A few weeks ago, Julie and Steve Bram hosted a dinner in their living room for 35 Hollywood movers and shakers and the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. Between the salad and the salmon, the marketing maven Gary Wexler led a very frank discussion on what it would take to get more American movie production in Jerusalem and, more generally, in Israel.
The discussion dove deep into the intricacies of tax breaks, production incentives, post-production facilities.
“This is very competitive,” one entertainment lawyer said. “You have to be very sophisticated about it.”
It’s competitive because movie production means revenue, jobs and, most important, image. A successful movie shot in your country shapes the way people around the world see that country. “Imagination rules the world,” Napoleon said — and he would know; he tried to rule with cannons and carbines.
But it’s true: There is something powerful and indelible about movies that transcends news and politics.
The New York Times Hollywood reporter Aljean Harmetz once told a story of the time Paul Newman was in Israel filming “Exodus.” Newman was being driven through an Arab town, the site of anti-Israel protests. A barrage of stones hit his car, and angry villagers soon surrounded it. Newman’s minders told the driver to race away, but the actor ordered him to stop. Newman got out of the car. And instantly, the angry mob clamored for photos and autographs of Hollywood’s leading star.
That kind of power is what prompted Israeli President Shimon Peres to meet, on his last visit to Los Angeles, with film industry titans to encourage them to make movies in Israel.