In the lounge of the 57th San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF), Yoav Hornung sips a cocktail. Yoav is a young Israeli filmmaker who has his tense and reflective dramatic short film, Deserted, showing in one of the shorts programs. I sat down with him to discuss his new film, its controversy, its funding process, and some details on his recently co-founded start-up, Veed.Me:
(Warning: Contains spoilers)
Are you enjoying bringing your film around the festival circuit?
It’s very exciting. I worked very long on the film and it’s probably the most rewarding experience. To see it on the big screen with other people watching it, so far it’s been amazing.
The premise is something you’re personally familiar with, can you touch on how you came up with the story for Deserted and for those who don’t know, how military obligations work in Israel?
First of all, I was really interested about making a film about a person being lost in nature. Then I started brainstorming how to do that — maybe a couple hiking or some other options I had in mind. But you know, when we write stuff, it’s really important to have your own experience to base it on, because then you just know more about what you write. You can go more into detail. Because I went to the army for four years, I thought that that might be interesting to tap into. In Israel, everyone goes into the army. Girls go for obligatory two years. Guys go for three years. I went for four years because I went to officers course, which requires to sign for one extra year. So the film is about two female soldiers. I found it more challenging to deal with female leads.
You handle the ending of your film in such a way that you must have known it would be controversial. How has this controversy been surfaced and addressed as you’ve brought your film around?
I’ve been present at five or six festivals and they’ve all had different responses. If you’re referring to the gunshot at the dramatic part–
Or just the nature of the main female lead’s decisions.
The thing is, the way I see it, the main focus is on the protagonist and the actions that she does throughout the film. The gunshot at the end is just to emphasize how low she went with her decisions. I knew from the beginning that some people would focus on what I wanted to, which is the fact that she did very bad stuff, but I also knew that some would focus on the gunshot at the end. I don’t show what happens. I knew that some Israelis would get mad at the film because there’s a gunshot at the end and it’s kind of manipulative and most people will think that he was shot and killed. The truth is that according to the army laws, the first shot would have been in the air. I hope people will interpret the film the way I wanted them to and the majority did.
Inevitably, people will take political meanings from it and make it a political story. Yet Deserted, it seems, aims to be more of a human story.
Yes, I wanted to criticize and reflect on how we, when in a certain place where we work or study, are very concerned about our success and will lose our own values just to achieve the goal. Now, here it’s an officers course, but it could be someone who goes to med school and his family and friends know he’s just about to graduate and get his diploma and then something happens right before reaching the finish line. I wanted to show that sometimes something really simple or really harsh happens, and if you don’t treat it at the right time it just gets worse. It just also shows that someone who seems to be the best is not always the best…
Everyone has their flaws.
Yes. Everybody has their flaws. Everybody has their weak points and weak moments where they can lose everything.
I feel obligated to ask…have you experienced a predicament like this? A dilemma like this?
No, I haven’t. But, it’s kind of based on the fact that I went to officers course and…it’s a place that’s all about values and doing the right things. And I remember someone got the ‘Outstanding Officer’ prize in the ceremony when we all knew that he cheated. And it happens everywhere, you know. Everybody cheats. Everybody cheated. So I wanted to deal with that.
You filmed on location in the Israeli desert. How long was the shoot and what was the size of your crew?
I think we were between fifteen and twenty people, including the actors of which there were three. The Israeli summer is very hot and very dry. I knew before shooting that we’d have to shoot before the peak of the summer or at the end. We shot at the end of the summer which means that the days were shorter. We only shot daylight so that was one of the challenges. Four days of shooting. Around ten hours a day, that was including everything. Most of the people were students.
Indiegogo was a major factor in funding Deserted. This seems to be an increasing trend, even in bigger Hollywood movies. Do you feel this is the way of the future? (Check out Indiegogo’s blog post about the Deserted campaign — https://go.indiegogo.com/blog/2014/04/from-the-israeli-desert-to-screening-deserted-at-sfiff.html)
I definitely think this is the future, and already the present, as a legit way to fund your film. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fund this film myself. In Israel, just like in every other country, there are different film funds but there’s a whole process where you rely on a few people to determine if you’ll get the money or not. It’s not an easy situation to be in. Back in 2011 when I decided to make this film, I was actually looking at how AFI in Los Angeles did their graduate films and I found they have one on their own website of the school — a place where the filmmakers can raise money. You can go to the AFI website, choose a film, and choose how much you want to contribute. That was when I decided that I wanted to build a tiny website and put a PayPal option. It was before I was exposed to Kickstarter or Indiegogo or crowd funding as a way to raise money. I Googled about it, ‘how to raise money on the internet’, and found it. Kickstarter is only available for US and UK citizens so I decided to go for Indiegogo. Two years ago I was probably the first one in Israel to use Indiegogo for a short film. There were a few projects but no short films, definitely not a thesis film. It was to my advantage. It had pros and cons because many people didn’t know what it was and didn’t know the concept. It was really educational. At the same time a lot of people were really eager to help and suddenly had a way to be a part of the new project. That’s how I got a few celebrities in Israel to get involved and help. I made it to the national TV and gave a buzz for the project.
How much did you end up raising?
I tried to raise $7,500 and I ended up raising $9,400. That’s the majority of the film’s budget.
Speaking of helping fund filmmakers, you’re the co-founder of a startup called Veed.Me. Can you describe that project?
Yes, so almost two years ago we started Veed.Me with three co-founders. One of my partners is a filmmaker as well and an actor. He went to Lee Strasberg and acted in one of my previous films. Just like any other film grad, we were thinking how we were going to make money. There’s no doubt film is our passion but it’s very tough to base your income on it. So we wanted to build a website, platform, that would connect filmmakers with businesses that need promotional videos. We found out that online video marketing is becoming more essential for small medium businesses. We did our research, recruited another co-founder that is a tech guy…because obviously you don’t learn how to code in film school [laughs], and then we founded Veed.Me, a video production marketplace. We went to an accelerator in Silicon Valley, an accelerator for Israeli startups called UpWest Labs. It’s based in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. We learned our product is mostly addressing the US market so we figured that we’d have to be in San Francisco pretty often. We’re based in Israel but we’re here as much as we can to build partnerships and get filmmakers.
Sounds fantastic! Do you foresee Veed.Me being a company that also supports narrative films?
Good question [laughs]. It’s a startup so the early stage is all about being very focused. For the near future we definitely see ourselves being focused on promotional videos and connecting them with filmmakers and videographers around the world. It’s more about short job opportunities. We all know that as filmmakers are working on their script, they need to pay the rent somehow. Instead of mixing cocktails, which is what I did and my friends, why not make a video for a startup or an efashion company. You get to practice your writing and production skills and get to do something creative.
As for my filmmaking career, I really want to make a feature based on Deserted and will do it at a point. It’s not the right time now. Luckily, filmmaking is not a place where it’s necessarily better when you’re young or a rising star. You can be 80 and make films.
I hope you don’t wait that long.
Yeah. I also hope that! I also don’t want to wait too many years because I hope to have the same actresses in the film. They will not like to hear this, but in a few years they won’t look twenty years old. So yeah, for now I’m still focused on Veed.Me and the film is still screening at some upcoming festivals.
You can follow Deserted at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Deserted-Nivut-Golem/127315774043690