MADRID — Omri Givon, one of Israel’s only true showrunners, wears his heart on his sleeve, bearing his series’ plot-drivers from the get-go.
“When Heroes Fly,” a 2018 Canneseries best series winner, begins with a battle of shocking sonic ferocity that explains the sense of brotherhood and loss, as well as trauma, sluicing the series.
An intimate, sci-fi mind-bender, “The Grave” – one of the big new Israeli series hitting this and next week’s Series Mania/MipTV virtual marketplace, kicks off with an earthquake at a nature reserve. It cuts rapidly, however, to the house of its park ranger, Yoel Russo, as he smashed the jammed door into his son’s bedroom to rescue him, furniture crashing around them.
That same earthquake opens up a shallow pit, exposing three skeletons whose DNA matches prove, beyond reasonable doubt, to be those of three people who are very much alive. The conundrum drives the eight-part series’ thriller narrative. But it is the scene of a father, funk scared at losing his son, which lies at the heart of “The Grave,” a series about an essential bond: Of parent and child, which endures over time, in so many ways, as “The Grave” underscores in spectacular metaphor.
Created. co-written and directed by Givon, “The Grave” is produced by Pascal Breton, Lionel Uzan and Jean-Michel Cizewski at Paris and L.A.-based Federation Entertainment, which also handles international distribution, and Chaim Sharir and Mosh Danon’s Israel-based Drama Team TV Productions.
It bowed to a 22% audience share, including catch-up, the second-highest ratings ever for a show on Keshet 12, launched in November 2017, just bettered by “When Heroes Fly.” Variety talked to Givon as Federation Entertainment prepared to introduce “The Grave” to buyers via online meetings, once set up to take place in person at Cannes MipTV trade fair.
The series asks what endures throughout time. It’s answer, if I read rightly, is parent-child relationships. Can you comment?
I am thrilled you think so because not everyone understands that this is all about basic connections and relationships, and the first relationship you experience as a human being is with your parents. When I started, I had this concept in my head, but it was really anchored when I became a father for the first time. This is the story of a single father whose worst fear is to lose his son, and not being a good enough father. I believe that, in the end, the relationship with our parents defines who we are and our choices in life.
That can be seen in the series, makes for some of its most moving moments, drives the plot – to say how would be a spoiler – and lends a large emotional weight to even simple downtime scenes like Yoel drying Noah’s hair after he has a shower….
Almost every main character has issues as a parent or child. The name of one of the main characters, Chava, the police officer assigned to the case of the skeletons, sounds in Hebrew like Eve. But Chava’s tragedy is that she can’t have children.
This series seems to combine multiple elements and genres which you juggle. Was that a conscious decision while writing?
I really like mixing genres, but it isn’t a conscious decision. “When Heroes Fly” was a realistic drama about soldiers suffering PTSD, one of the most hardcore subjects dealt with in Israel. But it was also a cowboy adventure in the mountains. I like making subjects that interest me cinematically. I grew up on “Blade Runner” and that kind of storytelling, so the challenge was to deal with this tangled realistic plot with a surprising background in a genre that the Israeli audiences will enjoy. In a way, I’m trying to challenge the industry.
You are creator, lead writer and director. Is that normal in Israel?
It was, but now I think I’m pretty much the only one doing everything. I didn’t treat this as a TV series. It was more like a very long feature film. As a showrunner, it’s not like I’m another gun for hire. I have a vision and a story and when I’m writing the script I’m not thinking only as a writer or director but making decisions that I really like and that appeal to me. I’m very involved in the editing process. I sit there for weeks and weeks with my two editors and I really like to be aware of every step, to be involved in every single step you know, every sentence, every frame.
You use color in a very deliberate way to differentiate between settings. What other guidelines did you have for direction?
We shot most of the story in the north of Israel, which is not the typical Israel people think of. In development, we worked hard on the art, colors, wardrobe and the casting. We were going for warm colors in one setting and monochromatic colors, gray or blue, in others. One big challenge was creating this difference without losing the emotional overtones. We also used far fewer shots than in “When Heroes Fly” where we sometimes made 50 shots with a handheld camera, running through the jungle. It was crazy. Here we tried to use less shots and focus more on our wonderful actors. We used wide lenses to bring as much as we could from the world onto the screen, to give the audience a point of view in the story. In “When Heroes Fly,” we were often very close; you could feel the character breathe. Here we took two steps back to let the audience see and to think and to try to understand the story for themselves.
The end of Season 1 leaves opens the possibility of a second. Are you already in discussions or preparations?
Yes, right now actually! Because of the coronavirus I’ve here working on that. When I wrote Season 1, I was already thinking about what could happen to these characters afterwards. I didn’t want to just put in clues and twists and leave it for later to figure out; I have the whole story in my head. I know exactly the next step is and what will happen in Season 2.