Three years ago, veteran producers Chaim Sharir and Mosh Danon jointly founded Drama Team, a production company focusing on working with overseas concerns. Now, in a new and ambitious venture that they are launching, which is being revealed here for the first time, Sharir and Danon have joined forces with the French-based Federation Entertainment production and distribution company. Together, they will publish a call early next week for ideas and materials to develop television drama series for the international market. Their goal is to launch at least six drama series through international cooperation, but based on Israeli creative artists, within a short space of time. They plan to raise a total of NIS 80-100 million. Such impressive numbers are somewhat unfamiliar in the local production market.
"There are actually two revolutions here," Sharir says. "The first is that the process will be much quicker. Today, when producers, including us, contact a broadcaster, they can offer material for a series and never hear back from it, or hear from it out of the blue six months later. You might call after four months and they'll tell you, 'Ah, wait a minute, send it to me again, please.' Up until now, as a producer, I couldn't give the writer an answer, because I had to wait for the broadcaster. Now I can give the artist an immediate answer, and that stems from the second revolution.
"Hitherto, even when I got an OK and the series got going, the attitude towards overseas sales was that we'll see about it later - maybe we'll be able to sell it, and maybe not. We have turned the pyramid upside down, and we're coming to the market with a new business model of producing series through overseas presales. We've already done several such projects, and it's definitely a revolution."
"The processes taking place all at the same time in this market are really interesting," says Sharir. "On the one hand, the global market has become enormous, and we hear about new platforms in the industry every day, and they all need series. At the same time, existing broadcasters concerns are themselves getting into distribution, and not just in Israel (here, Keshet and DBS Satellite Services (1998) Ltd. (YES) are doing it). Demand today outstrips supply; I say that as the key sentence. There's a need for many more series than the world is able to produce.
"On the other hand, there is less money from advertising for the commercial channels, fewer subscribers (for Yes and Hot), and competition is far more intense. Getting funding for a series in a specific territory exclusively from money in that territory has become much tougher and much less practical. The result of the combination of these two processes is that you take money from a territory that has become smaller and combine it with the big global money. That's what we're doing here."
"Globes": All right, there's a global problem. What makes you the solution? Why should foreign companies in all sorts of countries cooperate with two producers from Israel?
Danon: "Over the past three years, we have been keeping up a lot of connections with a great many overseas distribution and production companies. We are already now jointly producing, with considerable financing, a series with a Norwegian company. We're doing two projects in Spain; we have a production in France and a production in Bulgaria. These are projects that have not yet been sold in Israel, and are getting underway without any investor for them in Israel."
And when you go to these companies in Spain or France or Norway, aren't there a thousand local creative artists and producers competing against you?
"Let me correct your false impression. There's a crisis in the European television market. For many years, this market has relied more on directors and less on creative artists - the scriptwriters and authors. In France, for example, they recently discovered that they didn't have enough writers. They were quite out of ideas. Today, Israel is at the very top of the world in content and ideas.
"So there's a demand for Israeli content - among other things because of the success of series that we all know about, such as 'Hostages,' 'Fauda,' and 'Homeland,' and you can go back as far as 'BeTipul,' ("In Therapy"). Israeli producers, however, have a problem here. Not all of them know how to do business with the outside world, so they deal with local concerns, who buy according to the quantity that they can broadcast. We tell those writers, 'We're opening up all of Europe to you as a television station - as an opportunity for the Israeli creative artist.'"
Sharir and Danon may not need the local broadcasters at their side in the new model they are pursuing, but they are certainly very interested in including them too in the projects that they are developing. Actually, one of their series, the "Jerusalem" police series, which is already in advanced stages of production, is being jointly funded by ITV from the UK and HOT Telecommunication Systems Ltd. (TASE: HOT). This desire is apparently leading them to pursue a gentler line with the local concerns, particularly the broadcasting channels, which are under fire from other producers.
The main dispute is over the percentages of rights to a series, with the producers demanding 50% of the rights, as was the former prevailing practice, while some of the commercial channels, led by Keshet, the leading local concern in selling Israeli content overseas, have in recent years changed the terms they are offering the producers, and are demanding a larger share.
"You're right that Keshet has entered this market, and they have established different rules. OK, they're allowed," says Sharir in a conciliatory tone. "As a producer, I can say that a deal suits me or doesn't suit me. By the way, we don't say no to these terms in every case. Anyhow, as we said, our situation is different from that of most producers, because we have direct access to the global market, and we don't necessarily need Keshet or any other local player for that purpose."
It seems to me that you were more militant towards them in the past.
"Listen, they're good people, and they want to make good series and sell them. They want what we want. Everyone has his or her own interest, of course, but now, for example, we signed a contract with Keshet in which they will do worldwide distribution for '30 Shekels an Hour.'"
Still, today, in the binge era, is there any economic logic in putting a series on the broadcast channels?
Danon: "Yes, but the economic consideration can't be the profit from advertising during the broadcast, but holding the rights and the ability to sell them later. And don't forget that you can also rebroadcast a series later and make more money. You can't do that with an episode of a reality show."
