From news article:
Drawn to Israel
ERICA CHERNOFSKY, THE JERUSALEM POST May. 4, 2006
'Of course, my first reaction was, Why Israel? Why would [someone] possibly want to build an animation studio in Israel?" recalls Max Howard, a veteran executive and producer in the international animation film industry.
Last October, Howard was approached by Jerusalem Venture Partners Studio (JVP), a leading venture capital firm, and asked to participate in developing the first-ever media center and multi-million-dollar animation studio in Jerusalem.
Having spent 12 years at the Walt Disney Company working on animation successes such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Pocahontas, and serving as president of feature animation for Warner Bros., Howard was more than qualified for the position, but somewhat skeptical of the location.
"If you're a foreigner, this place is a war zone," he explains. "The [US] State Department's travel advisory Web site says don't come here. My wife and all my friends thought I was crazy."
Now, Howard says he is "enthralled" by Israel, and by the creation of the animation studio.
"There's a real passion here," he says, "and I think any great idea needs passion behind it, and JVP really provides it. They see it as I do - a real value in content. And content is the most important thing. Content is everything."
According to JVP founder Erel Margalit, the decision to house the international studio in Jerusalem came from his love for the city and it being "the only city in Israel in which old and new, art and advanced technology, artists and students are intertwined nationally."
Set to be built near the capital's old train station, the Animation Lab, as it will be called, is already up and running, and the search for the first film is underway.
"The most important thing is to find a story to tell. We've so far seriously looked at about 75 different ideas, and we've got three that we like," says Howard, though he won't disclose details.
Once an idea is chosen, Doug Wood, the head of development for the Animation Lab, will work with a writer to turn the idea into a screenplay.
Wood "is amazing at developing screenplays that work for an international marketplace," says Howard, and has the experience to prove it - he previously did development for Warner Bros. and Universal Studios, among others, and developed the award-winning television series Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs.
Ayelet Weinerman will also be an integral cog in the JVP animation machine, having produced TV commercials for Jaguar, Porsche and Dunkin Donuts; she will lend her production skills to the making of the films.
ALTHOUGH the JVP Animation Lab intends to eventually create full-length animated features - which would be a first for Israel - its first film will be a short one, probably only about six minutes in length.
"The strategy is, we're going to put a small team together and a small studio and make a short film based on characters who will be in the feature film," explains Howard. "It will take about six to nine months to make that short film and then we'll have a nice film to show people. At the moment, all I can say [to people abroad] is, there are lots of great animators here, but then I'll be able to show them an actual film."
The writer for this first film will be someone who has written for the international market before - probably an American, says Howard, adding that he will also bring in a director and other key players from overseas.
But the ultimate idea behind the lab is to utilize the Israeli workforce - what Margalit calls "an enormous pool of talent and creativity."
"We want this to ultimately be 100-percent Israeli," states Howard. While the existing animation infrastructure in Israel is big enough to get the project off the ground, Howard claims if he brings in people with experience from overseas, the Israelis "can learn so much more and become experts themselves."
Plus, Howard says, the opening of the studio and of subsequent employment possibilities in animation might bring Israeli animators working in America back to Israel.
"There is also a fantastic community of animators here working mainly doing TV commercials," he continues, "but if you're doing a 30-second TV commercial there are certain things you don't really get examples of that you would see in a feature film, like slow, sensitive acting scenes that make you care about the characters."
To Howard, an animator isn't just someone who draws a character - but an actor himself, who must be able to use his body to complement the voice of the actor, and to reflect that in the character and his actions.
"There are many great actors in Israel so I'm not worried," asserts Howard. "Israel is a culture that looks to the West, they see the movies that are in the international marketplace - all the reasons why a studio here could actually be successful. Some cultures just don't understand Western culture, and I want our audience to not know - and not care - where the films are made.
"We're not making Israeli films for Israelis, we're making films for the international marketplace in Israel, and it becomes irrelevant where they're made," Howard continues. "I hope one day after the films come out someone will say, 'You loved that film? Oh, it was made in Israel.'"