Ten series from around the world were selected for the inaugural CANNESERIES competition, which ran alongside MIPTV this year. The international jury—led by best-selling author and creator of Safe and The Five, Harlan Coben—selected the Israeli drama When Heroes Fly as the best series out of the acclaimed crop of productions. Distributed by Keshet International, the series is created, written and directed by Omri Givon, based on the well-regarded novel by Amir Gutfreund. The action thriller focuses on four estranged friends who travel deep into the Colombian jungle on a rescue mission. Givon, who previously wrote and directed Hostages, tells World Screen about what attracted him to Gutfreund’s novel, his preference for auteur-led television and his views on Israeli creativity.
WS: What appealed to you about the novel When Heroes Fly, and how did you go about adapting it?
GIVON: When Heroes Fly is inspired by the book; it’s not a one-to-one adaptation. The book tells the story of [six] friends and describes 40 years of friendship. At the end of the book, there is a bit that tells of the journey the friends take outside of Israel to find the ex-girlfriend of one of the characters. I focused on this part; I adapted this last act of the novel and took it into my world. What was interesting to me in this story was this friendship between these characters and how they share the same trauma from their service in the military. It was very interesting to see what happens to these four guys after the trauma of the war and to take them on a journey out of Israel and [see] the impact of their reunion. They need to deal with all of their secrets and the bad blood between them. It’s an ensemble series, which is something I really like—a lot of characters and the relationships between them. I kept the themes from the novel, but it’s more an inspiration and not the exact story.
WS: As the creator, writer and director, you’re wearing a lot of hats! Is that the way you prefer to work?
GIVON: In some ways, yes. This is a TV series, but still, in my head, I’m a feature-film director, an auteur, so I like to write and direct my stuff. It’s not a firm principle. If there is a great script [from someone else], I’d love to direct it. But [being the director and writer] makes the whole creative process very private, like a feature film. I know everything. While I’m writing, I’m already directing. So in some ways, it’s easier for the production, having the screenwriter and the director on the set. It’s a lot of work. I have a great crew I work with, the DP, the producers, so we know each other. And it’s fun, mostly [laughs], creating this world from the beginning to the end.
WS: So as you’re on set directing, you are adjusting scripts at the same time?
GIVON: It’s always a back and forth. Sometimes I have an idea, and then I’m going back to episode one and because I’m the writer and the director I don’t need to ask permission from anyone. I rewrite on the set if I need to. And again in the editing room, I rewrite again. I like this process.
WS: You mentioned being a feature-film director at heart. Did you approach this series more like a multi-part movie rather than a television show?
GIVON: Television has changed; it’s not like it used to be 20 years ago. Most of the interesting stuff today is on TV, story-wise, character-wise, cinematography-wise. I still feel like I’m making long features. The downside of this is [broadcasters] always ask you for a second season! But in the end, I have the opportunity in television to tell a wider story; this is what interests me.
WS: Israel is a tiny territory, but it has released some of the most critically acclaimed and innovative dramas of the last few years that have crossed numerous borders. Why do you think that is?
GIVON: There are a few reasons. We have a new generation of creators in Israel, people who grew up on American and European films. It’s still a small industry, and we’re still working with very low budgets. This forces us to put a lot of energy into the story. We know we have a very tight schedule. We need to come to the set and know exactly what we need to do, what’s important in the scene. In TV, the story is king. It’s not like films, in which you can count on the images and the sounds. The audience needs a strong hook from the beginning. In Israeli TV series, the hooks are very strong and very powerful, and they are working for a lot of people around the world.