Tag Archives: HOT

A nation divided

A parallel-future Israel is split between religious and secular societies in Autonomies. DQ meets co-creator Ori Elon, producer Efrat Dror and broadcaster HOT’s head of production Guy Levy to hear why the dystopian drama has echoes of contemporary society.

Israeli drama Autonomies imagines a country where society is divided. Jerusalem has become completely Orthodox, while Tel Aviv is a secular state. As the series progresses, tensions between the two sides are exacerbated when a midwife reveals she switched two babies at birth seven years earlier.

However, the central theme is one that may be familiar to many living in the country. “The society of Israel is divided between secular and Orthodox religions, between Arabs and Jews, and between left and right. We have a lot of conflict,” says producer Erfrat Dror, CEO of United Studios of Israel. “The majority of people are secular and the conflict between religions and the secular is how they are serving the country. The Arabs and Jews is also a conflict and we now have an autonomy of Arabs in Israel. So it’s very relevant.

“This series is a mirror to society. If we do not look at our problems inside and try to solve them, it’s a topic that one day will be a reality.”

Ori Elon

Produced by United Studios of Israel for broadcaster HOT, the series is created and written by Ori Elon and Yehonatan Indursky, who also directs. The cast includes Assi Cohen, Shuli Rand, Saniella Kertesz, Dana Ivgy, Tali Sharon, Rotem Sela, Yaakov Zada Daniel, Dan Kastiriano and Nir Di-Nur. Keshet International is the distributor.

Elon and Indursky have worked together for almost eight years, previously partnering on Israeli series Shtisel, which told the story of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family living in Jerusalem. It ran for two seasons from 2013 on satellite platform Yes.

Autonomies was to be their next project, with the story born out of two ideas. The first was a modern Israel with a new Jewish state contained inside, while the second was inspired by the Judgment of Solomon, a story from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) that tells of two women claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon revealed their true feelings by suggesting the baby be cut in half – the non-mother was happy with this idea, whereas the real mother begged him to save the child.

“For years I had a deep connection with this story,” Elon explains, “because my grandfather was a judge in the Supreme Court of Israel and had a famous case 30 years ago, the Carolyn/Bruna case about a little girl with two parents who were fighting for custody of her. It never left him and he talked about it a lot. I became a storyteller and I can identify with both sides.”

This story of child separation and the moral and ethical dilemmas it creates takes place in a fantasy world. But “it’s not a fantasy from another planet,” Elon says. “Our series isn’t realistic, but it’s heightened.”

Guy Levy, head of production for HOT, picks up: “Some will say we’re already there [in the show’s heightened reality]. There are neighbourhoods of ultra-Orthodox people in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We are almost separated. Maybe some will say it’s dystopic, and it is, but some will say it’s the future and it will come.”

Autonomies imagines a divided Israel, with an Orthodox Jerusalem and secular Tel Aviv

Levy adds that HOT is not afraid of dealing with controversial or provocative storylines, and that it was “easy” to greenlight the series.

Dror says: “You have to be a company that has a lot of imagination and vision to do such a series. It’s brave to take the decision to do it because it’s not mainstream, it’s dark. It’s not very optimistic. But I think it’s the kind of material that cable and satellite has to do because it’s a very relevant social issue that has to be discussed in society. This is an original way to do it and while it’s between dystopia and reality, it’s time to put it on the table.”

Levy adds: “This issue in Israel is a big elephant in the room that no one talks about. Everybody sees it, everybody lives and breathes it, but nobody talks about it. The series puts everything on the table.”

If so much of the basis of Autonomies is already prevalent in real life, could the story not have been explored through a documentary? Dror says lots of factual programming already looks at issues between religious and secular societies but, by making a drama, “we have a story that you can identify with, as with Ori’s grandfather in a way of telling a story about a little girl with two families fighting for her.”

She continues: “It’s a very original way to tell the story and be emotional and identify with the characters to see the other sides of the issue. It’s for the viewer to decide who is right. It’s the modern Solomon trial.”

The show is set to air on Israel’s HOT

Elon and Indursky both coming from Orthodox Jewish families is also what makes this series unique, Levy says, adding that it might have been a very different show had the creators not been raised in a religious environment. “Their point of view is what’s interesting in this story,” he adds.

Dror describes the scripts as “poetry,” noting that Autonomies is written “sensitively and creatively to the story and the issue.”

“It’s exciting because I think it’s an important issue and they find a very good way to discuss it within the society of Israel,” she says. “I hope the public will enjoy and love it.”

The series wasn’t easy to make, however. Dror describes it as a major production, particularly in a country that has built a reputation for highly original series produced on a relatively small budget compared to the US and some European countries. “The whole industry in Israel does well handling small budgets compared to the rest of the world, and the results are often very high,” Dror says. “It’s not easy but we are proud to tell this kind of story and to have the opportunity to work with such talented writers and directors.

