The secrets behind the “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”: “a production riddled with crises”


Liat Benasoli, Dafna Ferner and Shira Margalit are considered three of the top television producers in Israel, behind huge hits such as “Third Body”, “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”, “Fauda” and more. In a conversation with Manny Aviram on the “Recording as a Series” podcast, they talk about the difficulties and challenges in the Israeli television market, the expansion abroad, the reason they call themselves “fire extinguishers” and the close work with the directors and screenwriters.

“It used to be a very simple world,” describes Perner, the CEO of Ertzah Productions, “you would come to a broadcasting organization with a basic idea, the broadcasting organization would like it or not – and if you like it, you would pay money for the project to go up. You would manage with this money and move forward. As the years passed, new economic models emerged. It started with unscripted formats that had a very big thirst in the world and the Israeli market tried to respond to it, and continued with scripted series. We are having a very difficult time getting productions up, the broadcasters in Israel are having a hard time financing the full productions, the costs are rising, AKT rightly demands better conditions – and we are the ones who are stuck in the middle.”

“The way people consume their content has changed. The way content is narrated has changed. Korea is very interesting to me, because they make completely different television and cinema. You used to have a contract with the audience that said: the series or the movie you are watching now, is a comedy. The Koreans say: No, it can be a comedy that will change into a horror movie that will turn into an action movie in the middle. I love that we try to change and react. Israel always tries to be at the forefront.”


“Gidi Raf made a fundamental change in the way Israeli creators are treated, he opened a window to the world,” says Banasuli, owner of “Banasuli Productions”, “It’s true that in Israel the amounts are completely different, but something this cheap makes for crazy creativity. They look at us and ask: ‘Who are you? Where did you come from? You are few and yet everywhere.’ There is very little money to invest and we are looking outside, reinventing ourselves all the time.”

Tell us about the process of choosing your projects. You receive many offers, how does the filtering process work?
Margalit: “When an A-list creator comes to you, you take him. There are many proposals that I read, like them, feel that there is something here, but then when you ask who will write it – it turns out that the creators are not able to write. You look for a screenwriter who is capable, trying to make the connections , but Flounter is starting. A lot of good proposals fall through because there is no one to sponsor them. It’s very frustrating. There were projects that I got excited about, the broadcaster ran, we started writing and it got stuck.”
Benasuli: “I know from the inside if it suits me or not. It’s a combination of the idea, the person and my connection with him. There were two cases that I took, even though I told myself it was a mistake. Sometimes after six months of working on a series, I said to the creators: listen, it’s not It’s going nowhere. I have no one to sell it to. It’s a great series, maybe in five years there will be a place for it. Everyone comes to me and says: ‘Sell it to Netflix, sell it abroad.’ Friends, Netflix is ​​not a trash can. In recent years, I try to focus and take only what I think I can benefit, and see that on the other side there are creators who know how to listen and work together.”
Perner: “For me, the first thing is if I like the person and if he has abilities. The second thing is the idea. I trust my intuitions. I know who I like and who I don’t. Some people you turn on in two minutes, some that the love story is a little slower and there are people who are not for you. If a person comes along that I really like but the idea is not good, I will think of another idea with him. I include the issue of going abroad as a consideration, but it is not the only thing. Everyone wants to sell to Netflix, but Netflix Very selective. Many times this is not the deal of the generation either, if you want to bring in more money Netflix are not exactly the ideal partners for the matter.”

Dafna, how did you become the “Beauty Queen of Jerusalem”?
“We are looking for ideas and materials from docu-films, books, plays and graphic novels. ‘The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem’ has been the best-selling book in Israel for the past 20 years. I love periodicals, and I knew that in Israel it would only work as a daily series because there is no money here. This Our initiative. As a production company, we were before the creators and before the director. There was a very good connection with Sarit Yishai Levy, who at the age of 65 wrote her first book which became a crazy blockbuster. The audience responded to it, Netflix bought it, the second season will soon be released there and we are talking about a third season These are things that bring you a great deal of pleasure.”


This is the first daily series you produced.
“This is a series about a Spanish family living in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. Until we found Shlomo Moshiach, it was impossible to do it. Moshiach is Spanish and understands how these people speak. A period series adds at least 30% to your budget, it’s something crazy. In a series Daily, on the one hand, you have the breadth, but you are suffocated with the money in an unbelievable way. At some point we made a conscious decision that we are not currently making money on it. It was a correct tactical decision. In the end we made money on it, but not immediately. You take a risk and say: I’ll see if it pays off for me or not in a year. It’s not a risk of NIS 50,000, it’s a risk of much larger sums of money.”