"We don't take the creative artists' struggles lightly"
In the venture that they are now launching, they will review the proposals made together with two local scriptwriters and will select 10-12 projects as candidates for development. The next selection stage will be at Federation Entertainment, the French company responsible for series such as "Marseille" and "Bordertown," broadcast on Netflix. The goal is to begin development this July.
In essence, you are describing a sector in the midst of unprecedented prosperity which the world's giant companies are showering with more and more money, in which the demand is greater than the supply. How does that connect with the struggles of the creative artists, which we are seeing in the Knesset, for example? The demand to force Cellcom and Partner to invest in original productions and the creative artists' struggle against regulatory concessions to the commercial channels?
Danon: "Let's get things straight. The situation in Israel for all the producers and creative artists is not ideal; it's fairly hard."
Sharir: "Mosh is chairperson of the Israeli Academy of Film and Television, so there's a lot of ideology here around the table. These struggles are very important, and we don't take them lightly."
Danon: "Yes, it's very important and very disturbing. The business we're describing is a kind of incomplete solution for television industry as a whole. So, yes, Partner and Cellcom have to be obliged through regulation. Regulation is needed for Internet broadcasts on all sorts of levels. We're not saying that business is wonderful for the entire industry. We're saying that the industry's plight has sent us overseas to raise more money and come back to Israel."
What will be the budget per episode of a series in your venture? Will it be enough for more expensive productions that are the rule here?
Sharir: "Series that are considered to be on the expensive side in Israel are half of the per episode cost in Europe. In series like 'Hakever' ("The Grave," written by Omri Givon) and 'Jerusalem,' which we are now developing, the budget will be something like NIS 1.2-1.3 million per episode, so these series are more expensive than what is usual in Israel (an average episode in a local drama series costs NIS 700,000-800,000), but not all the series we'll do now will necessarily be more expensive."
Can you personally, as producers, make a killing here? Do you have dreams of getting rich?
Danon: "Look, there's no bonanza; we're old enough to realize that there's no bonanza. If you achieve a huge success, you can take half a year off."
Sharir: "I'll tell you something. 'Hostages' made very good money for everyone: Channel 10, the producers, and the writers. The profit was in the millions of shekels. With most series, however, we just make a living, and some of the revenue gets invested back in development. We're not poor unfortunates, but why did the French come to us now and say, 'Let's do something big'? Because they think that at the end of the road, they'll make a lot of money."
Danon: "And in turn so will we."
What are you looking for now in the proposals sent to you? Is there a formula or guidelines?
Danon: "First of all, it's important to me to say that we're appealing to everyone we regard as 'storytellers': authors, journalists, playwrights, and scriptwriters - and, as I have to keep repeating, we're not necessarily looking series dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict."
Sharir: "Do you know how many Mossad series there are? It's already gone as far as it can."
Danon: "In the call for proposals that we'll put out, we'll tell them to let their imaginations run free. Don't try to imitate something that was successful."
So you're saying, "Don't bring us more series about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict"?
Danon: "No, no, we're not saying that. We're saying, 'Bring us a good story' - period."
"I'll tell you why -I'm going to say it, Mosh, I don't care," Sharir answers when we get to the question of why Israel's success in television creativity gets no state support. "Look, we mix with Europeans, most of whom don't like Israel very much, but they're crazy about Israeli scriptwriters, because our content is uninhibited. We don't make Israeli propaganda, or anti-Israel propaganda, for that matter.
"But the minister of culture doesn't realize how much good 'Fauda' does for Israel, so she doesn't support it. I'm afraid that as far as the establishment is concerned, if it's not propaganda, then it's like what she said about the Israel Broadcasting Corporation: 'What is it worth if we have no control over it, so what are artistic or film funds worth if we have no control over the material? Why should we support those leftists from Tel Aviv who write television series?'"
Sharir: "Incidentally, the French producers in the company we work with happen to be all Jews, Yarone Maman and Lionel Uzan, they're on our side, so to speak, and they never stop asking how it can be that there's no kind of encouragement in Israel for this thing. I'm telling you, this is what we're known for around the world - we're the startup nation and the TV drama nation."
And startups do get support and aid from the state.
Sharir: "True, because high tech isn't 'left-wing artists.'"
Danon: "Exactly. It comes back to politics. The government doesn't know whom I voted for, and it doesn't know what I believe in and what I think, but as far as it's concerned, if I live in Tel Aviv - which I don't - and I have a movie and television production company, then I'm a leftist."
Family status: Married with three children
Lives in: Gedera
Outstanding series produced: "Haborer" ("The Arbitrator"), "Allenby," "BeTipul," and the film "Ajami."
Family status: Married with five children
Lives in: Tel Aviv
Outstanding series produced: "Bnei Aruba" ("The Hostages"), "30 Shekels an Hour," and "Miluim" ("Reserve Duty").
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 16, 2018
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