Tag Archives: Avi Issacharoff

Chaos rules

Now in its third season, Fauda has pushed Israeli drama into a new direction by exploring both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict, presenting an action thriller tinged with emotion and compassion. DQ chats to the show’s creative team.

While there’s no disputing that Israel has become an influential and celebrated hotbed of acclaimed TV drama, it’s notable that many of its series have had to wait until being adapted overseas before breaking out internationally.

Prisoners of War famously became Homeland on US premium cablenet Showtime, while BeTipul has been remade more than a dozen times around the world, most prominently as In Treatment on HBO. Other US translations include Hostages (CBS) and Euphoria (HBO), while BBC drama The A Word is based on Yellow Peppers, Netflix’s The Good Cop comes from an Israeli show of the same name and Showtime is currently producing Your Honor, a new take on Israel’s Kvodo.

One Israeli show that hasn’t been remade – yet – but has earned rave reviews worldwide is Fauda (Arabic for ‘chaos’), which entered its third season at the end of 2019.

The action thriller, based on the experiences of creators Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, follows a team of elite Israeli undercover agents as they work to apprehend Hamas activists in the West Bank. Uniquely, however, the series dramatises the complex Palestinian-Israeli conflict from both sides to provide a new perspective on life in the Middle East.

Lior Raz as Doron in Fauda, which he co-created

Seasons one and two introduced Doron, the commander of an army unit chasing terrorist Taufiq Hammed, known as The Panther. In the third season, Doron is deep undercover in the West Bank, posing as an Israeli Arab boxing instructor at a sports club belonging to a low-level Hamas member. But following the kidnapping of two teenagers, he and his team find themselves in unfamiliar territory – Gaza.

The new season has already proven a hit locally on Yes TV, while it will air internationally on Netflix. The co-creators say they were caught off guard by Fauda’s success overseas, just as they had been when Yes originally gave them a chance to tell the story. “At first, we didn’t think people in Israel would like the show, because we went to all the broadcasters and nobody wanted it,” says Raz, who also stars as Doron.

“Yes was the only broadcaster that actually wanted to invest in us. We are two guys from Jerusalem who hadn’t written any scripts in our life. It was quite a gamble for everyone.

Avi Issacharoff

“Neither of us thought people would watch a show in Arabic and Hebrew if they were not Israelis or Palestinians and didn’t know about the situation here in Israel. So it caught us by surprise. People just connect to the story and the characters, and that’s what’s amazing.”

The pair have known each other since they were teenagers. Having served together in the Israel Defense Forces, they were reunited at a military event eight years ago. When actor Raz revealed his ambition to write a series about life in army units and the mental price soldiers pay for their actions, he discovered his goal was shared by Issacharoff, who was then working as a journalist across the Middle East.

“The magic between us is that both of us bring something to the table,” Raz says. “Both of us were also in the army and participated in a lot of operations, so both of us know the action. I’m an actor so I’m connected to more of the emotional journey of the characters.

“Now, in the third season, everything is mixed. I learned about the politics and Avi learned about emotion and story. Now we’re working together very well because of it. We’ve learned a lot from each other.”

Many of the stories featured in the show are based in reality, through either the writers’ experiences or stories they have heard as they try to blend action with emotional drama. “There are so many stories we’ve taken from reality and fictionalised and made them bigger or made them smaller,” Issacharoff explains.

“You play with a lot of material and you try to make it as realistic as possible to give the audience a sense of, ‘Wow, is this real?’ Many people ask us the same questions: ‘Did this happen for real? Is Fauda real?’ Of course it’s not real, it’s a drama, but we try to give the sense that maybe it did happen.”

Laëtitia Eïdo also stars in the action-packed drama

Supporting Raz and Issacharoff in the writers room for season three was head writer Noah Stollman (Our Boys), with a new scribe assisting the duo each season. “Lior will yell, I yell back, Noah is also trying to yell but he cannot compete,” Issacharoff jokes of the writing process. “We fight and we argue and something good comes out of that.

“But we’re not fighting all the time – we’re also having fun. We encourage mistakes and saying whatever you want. We say don’t be scared or intimidated by anyone. We’ll choose if it’s good; everyone makes that decision. It’s quite like a Kibbutz, a community, not like someone is running the room. We all are.”

The decision to switch the action in Fauda from the West Bank to the Palestinian territory of Gaza in season three came out of a desire to change the direction of the series, though the creators say that, rather than being at the heart of the story, the new location simply serves as a fresh arena for the characters.

Danna Stern

“It’s really different compared with what we know from the West Bank, and the whole experience from the Israeli audience is that Gaza is a black hole,” Raz notes. “We don’t know what’s happening over there. We only hear about it when rockets have been shot from Gaza. Just like the journey where we took the Israeli audience into the West Bank, we have tried to have a look into Gaza and what’s happening there.”

