Tag Archives: Keshet Broadcasting

Repeat offenders

Producer Maria Feldman and writer Leora Kamenetzky reveal how they tackled the unenviable task of following up the first season of Israeli thriller False Flag, in which a group of ordinary people are thrust into the limelight when they are accused of committing a high-profile crime.

How do you follow the success of False Flag? The Israeli drama was an undeniable hit when the first season launched in 2015 following a world premiere at Berlinale and a prize-winning appearance France’s Series Mania festival, receiving critical and popular acclaim.

The Hebrew-language thriller then scored a distribution deal with Fox International Channels (FIC), taking the series into more than 200 countries around the world. The deal with distributor Keshet International marked the first time FIC had acquired a non-English-language drama for its global networks.

The eight-parter, produced by Tender Productions for Keshet Broadcasting, followed five ordinary people who wake up one morning to see themselves on TV, falsely accused of kidnapping a high-ranking Iranian minister.

Maria Feldman

In February, False Flag returned to Berlin for the international premiere of its second season, which debuted in Israel last year and is now airing on Fox channels across Europe and Africa. Hulu in the US and France’s Canal+ have also picked up streaming rights to both seasons.

Adopting an anthology format, the follow-up introduces a completely new story with new characters. When an explosion during a ceremony to mark the first oil pipeline connecting Israel and Turkey is labelled as a terrorist attack by the media, three citizens who were present but disappeared around the time of the blast are named as key suspects. The ensuing investigation and media attention then throws their friends and family into the eye of the story as unexpected connections and surprising alliances begin to emerge, paving the way for mistrust and no assurances that solving the mystery will return their lives to normal.

“Only the two main characters from the investigating team are the same, so it’s a little bit like True Detective,” says writer Leora Kamenetzky, likening the format to HBO’s crime drama.

Kamenetzky came on board to write season two with producer Maria Feldman, who co-created False Flag with Amit Cohen. Feldman’s Masha TV produces season two, with Oded Ruskin returning from season one to direct all 10 episodes.

Key to the writer’s approach, however, was understanding what made season one work so well. “When Maria talked to me about writing the series, I watched the entire first season and I came up with a page describing the DNA of False Flag,” she says. “So I invented a whole new story with the same DNA. It was a success not just because of that DNA but the original story. Everybody has something to hide and we can all feel guilt about some part of our life. There are secrets we don’t want anybody to know. Then you’re blamed for something and you’re not guilty, but you’re afraid that, through the investigations, something you want to hide is going to emerge. So immediately you feel you have to do something about it.”

False Flag focuses on a group of ordinary people who find themselves accused of a major crime

Another thing that makes False Flag stand out from other dramas is the pace of the storytelling. “It’s very fast and there are multiple points of view. It’s not told just from the point of view of the investigator,” Kamenetzky continues. “We also cut to the people who are the suspects and, in a way, the spectator is put in the position of the person who knows more sometimes than the investigators themselves. They’re in this position of, ‘Maybe it’s him, maybe it’s her.’ Because of the multiple points of view, the pace is crazy and it’s a hard show to write.”

Feldman, who has also produced AXN thriller Absentia, says most Israeli series don’t make it to season two, which meant her initial thoughts were on making season one the best it could be, rather than developing a multi-season arc.

“It started with a mystery that has to end at the end of the series. You can’t keep it open, so we didn’t,” she explains. “Keshet really wanted to know if there was a season two and we said we could spread the mystery into a few seasons and delay some part of it. They said, ‘No, no, no, this story has to be told and closed.’ But if our main characters are people who have secrets and then they tell their secrets, we can’t continue with them in the second season. So that was a big challenge.”

Feldman believes that makes the series special is that the main characters are just normal people, not police officers or investigators. Season two goes further in this respect by focusing on the main suspects’ family members, who begin to question who they are living with and who they might be about to marry.

“Also, in the first season, people are suspected of being Mossad agents [working for the Israeli national intelligence agency], which is in Israel very heroic,” Kamenetzky says. “In the second season, they are suspected of being terrorists. There’s nothing to be proud of. If you’re 12 years old and your mother is suspected of being a terrorist, it doesn’t make any sense. You don’t know who you are anymore. So that was new.”

