No Fauda, but Yes Studios have shows you’ll want to see

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No Fauda, but Yes Studios have shows you’ll want to see

A reluctance to air Hebrew language programmes isn't stopping Israel's most successful production company

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Yousef Sweid stars in Israel's next big hit Night Therapy
Yousef Sweid stars in Israel's next big hit Night Therapy

“We didn’t launch anything for three months. Everyone was only watching the news. And they were worried. It was only when we felt they were craving fresh air and a different kind of content, that we decided to launch some ‘escape’ TV.”

The small screen ‘escape’ was the second season of Erez Kavel’s Chef, a popular series about a gifted cook struggling to stay relevant. It landed well, but knowing what a country in mourning could cope with seeing after October 7 was a huge consideration for Sharon Levi and the team at Yes Studios.

Sharon Levi, Managing Director of Yes
Chef the Israeli show the audience needed

As managing director of the company that has given us Fauda, Shtisel and The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, working life before the atrocities of 7/10 was about sales, distribution and development. Now, as she tries to maintain a sort of business-as-usual routine, her soldier son calls to tell her that his army duty has been extended. Uneasiness crosses the mother’s face.

“Nothing is routine about what we’re living through right now,” says Sharon, “So we try to put together a strategy for this year and next, but everything planned has a little star next to it because we know nothing is for sure.”

It feels like only yesterday that Israel was revered for ground-breaking drama, Wonder Woman Gal Gadot and Holy Land high-tech and medical innovation. “And now we battle for our reputation, our lives and our existence,” says New York-born Sharon, who puts a pin in projects with problematic content that are not right for now.

“We keep them moving forwards and I’m raising money for stories in development but, yes, it’s a challenge. Many clients we work with understand both sides of the story, that it’s not personal and something way above us all.But we also have to accept that shows in the Hebrew language might be difficult for some clients to swallow in these times; so we shift the focus to selling formats.”

Johnny and the Knights of Galilee
Kvodo the Israeli show that became Your Honour

The long list of Israeli shows that have been remade in other countries is impressive . “We’re relying on our catalogue and it’s the gift that keeps on giving.” Johnny and the Knights of Galilee (originally Milk and Honey) is an old Yes series just remade by Amazon France.

That formats don’t have an expiration date is Sharon’s blessing, as proven by Shlomo Moshiah’s Kvodo (Your Honour), which stars Bryan Cranston in the US remake and is now in production in Asia, Eastern Europe and possibly South America.

“Formats are a healthy shortcut because they save time and money and we all know nobody’s making money out of production in the US, so it’s helpful if the script, characters and set up can just be sent.”

Cultural differences withstanding, the original writers will assist, which has been the case for Shlomo Moshiah, who also wrote the script for The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem and another of his Yes projects has just wrapped.

Fauda not set for a return just yet

Encouraging news for those feeling deprived of Israeli talent, but not for fans of Fauda. The rumbles about its imminent, albeit questionable return, are squashed by Sharon. “It’s not as if we had a new season ready. If we did, there would have been discussions about whether or not we should launch another season now. But it’s too early to know what season five would look like or where we’re going to be in terms of the country. For any launch there’s a little bracket that says, ‘only if nothing tragic happens the same day’.”

When Kugel began shooting in Antwerp two months ago it was a good day. Baruch Hashem, the prequel to Shtisel, starring Sasson Gabai and Hadas Yaron, could reunite the global fanbase with Israeli production.

“From what we’re seeing so far, it’s very exciting. I’m sure the fan base will be very happy,” reports Sharon. “We have to remain positive because, yes, the situation is very tricky, but creativity flows in times like this; people write books, music and scripts.”

Raanan Caspi had already written his script for Night Therapy before horror engulfed his homeland but, as soon as Sharon read it, she knew it had to be made.

The 10-part series, which launches in Israel in June, tells the story of Louie, an Arab-Israeli psychologist struggling to raise his two children after the suicide of his Jewish wife.

Yousef Sweid on the set of Night Therapy

To achieve a better work-life balance, he changes his work to the evening hours, creating an alternative form of therapy for his patients. Among them, four are recurring – a genius hacker who never leaves the house, played by Shira Haas, and Fauda’s Eli, Yaakov Zada Daniel, who plays a troubled Orthodox Jew.

But it is lead actor, Arab-Israeli Yousef Sweid as Louie, who is a timely advert for unity, as he has worked in theatre and film in Israel for years and his heritage has never held him back. “That he is Arab-Israeli is of no consequence,” says Sharon of Sweid who, like his character, also has a Jewish wife. “That’s how it is here.”

The Nova film Yes Studios wants the world to see

How it was on October 7 is relived in the Yes documentary #Nova. Several have been made, and Yes is working on another, but Dan Pe’er’s film takes the viewer through the experience of the festival-goers, from pure excitement to devastating tragedy. “We’re proud to represent it,” says Sharon. “It’s all real-life footage of the actual events that is evidence of what happened that day, which will be taught in schools in years to come. It’s like taking a front-row seat to history.”

Sharon knew that getting others with no skin in the game to take a seat beside her would be tough. “Some clients want to keep the fact they work with us on the lowdown and I understand how it could be difficult for some streaming services to stand behind this, as maybe they’re more risk averse than ever. But eventually they are going to need these pieces of history told first-hand. Because it’s going to stay forever.”

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