Behind each season of Fauda is an aim to send Doron to places that push him to his emotional and physical extremes, until he a reaches a point where he understands something new about himself and the world around him. “It’s not easy. Everything is very extreme with Fauda so you have to be more extreme in a way,” Issacharoff says. “We just wanted to go deep into the characters themselves, their lives and the people in his crew and the Palestinians. There are a lot of challenges writing a third season because you don’t want to repeat yourself.”

One of the biggest tasks was recreating Gaza, with filming restricted in the territory. The solution was to transform an Israeli military training base. “Where to shoot was a real issue because we couldn’t film in Gaza. We had to recreate Gaza,” says Danna Stern, MD of Fauda producer/distributor Yes Studios. “Even when we shot season one and two in the West Bank, we shot Arab villages in Israel. There are Arab Israelis and villages within our borders.

“For this season, we went to an army base where they use sets to replicate Gaza for training purposes, so we got to use those. They built a set of houses, alleys and shops to imitate Gaza. But getting sets and finding locations to film is always something you can manufacture, especially in television. It’s really about getting the story right. You then work backwards and look at how you’re going to film and what you’re going to need to make it happen.”

A military base was transformed in order to film scenes set in Gaza

As Doron, Raz leads the cast. Initially, however, he was more interested in playing the show’s main antagonist, Taufid Hammed, in season one. “But then I fell in love with this character and we started to write Doron for me,” Raz says.

“But I still had to audition for this role along with other Israeli actors because, after Yes invested so much money, they wanted to know we were in good hands with the lead actor. I’m happy I did it because it took away the pressure I probably would have had if I was just coming there as the writer who wrote a role for himself.”

With a much more emotional storyline featuring in season three, Raz and Issacharoff say that while the show might not strictly reflect their own experiences, everything continues to be rooted in the reality of their lives and society around them. “Some of the scenes I watched, you feel like someone has punched you in the stomach,” Issacharoff asserts.

“You feel the pain and the way the characters are going through the journey – on both sides, not only the Israeli side. The way you can empathise with the Palestinian side is even bigger in the third season, but the drama is so tragic; it’s a very tragic journey the audience is going through.”

With Stollman breaking the mould by returning for the fourth season, which is already in development, Raz and Issacharoff are now also producing an original series for Netflix and exploring other projects for TV and film. Meanwhile, Fauda will soon have its first remake, with an Indian version set to air later this year that explores the India-Pakistan conflict.

Stern believes Fauda’s international success comes down to the humanity behind the thriller. “Action is almost universal and that always plays well,” she says, “but the surprising element is the story isn’t one-sided. You have characters that are multi-faceted, who you love and hate at the same time. They really are equally sympathetic and violent on both sides.”

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Oliver Stone and the politics of drama

Oliver Stone
Oliver Stone

Anyone who was at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity this week would have been able to hear Oscar-winning director, screenwriter and producer Oliver Stone talk about his new movie Snowden, which tells the story of Edward Snowden, the computer whizz who leaked huge amounts of classified data from the USA’s National Security Agency (NSA), his former employer, in June 2013.

Stone, who is not shy of tackling controversial political subject matter, was speaking during a session organised by Guardian News & Media. For him, the fascination of the Snowden story seems to be what it has to say about the power of the state and its increasing reliance on tools of mass surveillance, which he referred to as “Orwellian” on more than one occasion. For Stone, the terrifying world of 1984 and the Ministry Of Fear has arrived and Snowden, exiled in Russia, is one of the few to have kicked back.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Snowden
Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Snowden

Interestingly, Stone doesn’t see the current state of affairs as purely a product of government. In an analysis reminiscent of Noam Chomsky’s work on the military-industrial complex in Western societies, Stone railed against the expansion of the US military and its reliance on war (including the War on Terror) as a justification for its existence. He also implicated a number of other parts of the establishment for their role in normalising the current unstable state of affairs. With a few exceptions (such as The Guardian), he criticised the media for pandering to the state’s power and online companies for acquiescing to state-sponsored surveillance. He also took a pop at Europe, for its subservience to the US, and the US movie studios that collectively refused to back his latest feature film outing (it took German and French financing to get Snowden into production and a patchwork of 20 distributors to get the film to an international audience).

Outside his immediate fanbase, Stone is often thought of as a filmmaker with a loaded political agenda. But this is an accusation he refutes. Commenting on the detailed analysis that goes into his development, he said: “I’m a dramatist. I can’t take sides. I do a lot of research and tell the story that evolves. With my films on Nixon and Bush, I actually had complaints that I was too sympathetic.”