What are the biggest challenges you have faced?
“Because Jerusalem is not like it was in 1920 and everything here is terribly expensive, we decided to shoot the series in Ukraine. We traveled, made the preparations, closed the crews, returned to Israel – and the corona virus started. YES they wanted us to go anyway, so what do we do? We waited a month , two months, and there was no choice but to film it in Israel. We went to Safed, which was like a studio, because no one was walking around the streets. We shot the first season there. When the second season came, Ukraine was no longer an option because of the war. This series was full of challenges, crises and stress Crazy. Oded Davidoff, who directed the first season, was half human by the end of it. It’s 100 terribly long and difficult filming days. What’s more, the corona virus turned everyone into a team. I’ve never been in such a close-knit group.”

This was not the only crisis.
“In the second season, one of the main actresses, a significant actress, decided she didn’t want to do the role, a month before filming. We came to the understanding that she wouldn’t be forced to do something she didn’t want to do. We had to rewrite her character out, bring in another character and juggle it In front of the broadcasting body. This production was full of delightful crises.”

Lior Raz,
A budget of 120 million dollars. Lior Raz in “Hit and Run”|Photo: Jojo Whilden/Netflix, PR

What are the most important qualities for a producer in your opinion?
Margalit: “There is a psychological human component. We are fixers, problem solvers. There are crises, we resign on the set. Creative people are more vulnerable, more offended. Everyone is under stress, we have to stand the hours we have put in and finish the scenes. There are a lot of dramas on the set that, in the end, spill over to us We have to solve them. The fires, the problems, it’s such a thrill, such a disturbance. So I’m really at my best. I have the ability to break down, understand the situation and solve it.”
Ferner: “I’m decisive, I always have an opinion. I make decisions quickly. You have to love challenges, because you constantly have to put out fires. I enjoy it. If something goes wrong, it sucks my ass. I want it to be a mess So that I can come and solve it.”
Benasuli: “It’s important to know how to work with people. I really like people and many of the people who work with me, even under me, are my very good friends. You need spatial vision and forward vision. Many times, at various intersections, there were people who told me: ‘It’s not worth it to you. I said: OK, it’s worth it to me. I’m looking ahead. I’m sick of fires, it turns me on and makes me laugh. Actually producing and managing a production is a fire every day. Screenwriters, actors, locations that fall. This is common to the three of us, we like to solve problems Those who don’t like it, don’t come to the production profession.”


Because of budgetary matters, do you have to make many compromises in your productions?
Margalit: “There are scenes you have to give up because it doesn’t fit in the budget. Some would say it’s another refining process, where you check each scene to see if it’s necessary and really serves the plot. Sometimes you close with a broadcaster on a series, you have a certain budget, but It took three years for the series to come out. During that time, there was a massive price increase, but the budget does not change. You are usually not compensated for this price increase.”

Where do you think the industry is going from here?
Perner: “There is less and less money, that’s a problem. Our role today includes more fundraising and financing. This is a significant part of the work. The role of the producer has changed a lot in this sense. It’s either you be small or you have to be international and with the goal of doing projects that are not only Israeli. Otherwise, it is very difficult to survive in the new world. There are companies that are in an arms race. Production companies in Israel are being acquired. I don’t know how long we can last without this great financial support, or we will have to shrink as a production company. In Israel you have a glass ceiling, when you go out into the world this ceiling breaks “.
Margalit: “The media industry has been changing for many years. Global changes are usually related to new technology. It takes time, there is chaos, but then you find the economic models that make it possible to profit from it. We are in a time when it is changing and we will have to find the models. The media world is relearning to manage financially , also within the production companies. We are in some difficult years, the question is how quickly we will be able to find the model and crack it. In the meantime, the solution is to tighten the ties abroad.”

Is it a coincidence that there are three women sitting here now?
Benasuli: “Women can do exactly what men do, there is no difference – except for one thing that stands out for me. Over the years, as an executive producer and a production manager, I could not get married and have children. You go out in the morning, come back at night and then work on tomorrow. In the series it continues 60-90 days. After that you want to go to Thailand or Mexico and forget about the project for a moment. The men around me were always married with children, because there was the woman at home who took care of the children. I would date men, but it never matured because I was a workaholic. I only had children at the age of 40, but I really enjoy it now. It’s a different parenting at that age.”