Aharon Keshales’ and Navot Papushado’s debut feature film “RABIES” (aka KALEVET), also Israel’s first horror film, was released in 2011 to much critical acclaim and box office success. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, won the Critics’ Award at Fantasporto, the Audience Choice Award at Edinburgh and received Special Mention at Puchon. It went on to participate in over 50 international film festivals and has appeared in several best horror picks lists of 2011 including the LA Times, Movies.com and The Wall Street Journal. Now, this dynamic filmmaking duo is back with a film even more ambitious than the first — ‘Big Bad Wolves.’ In the film, a series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: the father of the latest victim now out for revenger, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with the filmmaking duo of Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales to discuss their blossoming careers, how their films have impacted filmmaking in Israel, the challenges of bring “big Bad Wolves” to life and more!
What intrigued you about the world of filmmaking early on and ultimately made you pursue it as a career?
Navot Papushado: That is a great question! I actually wanted to be a history teacher! [laughs] I started as a major in history, theater and filmmaking. In retrospect, I grew up with a grandfather who was a projectionist. My father, as a child, helped him. I grew up loving going to the theater since I was a kid going out to see all of these films because my grandfather was a projectionist. I was around film almost my entire life but it wasn’t until the university that I realized that I might want to pursue it as a profession. I never thought of becoming a filmmaker; it just kind of happened to me.
Aharon Keshales: I always watched movies with my father, since the age of four. I remember he showed me “Death Race” with Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine and that scarred me forever! As I grew up, I always a loved movies. When I was twelve or thirteen, they asked the question “Where do you want to be in ten years from now?” I said I wanted to be a film critic, lecturer or teacher. That is what happened! I went to the university and studied theory and criticism. I became a critic very early on in my career, as well as a film lecturer at the university. Actually, Navot was my student. I would help him with film and encourage him to do all sorts of genre stuff that other people in my class wouldn’t do. Then he asked me a life changing question — “Why just write and talk about films when you can just do them yourself?” Just like Marty McFly in “Back To The Future,” no one calls me chicken, so I went along, wrote and directed a film with my student!
You first project was “Rabies,” and it was a terrific film. How did the film impact the Israeli film industry as well as yourselves?
Navot Papushado: You could say “It was the bomb!” No one was expecting that! It met with amazing raves. First of all, just the fact the film was being made in Israel with all of these amazing actors was a shock to everyone. It was an international and local success. Usually, Israeli audiences don’t like horror films, even when they come from the United States. Even the franchises do not do well in Israel, for example, “Paranormal Activity,” so “Rabies” was a huge success. It was a huge success with audiences and also a critical success. It also did amazingly internationally. Everyone was shocked. Even the government funds opened new channels for genre films and now everyone wants to make a genre film in Israel! I think everyone wanted to know if it was a one hit wonder, if it was a onetime thing or if it was only those two guys who were going to do that successfully. Everyone one was kind of waiting to see what was going to happen and then we did “Big Bad Wolves.” This time, it was much bigger! The film made even bigger waves! “Big Bad Wolves” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was a huge success at the Israeli box office. We won five Israeli Oscars for the film! It was the number one film at the Critic’s Table until “Gravity” came along and pushed us to second place! [laughs] Just a week ago, we won the Critics Association Award for Best Film. Obviously, the Quentin Tarantino endorsement and great critic’s reviews we are receiving have had a huge impact in just a year or two. Now everyone is saying. “Ok. We can make films that are bold and can be a commercial success, a genre film and a festival film!” It is a whole new audience and territory for the industry. I think we will see the effects of “Rabies,” but especially “Big Bad Wolves” in the next couple of years and I hope we will see more genre films.
When you started out to create “Big Bad Wolves,” did you have any particular goals you were looking to achieve from a writing or directorial standpoint?
Navot Papushado: I think we realized early on that we had to make it smaller to make it bigger. In a way, “Rabies” is more of an ensemble twelve character piece, so this time we wanted to focus on the lives of three characters. We wanted to make it more confirmed. We had been offered to make a big budget film but we said “No. We want to take baby steps. We want to do a bigger budget film but not a big budget film.” With “Rabies,” we had a shoestring budget and with “Big Bad Wolves,” we have a modest budget. We wanted to see if we could entertain a film where 60% of it happens in a basement and be open to the way the camera tells the story. I think “Big Bad Wolves,” in many ways is much closer to the way we see cinema with the camera movements, the way it was acted, and the big scale soundtrack we have. “Rabies” was filmed using a handheld camera, which was perfect for that film. I think “Big Bad Wolves” is closer to our hearts and the way we love cinema and the way we see ourselves doing films in the future.
