Making Hollywood on an Israeli Budget

More than a decade after he first workshopped the screenplay, Israeli film star Moshe Ivgy is directing his first movie.

Dana Schweppe
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The garbage! I want to see the garbage!," Moshe Ivgy calls out to the property staff at a location shoot for his first film as a director, "On the Third Day." Piles of garbage have to be brought into the frame because in the movie Tel Aviv is in the third day of a garbage strike. For that same reason, the cast is walking around wearing surgical masks. Ivgy does not rest in his director's chair for even a moment. In between shots he roams the set, holding private conversations with his actors and also succeeding in amusing those present. He is performing not only as director but also as host, distributing kisses, cracking wise and even roping me in as an extra. "What do you care?," he says. "He'll make sure your hair is done," someone whispers in my ear.

In the meantime dozen of people are running around, measuring, moving things, reminding themselves of the time pressures. The scene being filmed is the first meeting between a father (played by Sharon Alexander) and his daughter (Hila Feldman) at a Tel Aviv cafe, where he tells her that he is her father. They - he manages a wedding band, she works for an escort service - are two of the six main characters in the film, which recounts several parallel stories in the chaos of the city.

"My idea was that this is the kind of film that observes people surreptitiously," Ivgy says. "We are filming most of the movie with a telescopic lens, like in a nature film, which gives a sense of observing without being involved. We also close up on the characters without them being aware of it while at the same time we give the actors the space to move within their world without the camera intruding on their personal space," Ivgy explains.

Participating in the film are Ivgy himself, Effi Ben-Zur, Icho Avital, Limor Goldstein and Ivgy's daughters, Ella, 13 and Lily, 11.

"They play the children of a housewife and a handyman who are in serious trouble. The mother suffers from depression and cannot function, and the father is short-tempered so the girls are slightly depressed," Ivgy says.

His older daughter Dana, 27, is already an accomplished actress. Ivgy says he did not intend to pass the acting bug down to his children. "They want to do it, it interests them and they are good. I work with them in a natural way, correcting a bit, steering them in directions I believe in. But when they came to the set they were amazingly professional and they did their work."

Ivgy began working on the project 13 years ago. "It began at a workshop I did at a studio for professional actors. I had an idea in mind and I did improvisations with them," he relates. After that he started writing and later on brought in a screenwriter.

"Along the way I gave it to Savi Gavison, Eran Kolirin and many other good people to read and give me notes. At a certain stage I decided that I had to do it already. I spoke to all kinds of producers, very good ones, but somehow I didn't manage to raise the money and then I came to Hilik (Michaeli, from United Channels Movies) and the first thing he said was, "Let's set a date." Since then I've been working on it for six months nonstop without doing hardly anything else." The film is being supported by the Rabinovich Film Fund Cinema Project and private investors.

It is no small matter when one of Israel's leading actors decides to move behind the camera. Ivgy nonetheless says that he is not unduly anxious. "I felt tense beforehand, but suddenly, two days before filming began, I became completely calm, as if I had taken some pill. I realized that I was ready. This surprised me, but I came to the first day of filming completely calm. I decided that I had to come to the set with a lot of love, and I am getting it back."

Ivgy says he has always dreamed of directing. "I simply never had the time and I also didn't want to do it in an offhanded manner. The idea and the screenplay developed over the years and they are part of me - this is a very personal film in that sense. I don't have a general desire to direct, but rather something that speaks to me and deals with the society I live in. When I acted I was always curious about what happens on the other side and all in all I am familiar with all the elements in this system. The cameraman, the grip, the lighting technician, art, props, costumes, makeup and all the departments. I know how they work and I am familiar with the system from deep inside. The transition has been very natural for me."

It is hard not to notice the extent of Ivgy's perfectionism. When the need arises for additional extras, Ivgy doesn't wait for the production assistants, he goes out to the street and starts to pester passersby. "There! Him!," he says, points to a random man. "Come here!" The man ignores him but Ivgy does not give up and continues until the right extra is found.

He also does not let up on the actors before extracts from the the best possible performance. When he sits with Hila Feldman between takes, he gives her a line reading: "I'm not in the mood for this, tell me why you've invited me, I have to go." She repeats it after him, he gives it to her once more, she repeats it and then he gives it to her four or five times in a row. In the end she blurts: "But don't give me the intonation."

"I'm not giving it... just explaining where it ends," he says.

"Both as an actor and as an acting teacher I have a lot of experience working with actors," Ivgy explains. "Maybe I have the sensitivity, the knowledge and the tools to address an actor and get the reading from them, to try to connect them to the very precise place I want them to find. If the actor does their work in advance and there's no need to mess around with remembering the text or knowing who and what they are then they are open to any change the director suggests because they aren't worried that if you ask them to do an additional action then the text will escape them. The same goes for a director: The more prepared you are and the more you know what it is you want, the greater possibility you have for making as many changes as you want."

Regarding directing himself as an actor Ivgy says: "I've found that it's even easier for me, because the director's attention isn't focused on me. So I feel like a laborer who has come to do a job and there's no pressure on him. And this gives something even more authentic."

Above all, Ivgy stresses again and again the importance of teamwork and of the support staff on his film. "Sometimes cameramen have the desire to take over the film but here I and the cameraman, Yoram Millo, are working entirely together and I call him my partner," he says. "The producers, too, with all the budget problems, are giving me all the space and all the time I need. Israeli films always run up against difficulties at the last minute, and this is not a simple film. It has a lot of locations, a lot of scenes and a lot of outdoor filming, which is very problematic. So it can't be taken for granted, to work on your first film that is so complex and to feel that you are getting everything you need. This is Hollywood, Hollywood on the budget of an Israeli film."