Behind the Scenes: Red Skies

Based on the best-selling novel by former Israeli Intelligence Officer Daniel Shinar, Red Skies takes viewers into the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of two best friends who find themselves on opposite sides. They are both in love with Jenny, an American war journalist who is forced to choose sides. This entertaining thriller, based on and inspired by true events, is a story of conflict, intrigue, friendship and love. The show debuts this month on Israel’s Reshet 13, which commissioned a second season ahead of the premiere.

Shinar wrote the novel after ending his military service almost 20 years ago, looking at it as a potentially “cathartic way to process the traumatic events of the Second Intifada (2000-2005),” he tells TV Drama. “I tucked it away and put it out of my mind as I focused on my career investing in Israeli technology companies at Claltech. We’re part of a larger investment group, which is owned by Access Industries, and that’s how I came to know its founder, Len Blavatnik, and Danny Cohen, [president of Access Entertainment]. When my first son was born, I had a mini midlife crisis. It propelled me to publish the book I had written many years earlier, and fortunately, it was well received and became a bestseller.”

While attending INTV in Jerusalem, Shinar met Jennifer and Bert Salke, chiefs of Amazon Studios and Fox 21, respectively. That encounter encouraged him to bring this story to the screen. “Eventually, I found the perfect partners for the adaptation—my co-creators and the show’s producer, Yoav Gross, one of Israel’s leading producers of shows such as Carthago and Manayek.” Blavatnik and Cohen serve as executive producers on the series, a position they also hold on Cannes Grand Prix winner The Zone of Interest.

As for the creative auspices involved, Gross says that it was “important for us to assemble a team with a combination of deep local authentic knowledge of the story and people, but who also bring experience and success internationally, with shows on HBO, Netflix, Apple, Hulu and the like. In the end, I believe we have the A+ team for this story.”

The show was created by Ron Leshem (Euphoria, No Man’s Land), Shinar, Daniel Amsel (Valley of Tears), Amit Cohen (No Man’s Land, False Flag, Suspicion) and director Alon Zingman (Shtisel). Additional writers include Ali Waked (Bethlehem), Ala Dakka, Noa Mannheim, Tamar Kay and Moshe Malka.

“The writers’ team is extremely deep and diverse,” Gross says. “Ali Waked not only co-wrote one of the only and best movies about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Bethlehem), but he is also the person who best knows the Palestinian side of the Intifada. During that time, he was a journalist covering the West Bank and spent endless hours with the Al-Aqsa Brigades.

“Noa Mannheim is one of the best script editors and writers we know, with an ability to analyze and solve complex script situations,” he continues.

Access Entertainment invested in the series early on, as Blavatnik and Cohen are “passionate about supporting the Israeli entertainment industry and bringing its content to a global audience,” Shinar says.

“I believe they found in Red Skies a captivating story, and they liked the crew, who embody the premium-quality production Access Entertainment is known to invest in. This isn’t just an action show (though it is action-packed); Red Skies tells a story of love and loss on both sides of an extremely complicated conflict.”

Shinar adds that this story “required bravery from all involved to handle such sensitive topics in such sensitive times. What mattered most to me as the author was to find the right team who I could entrust with this story, even if they took it on their own journey.”

The show is different from the book in many ways, he explains. “Ron, Alon and the cast managed to imbue more life into the characters than I could imagine. While in a book ‘anything goes,’ on the screen, you have budget and other constraints, especially in an action-packed drama like this one. This is one of the biggest shows ever made in Israel, so we could realize a lot of what we hoped for, and the proof is in the impressive production quality.”

While this story is about conflict, it is first and foremost about two best friends, close like brothers, who find themselves on opposing sides of the conflict. “It is a story about friendship—and a story about how quickly we can turn from friends to enemies, from love to hate,” Shinar says. “So, we believe it’s a very global and timeless story, not only specific to this conflict. This is a story about the cost of loss and the trauma it carries, no matter where in the world you live and what your nationality is.”

When it comes to addressing the specific sensitivities about the conflict, “you can never make everyone happy,” Shinar says. “We tried to do justice to a big and brave story from very different points of view, with a diverse team in the production, cast and writers’ room.”

Gross adds that from the outset, the team wanted to create and produce a series “unraveling this extraordinary story of friendship, love and conflicting loyalties, but that would also bring the Second Intifada to the screen for the first time, with tensions even more relevant today, making the show a unique, even epic event.

Red Skies is one of the biggest drama series ever to be produced by an Israeli network,” he continues. “We are bringing to the screen, for the first time, the secret work of Israel’s SIGINT powers, as well as a unique story of a Harvard-bound Palestinian medical student from Jerusalem who turns into a violent militia leader. Israeli creators have enjoyed global success for some time, beginning with shows like Homeland and In Treatment and, more recently, with Euphoria, Fauda and Tehran. We believe Red Skies will be another important link in this chain of high-quality Israeli content that reaches millions globally.”