The show’s second season features a new cast and storyline

The danger of anthology series is that despite inserting a new story and new characters, they might only serve as window dressing on a show that is essentially a repeat of the first season. It’s a problem Feldman recognised, and one that also informed the decision to focus more on the families and friends standing beside the accused.

The producer says her creative partnership with Kamenetzky was very similar to the way she worked with Cohen on season one. They talked together for several months and, once they had a story in place and started working on the treatments, Kamenetzky would begin writing the scripts.

She went on to pen every script, despite attempts to bring other writers into the fold. “It’s complicated because it’s not a normal drama. It has to be fast-paced, where almost every scene from the beginning to the end changes your entire perspective. It becomes something else,” the writer says. “You must have the story moving forward all the time and also be true to the characters. It’s difficult. I got one script from one writer that was really good, but it wasn’t False Flag. It was great but it wasn’t the show.”

“It’s a very difficult series to write,” Feldman agrees. “When a person gets it and understands it, only then can they write it. If we had an American budget, we would have writers with us from the beginning breaking the story and then going and writing. But we don’t have those budgets. It’s not a series where you can give a treatment to a writer and say, ‘Go and write it.’ It doesn’t work like that.”

The international interest in a second season didn’t affect the story, writing process or production, claim Feldman and Kamenetzky, noting that the characters are “so Israeli.” But when it comes to finding locations, Feldman admits there is a perception in Israel that the show has a bigger budget than reality reflects. “People think this is such an international success, we must have more money, which isn’t the case.”

With filming completed on a Russian remake of False Flag for local broadcaster NTV, a third season of the original Israeli series has also been confirmed, with filming due to take place next year. But the co-creators of season two are already primed to overcome the biggest challenge they faced last time around.

“If we had an idea or a solution, we would say we did that in season one,” Feldman adds. “So we didn’t do it again. Everything is new in season two. But we’re going into season three and it will be like, ‘We did that in season one; we did that in season two.’ We have to do the whole thing all over again!”

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Open secrets

Israeli writer/director Keren Margalit discusses the making of her latest drama Sleeping Bears, which tackles issues of trust, and opens up about the creative process behind her screen work.

Psychologists and therapists are privy to some of their clients’ deepest secrets – so what happens if those secrets are suddenly exposed? That’s the question at the heart of Israeli drama Sleeping Bears, which also asks whether we are able to truly trust the ones we love.

The 10-part series centres on Hadas, a teacher at a school for high-risk pupils, whose world collapses around her when she receives an envelope containing pages from her psychologist Ya’akov Eshel’s diary – papers documenting their private conversations. When Ya’akov is unexpectedly killed in a car crash, Hadas is forced into a desperate search to find the anonymous sender as she faces truths she has kept hidden from her loved ones.

Keren Margalit

Blending elements of family drama and captivating thriller, it’s the latest series from writer/director Keren Margalit, the award-winning creator of Yellow Peppers, which was adapted in the UK as The A Word. Produced by July August Productions for Keshet Broadcasting, it is distributed by Keshet International.

Margalit first conceived the idea behind Sleeping Bears while working on Yellow Peppers, but it wasn’t until she made the second season of that show that she sat down to work on her latest series. “The idea goes round and round for many years. This is the tendency of ideas,” she says. “You have one and then you go to sleep and it pops up again, and when it pops up for the sixth time, you think there’s probably something there. Even now, there are a million ideas spinning around but I don’t know if they will become something. I had to research it without knowing what it was.”

The idea for the series soon took shape, however, and was boosted by making the central character a teacher – a decision that was inspired by a programme Margalit saw about people who leave their careers to go and work with troubled kids. She subsequently spent time working at a school as a teaching assistant.

Her writing process is dictated by one essential element. “The trick of deadlines is amazing,” she jokes. “You have no money, it’s been too long since your last project, and how long can I run over The A Word, which isn’t mine really. So that was the moment I sat down and started doing this. I have a script editor who works very closely with me and she also shouts at me, and we did it!