Born on the Fourth of July
Born on the Fourth of July

One of the big challenges with Snowden was taking a story that is, at its core, about a computer geek downloading information and turning it into a drama that could live on the big screen. Part of the way Stone did this was by building up the personal drama around Snowden and his girlfriend Lindsay Mills – dismissively referred to in the media as a pole dancer. He also looked at why a young man who had been so pro-establishment in his formative years would suddenly elect to become the world’s most famous whistle-blower (a story reminiscent of the journey in Stone’s film Born on the Fourth of July). “I had to walk in Snowden’s footsteps and try to feel what he was feeling. The end result, I hope, is a gripping political thriller.”

The lion’s share of Stone’s work has been in film – notably titles like Salvador, Platoon and JFK. His one outing into TV was a documentary series for Showtime entitled The Untold History of the United States, through which he shone a light on some of the less admirable part of US history.

The lack of scripted TV series from Stone may suggest he is more free to express himself through film. But there is a growing body of great work on TV that shows it is possible for writers to tell complex political truths on the small screen. Here are a few of the best examples that underline this point. Hopefully in the near future Stone will also be tempted to join the growing number of filmmakers who have decided to try their hand at TV series. Perhaps he could took take a break from fact-based storytelling and be the man to reimagine 1984 for the small screen…

House-of-Cards-4House of Cards
Beau Willimon’s adaptation of Michael Dobbs’ novel for Netflix is a superb exploration of the Machiavellian nature of modern American politics. Starring Kevin Spacey, it shows the corrupting influence of the quest for power and raises questions over the extent to which policy decisions are driven by ambition.

The Deuce
An upcoming series from David Simon for HBO, this show will tackle the legal issues around porn and prostitution in 1970s and 1980s New York. However, it will also address other social issues such as the real-estate boom, the spread of HIV/AIDS and drug use. Simon is probably the closest thing the TV business has to an Oliver Stone – having previously written The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme and Show Me a Hero, the latter an exploration of social housing that aired at the end of last year.

Adam Price’s exploration of the rise of Birgitte Nyborg to become prime minister of Denmark is widely recognised as one of the best political series of recent years. Written for Danish public broadcaster DR, it provided a fascinating insight into party politics while addressing the challenges of being a female politician. Price is tackling the subject of faith in his latest show Rides on the Storm.

honourablewomanThe Honourable Woman
For the country that gave us James Bond and John le Carré, the UK doesn’t deliver that many dramatic exposés of the establishment. The original House of Cards, Edge of Darkness and State of Play are a few standout exceptions. Possibly this is because the Brits tend to fall back on period pieces or comedy satire when criticising politicians – though this may explain why the country is not very good at interrogating its political class. One recent show that stands out is Hugo Blick’s acclaimed drama The Honourable Woman, which beautifully explores the interplay between personal ambition and geopolitical conflict.

Created by Brian Koppelman, David Levien and Andrew Ross Sorkin, Billions is an intelligent attempt to get under the skin of the US financial sector. Starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, it tells the story of a corrupt hedge fund manager who uses insider trading and bribery to build his empire. With an IMDb rating of 8.4, the show has been well received and recently earned a renewal.

Hard-hitting Israeli series are now part of the landscape of the international TV industry (Homeland, False Flag). The reason YES’s Fauda stands out is that it is tries to bring both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the TV screen. Created by Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff, the series focuses on an elite undercover unit of combat Israeli soldiers who disguise themselves as Palestinians. It is regarded as the first time that an Israeli TV drama has depicted terrorists as people with wives and children.

The New Odyssey
Colin Callender’s production company Playground recently acquired the rights to Guardian journalist Patrick Kingsley’s book The New Odyssey – The Story of Europe’s Refugee Crisis. Throughout last year, Kingsley traveled to 17 countries along the migrant trail, meeting hundreds of refugees making their journey across deserts, seas and mountains to reach Europe. His book is an account of those travellers’ experiences. At the time of writing, no screenwriter has been attached to the project.

TV has a habit of treating politics as a period subject. Often this leads to interesting shows. But apart from a few allegorical references to the present, it doesn’t really cut to the quick of the contemporary debate. One exception is 1992, a series for Sky Italia created by Ludovica Rampoldi, Stefano Sardo and Alessandro Fabbri. The series looks at the political upheaval in the Italian system in the 1990s. However, similarities to the current situation in Italian politics give the show a particular resonance.

Korea is best known for its romance and historical drama, so KBS series Assembly is something of a novelty. It features a brave and honest shipyard welder who gets elected to the country’s national assembly. He is out of his depth until helped by an aide. The show is based on screenwriter Jung Hyun-Min’s own experience working as an aide for 10 years before breaking into TV.

secretcitySecret City
This new political drama from Australian pay TV platform Foxtel is based on Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis’s novels The Marmalade Files and The Mandarin Code. Adapted for TV by the writing team of Belinda Chayko, Matt Cameron, Marieke Hardy, Alice Addison, Tommy Murphy, Kris Mrksa and Greg Waters, it follows a journalist who uncovers an international political scandal while investigating the death of a young man.

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