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HAARETZ, 1 oktober 2001

Black and white in prime time

NB.: Haaretz (‘Het Land’) is een liberaal en onafhankelijk Israëlisch dagblad. De krant verschijnt als Hebreeuws dagblad in Tel Aviv sinds 9 juni 1919. Het is het derde dagblad van Israël in oplage, na Yediot Ahronot en Maariv. De krant wordt vrij algemeen bestempeld als een ‘kwaliteitskrant’.

(…) The competition for the attention of the viewers is all over the world a death-and-life struggle: the life of the ratings merchants vis a vis the death of content, of the common memory, listening to the stories of people at the end of which noone will gain a car or a holiday package.
Last week in Haifa, producers, directors and commissioning editors from all over Europe, met in order to discuss the problems facing original, local production. The rising production costs keep the television stations from investing in quality productions and force them time after time to give in to formulae that will secure viewers and income.
“Homemade fiction – a question of identity” was the title of the symposium. According to the moderator, Noemi Ben Natan Schory, the tendency all over the world is to renounce on risks involved in innovation and prefer to duplicate proven successes, to prefer ready-made imports on homegrown products. The limitations of language, local customs, idiosyncratic cultural traditions and associations shared by a small nation are difficulties with which European stations have to cope too. They are forced to be very creative in order to make films which while do not flatter the public manage to cope with slots and ratings. 
An original and creative solution was presented by the Dutch director, Eric Oosthoek from IKON TV, a small station which lives with budgets similar to ours. “In 1989 the system for financing fiction in Holland was changed and all the earmarked money for local production, was deposited in a fund”. Oosthoek’s problems started when he realised that the station he was working for was not entitled to draw money from this fund. The entire production of the station almost collapsed. “6 years before that I made a series which exposed emotional confrontations between two characters. Since my budget was near to zero, I decided to reduce the number of characters, and to work with one actor only.”
Besides the gimmick and the savings, it turned out that making a television drama around one character, is a challenge. Oosthoek invited 6 experienced scriptwriters and in addition turned to novelists, publicists , songwriters who never before wrote for television. I turned to writers who have sold millions of books and said “you must have at some point written something which cannot turn into a novel, or you have some anarchistic idea in mind which you can find no place for, they responded with enthusiasm”.
“In this way we survived for a whole year with almost no budget. We had less than 40,000$ for an episode and we were forced to improvise, invent new ways of telling the story with limited production possibilities. This pushed us to dare and try out different things. Some of the episodes of “Face to Face” were shot in black and white. In others, noone talks, only from time to time the inner thoughts are heard. In one of the episodes 7 actors appear next to the main character, but the other actors received only bottles of whisky for payment. Each episode received an anarchistic treatment. The Dutch viewers were stunned and the series turned into a success. Proportionate to the size of the country, 500,000 viewers tuned in to “Face to Face” at an hour which before fetched no more than 200,000. Instead of the 12 episodes planned at the outset we produced 48”.
“Before we started broadcasting I was depressed because I thought that I compromised and that I accepted to make poor television. But the enthusiasm of the viewers convinced me that we succeeded, pushed by our financial problems, to make something else, something more interesting than we would have made otherwise.” Oosthoek presented “Respect”, which treats a very charged meeting between a wellknown playwright and a young journalist who comes to interview him before the opening of his new autobiographical play (…).