“But it took a lot of time this time. I knew the idea, I knew who [sent the secret letter], but I needed to fix the story and this happens through writing. It started to awaken.”

Sleeping Bears stars Noa Koler as a teacher fighting to protect her darkest secrets

Margalit wrote all 10 episodes herself, an unusual step given the large episode order but one that was necessary, as when she started writing, she didn’t yet know what would happen before the story reached its conclusion.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen so I don’t have anything to give anyone, so I have to do it myself,” she says. “I also hate conflicts, so with myself [directing] I can handle it.”

As for whether she prefers writing or directing, Margalit says: “If I had to choose something, I choose writing but I don’t think I could direct someone else’s script. It’s partly because I continue to write while directing. You bring this story to life and you do that though directing. And I’m making changes on set. On Yellow Peppers, some of the best scenes were created on set. You also need to find what is happening now, what’s happening at the same moment. That’s directing. If there’s another director, he can’t do it because he doesn’t have the freedom to change anything.”

The cast of Sleeping Bears is headed by Noa Koler, who plays Hadas, alongside Yossi Marshak as Hadas’s husband Dari, Ola Schur Selektar as her best friend Iris and Yaakov Zada Daniel as Shai Gabai, the principal of the school where Hadas works.

The series is produced by July August Productions for Keshet

“When I read the script, I felt many things,” Koler tells DQ. “One of them was fear; it was scary. Could I imagine myself doing these suspense scenes? I fell in love with Hadas – she’s going into a big war and she’s a strong and brave woman, and I don’t consider myself as one. I guess I am in some way, but not like Hadas. Hadas is a very strong woman and she’s at a point where she has to choose how she wants to live her life. I wanted to play that part very badly. I didn’t know if I could do it or do it as well as in the script.”

The actor describes Margalit as “unique, there’s no one like her,” and says she demands her cast give their all to their characters. “She knows what she wants and she can’t stand fakes or phonies or someone never giving themselves truly,” Kooler says. “She feels everything. There’s not a second in the series that is there by mistake. She’s amazing, she’s one of a kind.”

Getting the best performance from her actors is all about using what is happening in the real world to channel their emotions into their character, Margalit says. “You have to look at what’s happening in the moment all the time and not be automatic,” she explains. “There’s always some new condition under the surface. People are very difficult creatures, they’re so full of layers and you have to find the right layer for this approach and what feeling is going on in there. So that’s a nice game for me. Let’s see how we can translate that and make something interesting and different [on screen].”

Koler adds: “It’s an amazing opportunity for me as an actress to have this range of emotions. It’s funny when I have to run – I’m not that sporty, but [my character is] so afraid. And I love that there are some moments of humour in her life. It was very challenging, fun and tough.”

Margalit is best known for creating Autism drama Yellow Peppers

With a career spanning series including BeTipul (In Therapy), autism drama Yellow Peppers and now Sleeping Bears, Margalit tells stories about big things happening to regular people. “People can be larger than life, but these people are the exact same size as life,” she says. “They’re not expecting to do anything brave. Usually they’re very frightened people who prefer to not get into trouble. They hide at home and trouble comes to them and they have to deal with it. It’s their worst nightmare. But Hadas can’t sleep through life, she has to take a stand and fight – that’s what she’s going through.”

Israel, now a notable force on the international scripted scene, is known for creating big drama despite the relatively low budgets broadcasters and producers have to play with. It all means character and emotion are put front and centre of series that force ordinary people to deal with extraordinary circumstances.

“We’re not doing any genre series in Israel about hospitals or lawyers, we don’t have any of that,” observes Keshet Broadcasting’s Karni Ziv. “Part of it is budget but part of it is that the Israeli audience want a story they can connect with for a long time. The Israeli audience wants to fall in love – not watch a police officer solving a crime again and again.

“When you have small budgets, you can’t do big shows and it forces the writer and then the director to find a solution. People want to watch people like them, people they can relate to. Hadas is a teacher, she’s not a prime minister or a spy, and I think it makes it a series that a lot of our audience can relate to.”

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