It all started in a hardware store. Israeli dancer and choreographer Ilan Azriel was doing a one-man show with life-size puppets and masks. Then one day, on a trip to the local hardware store, he opened a box and some small aluminum tubing fell to the floor.
He pushed his hand through the tube and was captivated by its sinuous movement. Imagining giant-sized tubes worn by dancers, combined with lights and music, he envisioned a 20-minute segment. It was in that aisle that the dance performance Aluminum was born.
Two years later he had created a full-length show for six dancers, combining movement and visual theater, which has been performed around the world, including a recent four-month tour in the US.
Actress Noa Tishby, senior executives in American TV industry discuss on-screen Israel-US relations
The wave of adaptations of Israeli shows for the international markets has inundated the world, bringing a much needed boost to the Israeli television and film industry. Only last week, Israeli channel 10 announced the sale of successful TV show “The Naked Truth” to HBO, and the show “Tall and Greenbaum” which hasn’t even aired in Israel, received the green light to produce a pilot for the ABC network. The next US television season will also include an adaptation of the Israeli show “Ramzor”, which will be known as “Mixed Signals”.
Last week, Israeli animated series for adults, Middletown which is being developed by media giant Technicolor joined the ranks of shows purchased for US television and like Israeli show Naor’s friends it will be adapted to suit American audiences through Israeli-American company Operating Room, which represents Israeli screenwriters in the US market, helping them to develop American formats of Israeli shows.
“There’s ‘positive disproportion’ in Israel’s share in the US’s huge TV market,” says Stuart Tenzer, manager of the Coast Road Media production company which specializes in importing foreign show formats to the US market.
Tenzer made his statements during the ‘Importing Creativity from Israel: Israeli entertainment content in Hollywood’ summit which was held last weekend in Los Angeles and included many senior executives in the American TV industry. In the past, Tenzer was responsible for bringing shows like “The Office”, “Dancing with the Stars” and “Ugly Betty” to US TV screens, he also brought Israeli show “The Heir” to NBC.
“Most of the material that gets to the US from other countries is usually from English speaking countries like Britain and Australia, and they still are 80% of the formats sold. Yet I’ve worked with Japan, Korea and India, and even if I put all three together, there haven’t been as many shows that have come from one country, relative to its small population, as there have from Israel.
“I think that the fact that In Treatment was such a success, and the fact that the format was good, has paved the way for more shows from Israel. It was an original way to tell a story. It was so different sand strong that it was easy to turn it into something American. You didn’t have to be Israeli to understand the series. It put Israel on the map, as seen by the number of shows that followed.”
One of the pioneers in bringing Israeli shows to US screens is actress Noa Tishby, who is currently in negotiations with US networks over four Israeli series that she imported, plus another show in the works with MTV. Tishby who was among those responsible for exporting In Treatment, noted at the summit that paving a road to the heart of the US industry was not easy.
“When I came with an idea for a format, no one would listen to me in this town” she recalls. “I went to Jeff, my business manager and told him that I want to bring this show to HBO. He thought I was insane. So that at first I needed to create some sort of opportunity for people to even want to see the material.”
How do you know what kind of series works in the US?
“The truth is that ay mention of the army, religion, those leaving religion or finding religion, those are things that won’t work outside of Israel. Other than that, people are people are people, wherever you go. Characters, humor, script, most of the time it’s the same.”
Another partner in the recent success of Israeli shows in Hollywood is Emmy and Golden Globe winner David Israel whose past productions include “3rd Rock from the Sun” and “Married with Children”, and who is now on the production team for “Tall and Grenbaum” and “Middletown”.
“I’m into comedy more than anything else and it didn’t surprise me to find funny shows in Israel, it’s a country with an abundance of dark humor”, he says. “I don’t know if it comes from tragedy, or whatever, but they know how to laugh at things. The first comedy I saw from Israel was Naor’s Friends. It made me laugh, and it was clear to me that it could be transferred from Tel Aviv to New York or Los Angeles, it’s written so brilliantly”.
“In Israel people are amazed by the budgets we have here” he added. “I was speaking to Naor Zion and he told me that producing the pilot for his show cost $45,000. I told him that the last pilot I produced for NBC cost $3.3 million, just for the pilot. I think the writers and talent in Israel is truly good, and that can be beneficial to the US, because we all know how to appreciate good television and these are incredibly talented people who I would love to continue working with.”