“Because we don’t have money, we have to create something. We work without money. We have to create ways to produce television and tell a deep story. We’re doing well because we’re hungry to create and say something to the world.”

Elon also praises the relationship between HOT and United Studios. “We came to them with a broken story about a broken reality and they didn’t try to make it sweet or make it cheaper to produce or anything like that,” he says. “They worked with us.”

The series is due to debut later this year, while Levy is already looking ahead to a potential second season. “I think it’s just the start of dealing with this story in Israel,” he says. “I hope the series will make people talk and deal with our situation in Israel.”

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Drama with bite

Juda is a low-life gambler hustling a living in the murky depths of the criminal underworld. But after winning big in a high-stakes poker game, his luck runs out when he is robbed and bitten by a seductive vampiress.

Unbeknown to her, she has drunk Jewish blood and begun her own path to mortality, therefore facing a race against time to kill Juda and save herself or save him and risk everything.

Zion Baruch, creator and star of the series, and director Meni Yaish, reveal how they were inspired by films such as Blade and Interview with a Vampire and filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino to bring this gothic horror to life.

They also consider why Israeli dramas have had such an impact on the global stage in recent years

Juda is produced by United Studios of Israel for HOT and is distributed by Banijay Rights.

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Rewriting history

James Bond screenwriters Robert Wade and Neal Purvis imagine a world in which the Nazis occupy Britain in the BBC’s adaptation of Len Deighton’s alternative-history novel SS-GB. DQ visits the set.

At first glance, the set of the 1940s-era London police station looks unassuming and inconspicuous. A map of the River Thames hangs on one wall, beside a board displaying the details of ongoing murder investigations. A telephone switchboard stands in another part of the office, while adjacent tables are laden with an assortment of maps, newspaper cuttings, mugshots and used ashtrays.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade

‘Wanted’ posters show the faces and details of eight people sought for a train robbery, while a steam train calendar displays the dates of November 1941.

Yet look a little closer and unusual details start to emerge – notepaper headed with the word ‘Metropolitanpolizei’ sticks out from the top of a typewriter sitting on one desk, next to notebooks embossed with Nazi insignia.

Stepping outside the office belonging to Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, ‘Metropolitanpolizei’ appears again, this time on a sign hanging over the doorway, while Nazi banners hang in the stairwell of a nearby spiral staircase. The scene is jarred further by the sight of soldiers standing in khaki SS uniforms.

This is the setting for SS-GB, the forthcoming BBC1 drama based on Len Deighton’s 1976 alternative-history novel that imagines the Nazis won the Battle of Britain in 1940.

Set in Nazi-occupied London, the story follows DS Archer (Sam Riley) who is working under the brutal SS regime. But while investigating what appears to be a simple black market murder, he is dragged into a much darker and treacherous world where the stakes are as high as they were during the war.

US actress Kate Bosworth stars alongside Riley as American journalist Barbara Barga, who becomes inextricably linked with the murder case Archer is investigating. The cast also includes Jason Flemyng, James Cosmo, Aneurin Barnard, Maeve Dermody and Rainer Bock.

The five-part series, produced by Sid Gentle Films, has been adapted from Deighton’s novel by Bafta-winning writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade – most famous for writing five James Bond features, including Spectre, Skyfall and Casino Royale.

The drama received its world premiere this week at the Berlin Film Festival, ahead of its UK debut on Sunday February 19. Distributor BBC Worldwide has also sold the series to broadcasters in Germany (RTL), Croatia (Pickbox), Sweden (SVT), Greece (Cosmote), Israel (HOT/Cellcom), Iceland (RUV) and Poland (Showmax), while it will also air on BBC First channels in Africa, Australia, Benelux and the Middle East, as well as UKTV in New Zealand.

It is directed by German director Philipp Kadelbach, whose credits include Naked Among Wolves and Generation War. Sally Woodward Gentle, Lee Morris, Purvis, Wade and Lucy Richer are executive producers. The series is produced by Patrick Schweitzer.

As fans of Deighton, Purvis and Wade were instantly drawn to the series, which marks their first move into television, when they were approached about the project by Woodward Gentle.

Maeve Dermody plays a girl caught up in the British Resistance

“It’s a pretty faithful adaptation,” says Purvis of the screen version. “The biggest challenge was [in the book] we were following Archer from his point of view. The fact he can’t trust people means it’s very difficult to talk to other people about what he’s thinking, so it was all about making it comprehensible because it’s quite a complex plot and nothing’s straightforward. The Resistance has got in-fighting and the German army and SS are opposed to each other, so it’s just finding a way to navigate through the story in an intriguing but understandable way.”

