Are we that different when it comes to our emotional truth? This is a question that I ponder when I travel to other countries to teach story.
In Israel, the truth that I discovered went much deeper than the perception. I went to Israel to teach the TV Writers Summit. I didn't know exactly what to expect. From the news coverage we've seen here in the US, I wondered whether safety would be an issue. I knew about the suicide bombings, the political tension, the riots and the military. I have to admit, the idea of this kind of chaos intrigued me with regards to the depth of the storytelling. When the wound is deep, there is a lot of emotional truth to be explored. I know that from Israel, we (the US) have borrowed formats of shows like Homeland and In Treatment. I love both of these shows so I was excited about going deeper and hearing the voice of the storytellers there.
We got there on a Thursday afternoon. We met for dinner that night at a spectacular Italian food restaurant. We met our hosts: Ruth Lenzner Lev Ari, Ofra Eiber, Sandy Raischer and Michal Yeshanov. Little did I know that in less than a week, these people would become like family. Friday, we met to discuss the details of the event. Friday night we had another incredible dinner. The cuisine in Israel is delicious! On Saturday, we headed out for a day in Jerusalem. Ruth set us up with a celebrated filmmaker, Yoram Honig, to be our tour guide. He only does this on very special occasions. Yoram took us through Jerusalem. Being Catholic, it was very surreal for me to be in the place where Jesus was crucified and to learn about all of the sectors between faith as well as divisions amongst the Jewish people. It was eye-opening to hear about the divides between the faiths and the cultures. It was inspiring to experience it all as a group and to have an opportunity to soak it all in before going on stage to teach. We ate hummus and falafel. We took pictures of this magical place, knowing that we were creating a memory that would live on forever in our hearts. Saturday night, they had a cocktail party for us at an exquisite lounge that was part of the Messa restaurant. The who's who in the entertainment community attended this event. We met a head of a major network, the head of the guild, the head of the film financing and the creator/writers of many of the hit shows on the air in Israel... and the list goes on. Many of the writers there were represented by Creative Artists Agency here, showing just how small the world is. Having the opportunity on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to meet the people and absorb the place really set us up for the event, which began on Sunday.
On Sunday, the event started with Chad Gervich teaching for half the day and then, Ellen Sandler taught for the second half of the day. Then, we had a panel that night that was moderated by TV writer Daniel Lappin. He asked some thought-provoking questions about our backgrounds and about what we think of the shows in Israel, etc. We were each given several shows to watch. This added to the gift of the experience and really being able to feel the voices of this culture. Some of the shows that I saw that stood out to me include The A Word, Mice, and Arab Labor. I found that their themes paralleled some American shows, but the depth of the subtext really made them stand apart.
On Sunday, I taught for the first half of the day, and Troy DeVolld taught for the last half. I knew that this was my opportunity to really hear their voices. So, to give them incentive, I offered a TV pilot consult (valued at $600) for the winner of the "Log Line for Your Life and Dilemmas Contest." I do the "Log Line for Your Life" exercise at every event that I teach as a way to connect me with the stories of the audience. I get people to open up about their life through this exercise. What I discovered was that we are all linked through the common themes that we share. Some of the common themes that connect us include job satisfaction, pursuit of love, pursuit of career, familial dysfunction, midlife crisis, abandonment, rejection, feeling trapped in our choices, disease, pregnancy at an early age, desire to have a child, to be single or a couple, financial crisis and emotional breakdowns. Where we differ in some of what we experience is that in Israel, they deal with things like emotional responses to the military, post-traumatic stress disorder, to leave their family and their country to pursue the dream, response to segregation, etc. Our themes are definitely influenced by our cultural experience. There is so much heart in this culture. I loved that out of 125 participants, 47 people turned in responses. I loved this especially because I know that it's hard to write in another language. The winner for his log line and dilemmas was Pete Sickle. His winning log line is "A wandering gentile with chronic Peter Pan Syndrome abandons a promising career in politics and diplomacy to follow the love of his life to Israel and become the father he never had."
On Day 3, we had a writers' room experience. In Israel, they do not have a writers' room. So we wanted to give them a sense of what this experience is. We divided the room into four groups. A majority of the writers there were working writers. We gave them an exercise at each table. Every group got to rotate through each instructor. At the end of the day, we had them pitch their ideas, and we gave them critiques. It was a very valuable and bonding experience. I am so proud of the work that was done. It connected us in an even deeper way to the voice of the storyteller. We ended the day with a superb dinner at a new restaurant called Night Kitchen. The cuisine and the ambiance were sensational.
On the last day, we went to Tel Hai College in Northern Israel. We did a panel at the college for the students. It was a very rewarding experience. It gave us a sense of where they are in their learning of writing. We also went wine tasting. We went to the border of Israel and Lebanon, and we went to the Sea of Galilee. We came back, and 45 minutes later, we went to the airport to catch a flight back to Los Angeles. I left with a heart full of so much love for the people I met and the experience that I had.
On the return home, I realized that I received the gift of hearing and understanding the voice of the storytellers of Israel. I was connected with a new family abroad. I want to express tremendous gratitude to Ruth Lenzner Lev Ari and her phenomenal team. Ruth and I continue to correspond. Ruth wrote in response to one of my recent emails, "Now we are anchored in each other's hearts. Will find some treasure there." This sums up the gift of this life changing and memorable experience.