PARIS– Israel’s Drama Team bring their eight-part foodie drama to Series Mania’s Co-Production Forum with a serious warning: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” It should not be taken lightly: Founded by producers Mosh Danon, of Inosan Productions, and Chaim Sharir, of Yezirah Ivrit, Drama Team has an enviable track record when it comes to international sales. Not only have their series been successfully adapted for American television – “BeTipul” (2005-2008) became HBO’s “In Treatment” and “Bneh Aruba” (2013) became CBS’s “Hostages” – they have also found global audiences in their original language.
Drama Team’s latest project may seem like a departure from the more explicitly commercial “Bnei Aruba”, in which a surgeon is forced to botch, fatally, an operation on the Israel prime minister to save her family. It does, however, have plenty in common with “BeTipul,” which dealt with the life of an Israel psychiatrist by portraying his personal interactions with his clients. Scripted by Israeli screenwriter Noa Berman-Herzberg, “Gastronomy” will be explore the world of food as it travels from the kitchen to the table, to the stomach and the heart.
What inspired you to make a series about this subject?
Noa Berman-Herzberg: When my son was very young, he brought a friend home from kindergarten and his dad, whom I knew only from afar, came to pick him up. He walked straight into my kitchen while I was cooking a fancy dinner for friends and it was a matter of minutes till he started patrolling my kitchen, peeking into the pots, tasting everything and we found ourselves hooked in a delicious conversation. The next day, he appeared on my doorstep with a professional knife. He said, “Someone who cooks like that can’t use those shitty knives that you’re using.” It was a beginning of a beautiful friendship. Years later, when a brain tumor took away his exquisite sense of taste and the ability to cook on his own– it was only natural that we started cooking together, spending hours in the kitchen, making believe that food was above life and death and all the messy stuff in between. But, well, a story that starts with a knife… we can all imagine how it’s going to end. Our series is about people for whom food is their life, their world, their means of communication and their shelter from everything else – and yes, it’s also about me and my friend.
How does the show work as a series? Are there recurring characters, within an overall storyline, or will each episode stand alone?
Noa Berman-Herzberg: The overall storyline focuses on the events and relationship between eight main characters, all “members” of the food world, during one dramatic week that leads to the New Year’s Eve dinner. Their stories and lives will intertwine, one into the other, unexpectedly. The first season will revolve around an eight-course meal at Aya’s Bistro, so that each episode will focus on one of the eight luxurious dishes on the menu that becomes the theme of the episode and the game-changer in the lives of the main characters. Each episode will expose the events taking place during a period of 24 hours. As we proceed into this week, we will climb up day after day, dish after dish – from the “amuse-bouche” to dessert, gradually exposing the end of the year dinner that in more than one way will turn into a ‘Last Supper’ for all the characters.
Where will you be shooting? Is this a purely fictional series, to be shot in a studio, or are there elements of a reality show?
Mosh Danon, Chaim Sharir: The series is fictional, yet some of the stories and characters are based on true people and events. Since it deals with the culinary realm we believe it demands authentic locations and specific aesthetics that we plan to achieve by shooting on real locations – restaurant’s kitchens, food markets, bakeries, wine cellars and urban streets during the countdown towards New Year’s Eve.
Do you have experts advising you, and if so, what are their areas of expertise?
Mosh Danon, Chaim Sharir: The advisors for “Gastronomy” so far are chefs and food experts. As with any of our projects in development, we are researching deeply before diving into it – the writers are working closely with experts from the relevant content world, in this case restaurants managers, chefs, food critics and so on. On top of it, during the writing, the writers themselves are spending time in restaurants, kitchens and whatever they’re writing about, so they experience personally the atmosphere, the language, the people, the emotions and the relationships there.
What are you hopes for the series? Will it be a one-off or might it continue? Could it even be a franchise, using other subjects?
Mosh Danon, Chaim Sharir: We never pitch a project unless we believe it’s the best thing for any broadcaster to propose to its viewers. The first season has eight episodes, eight dishes, the next one will have as a background another meal, another emotional leading narrative. It’s endless. We prefer to co-produce it, but we’re open to all kinds of promoting options.
What are you looking for from your potential co-production partners?
Mosh Danon, Chaim Sharir: More than financing partners, we’re looking for professionals – nice people to work with. Our main approach is more of the art of storytelling and artistic creativity than the business side. As the development and production of a TV drama series is a long journey, we definitely prefer to do it with people we like and respect.
Your company has an excellent reputation for creating shows that sell abroad, both in their original and remade versions. What is the secret?
Mosh Danon, Chaim Sharir: To have the passion of story hunting, to choose only stories you would love to watch yourself, and to stay always fair and honest to all the people you’re working with.