Wade picks up: “I think I understand it now – but we had to simplify it. Since Len wrote the book, there’s a bit more now known about what was going on in Britain to prepare for an invasion, so we were able to access those sources and that gave us background for the British Resistance and the real mechanisms that were set up in event of an invasion. But really our main job was to make the most of the drama within the story and, for that reason, we made a few changes that kept certain characters alive longer than they were in the book.”

Already an established genre in the world of fiction, alternative history is becoming a hot topic in television, with SS-GB following hot on the heels of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, which plays out in a world where the Axis powers won the Second World War and America has been split between Japanese and Nazi rule, with a buffer zone separating the two.

SS-GB premiered this week at the Berlin Film Festival

Wade draws a distinction between the two series, in particular describing the Amazon drama as closer to science-fiction because the events it portrays weren’t ever close to happening. SS-GB, however, was within the realms of possibility.

“With The Man in the High Castle, which is set in 1962, you’re talking about the consequences [of the Second World War]. But in this you are actually living through the Occupation and the game isn’t necessarily over. It’s not a historical result, history is alive.”

Wade and Purvis co-wrote films Let Him Have It (1991) and Plunkett & Macleane (1999) before being asked to write Bond movies The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and the super-spy’s four most recent outings starring Daniel Craig. Other credits include 2003’s Johnny English, a spoof of the espionage genre starring Rowan Atkinson.

“We’ve written together for a very long time,” Purvis says. “We do that because we enjoy it. There’s more to it than just writing; you’ve got to go abroad and it can be quite pressured. So having two people has always been good because when things are going well, you can always go down the pub together – and when things are going badly, you can go down the pub together! It gets the job done well to be able to discuss things.”

With scripts approved by Deighton, the writers say they haven’t felt the need to be on set every day, but have kept in touch by watching the daily rushes. They were also consulted during casting and say they were very pleased by the decision to put Riley in the lead role. “We wanted someone who was a film actor – this is his first television job so it’s just that thing of trying to keep it like a big movie,” Purvis notes. “It gave it a bit more oomph to have someone like Sam.”

If Riley’s DS Archer is akin to Sam Spade, the protagonist of Dashiell Hammett’s noir thriller The Maltese Falcon, then US actress Kate Bosworth is firmly in the femme fatale role.

“She’s an American journalist who has just arrived on the inaugural New York-London Lufthansa flight, which is one of Len’s nice touches,” Wade offers. “She’s a femme fatale. She might be working for the Resistance, she might be a spy for the Germans, she might be an agent for the Americans – you don’t know. She’s someone who’s attractive to Archer and attracted by Archer. So it’s a dance. He’s trying to figure out whether she’s involved in this murder and she’s trying to figure out what she can get out of this guy.

“We balance her with Maeve Dermody, who plays a girl caught up in the Resistance and who is quite messed up. She’s an English girl and her parents were killed during the invasion. But she’s actually spying on Archer.”

But how did their experience on SS-GB compare to scripting a Bond movie? “It’s easier in the sense that there’s a book and you don’t have massive expectations,” Wade admits. “We’re very proud of this but we were able to write it in a free way. Hopefully there are some real surprises in this.

“With a Bond film, people are expecting certain things. The other aspect for us, as it’s our first TV series, was that having that large canvas to be able to tell a story with twists and turns over five hours is great fun, and you get the freedom you don’t have in an hour-and-a-half movie.”

Purvis adds: “We have been approached by TV a lot but we’ve always said no to everything. This was the first time we said yes. It’s a genre one can feel comfortable with. Len’s a great writer. It just seemed to be appealing and something we could do.”

For locations manager Antonia Grant, the toughest part of her job on SS-GB was finding appropriate exteriors around London for the show’s wartime setting. “It’s always a challenge for a locations department to remove the modern world,” she says. “We rely on the art department as well to help us so it’s very much a combined effort.

“There will be some things that are quite obvious [locations] as per the script that you have to go and look for. But then otherwise it’s coming up with different options to put to the director and designer and it’s a lot of driving around, photographing different places, chatting to people, persuading people to let us film.

“It’s always lovely looking for new locations but, on period dramas, there’s a limited amount because more things are changing and being modernised. I’ve shot on several new locations in this. Also, the nature of SS-GB, being alternative history, means you’re looking for quite different locations compared with those used for The Hour and certainly Call the Midwife [both also period dramas on which Grant has worked].”

After piecing together a 300-page script and bringing Deighton’s story to the screen, Wade and Purvis have one eye on their next big-screen feature – but tease that this might not be the end of the story for SS-GB.

“History is still in play, it’s not ended,” adds Wade. “Some characters have died, some have grown. I’m very pleased with the way it ends and there could be more.”

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