A Budding Hollywood in the Holy Land
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ The Holy Land’s palm-fringed beaches and lonely desert expanses are becoming familiar on the silver screen, especially in action movies where terrorism is the theme.
But there are other attractions as well, including an army that provides everything from camouflage nets to fighter jet squadrons, year-round sunshine and inexpensive facilities.
″We have Arabs, Jews, biblical themes and settings, terrorism, nuns, desert, forests,″ said Yoram Golan, director of the ministry of trade’s Film Unit, which promotes movie making in Israel.
However, Israel’s government offers only limited incentives: a $70,000 bank loan and rock bottom prices on anti-terrorism insurance.
Still, foreign filmmakers continue to come, partly following the successful footsteps of Menachem Golan (no relation to Yoram Golan) and Yoram Globus, the Israeli-born movie moguls of the Los Angeles-based Cannon Group.
Of 17 foreign productions made in Israel this year, at least 10 are being produced by Cannon’s subsidiary here, G.G. Israel Studios. The Golan-Globus films have earned a reputation for being low-budget, high-violence movies in which tough guys blast terrorists.
The best-known of their action movies filmed here was ″Delta Force,″ based on the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jet to Beirut. Lee Marvin starred as Col. Nick Alexander who leads a daring rescue mission against Arab terrorists to free a commandeered plane.
″In order to be able to afford to do ‘Otello,’ I have to do ‘Ninjas’ (karate movies) and the likes, as well,″ Globus said in a telephone interview from his company’s London offices. ″Otello,″ based on the Verdi opera of the Shakespearean play, was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and stars Placido Domingo. It opens in New York on Sept. 12.
In a further effort to revamp its image, Cannon is shooting 12 Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales, budgeted at $2 million each. All will be filmed in Israel.
At a dilapidated complex of warehouses in the biblical fishing port of Jaffa in southern Tel Aviv, G.G. Studios has constructed the interiors of a fairy tale castle and a hut in the woods for the nearly completed shooting of ″Snow White″ and ″Beauty and the Beast.″
Globus, 42, said his company shoots about 15 percent of its movies in Israel, and would bring more business here once its new $25 million studios are completed next year. The complex will provide Cannon and other producers with post-production facilities.
″Our heart is here, and from a business point of view, the foreign productions are a natural resource: ideal weather conditions, high-quality crews and actors and good equipment,″ Globus said.
Producers say shooting is about 25 percent cheaper than in Europe or the United States. Crews and actors, who are not unionized, work for lower rates and a star-quality suite in a luxury hotel goes for $100 a day compared to $400 in European cities.
Industry experts point out that Tunisia and Morocco, Israel’s toughest competitors in providing Middle East settings, offer free services such as hotels and transport to attract filmmakers.
But despite this edge, Morocco has produced only 11 foreign movies since 1980, while Tunisia has had seven foreign productions.
Yoram Golan said foreign productions bring in an average annual income of $15 million. In addition, they bolster Israel’s local industry, providing work to Israeli film crews who cannot survive on the 20 or so Hebrew-language movies made each year.
The image of this small country as one plagued by terror attacks and wars may keep some producers away. However, others are lured by the Israeli army which has a special unit detailed to help filmmakers, especially those developing military themes. Since April 1985, the unit has helped 93 productions.
″The idea is to show the world that we do not live on our sword alone. Our job is to improve the army’s image and that of Israel, too,″ said Lt. Col. Osnat Mardor, who heads the unit.
An F-16 fighter jet was provided for Lou Gossett’s flying scenes in ″Iron Eagle.″ But the army declined to help in the film adaptation of John Le Carre’s ″Little Drummer Girl.″ Mardor said the subject matter, which involves a hunt through Europe for a Palestinian guerrilla chieftain by Israel’s Mossad secret service, was too sensitve.
Every producer must submit the rushes to military censorship in case a secret weapon is filmed by accident. A script must also be submitted in advance, Mardor said.
″We must first make sure the film won’t harm the army’s or Israel’s image,″ she said.