Looking back on the process of bringing this film to life, what do you consider the biggest challenges you faced?
Aharon Keshales: Like Navot said, filming these scenes in the basement was very challenging. We were in a very confined space where sixty minutes of the film takes place. You have to do really great stuff to keep it from being boring. The characters are torturing a guy and you see many torture movies where you get up and leave after twenty minutes. The greatest obstacle in “Big Bad Wolves” was the screenwriting, along with the camerawork and music. It was a challenge to turn this confined space into a real roller coaster ride for the audience. I think when you push yourself to the limits as a writer and have a 50 page part in your movie which takes place all in one basement, which will bring the best in you as a director. If you can make great camera movements, do something with the lighting or music within the scene and still make the crowd like it for sixty minutes, then you are pushing the envelope of what you can really do as a film director in your future projects when you have more money to do them.
As you have mentioned, you juggled a lot of different elements in this film to make it gripping for the audience. Was it difficult to find the right mix of actors to pull off the balance?
Aharon Keshales: Navot and I really love to direct and cast comedians in our movies. We used them in “Rabies” but for “Big Bad Wolves,” every actor in the film, in their soul, is a comedian. All of them have a great sense of timing. When you are dealing with this dark subject matter and you need the actor or character to go from one edge to another, from drama to comedy, having actors with a great sense of timing is very important. When we write our scripts, we write them for specific actors. For example, the actor who plays the cop in the film, Lior Ashkenazi, is our local George Clooney. He is our biggest star in Israel and the guy you would cast as the guy you bring home to your mother. Again, we went against his stereotype. The father is Tzahi Grad, who is Israel’s best character actor but also has a great sense of humor. The grandfather (Doval’e Glickman) is our local John Cleese or Chevy Chase. He was one of Israel’s biggest actors from the 1980s. He had never played a sadistic role like this and was always the nice guy. That was a big surprise for audiences. The only actor that we cast that wasn’t familiar was Rotem Keinen. We wanted him to be a fresh face, like Kevin Spacey in ‘The Usual Suspects.’ No one really knew about him until they say that film, so you don’t have any connotations.
With these two films, you have certainly laid the groundwork for an exciting future in cinema. Is there a particular genre or project you are eager to tackle in the short term?
Navot Papushado: All of them! [laughs] We would like to do a film in every genre! We have ideas for sci-fi. thriller and horror story ideas that we would like to tell. We have a spaghetti western we are now developing for Israel. It takes place in the 1940s after the Second World War. We would love to make films in every genre but still stay committed to the audience that discovered us. We would even love to make an English speaking film.
You and your story serve as a great inspiration to aspiring filmmakers. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to those looking to make a career in filmmaking?
Aharon Keshales: They should be born to rich parents, that is our first advice! [laughs] We were told once that if you want to be global, you have to be local. You have to explore subjects that are close to you or subjects you have great interest in them and then try to figure out how to get them on the screen. That is where you need to start. I think the best advice is to tell your own stories that make you are excited about and build your stories from your limitations. That is what Navot and I did with “Rabies.” When you are a writer or film director who is going to do your first feature, you should aim for the stars! You shouldn’t do ‘Gravity’ when you don’t have money for catering but when you have a larger budget! When you write or direct your first feature, you should know your limitations and build your stories from that point of view. When we did ‘Rabies,’ we knew we didn’t have enough money for lighting or to jump from location to location and built it from there. Think about those limitations and let your project be born out of those limitations!
Thank you so much for your time today guys. We really appreciate it and eagerly await what you have in store for us in the months and years to come!
Navot Papushado: Thank you, Jason!
Aharon Keshales: Thank you very much!
Brace yourselves! ‘Big Bad Wolves’ hits theaters, On Demand and iTunes on January 17th, 2014! Check out the official site for the film at www.magnetreleasing.com/bigbadwolves/.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.