, to stories, to the universal language of love.