Rich in history, with a climate that offers eight months of rain-free sunshine and an ethnically-varied population from which to source actors and extras, Israel has much to offer foreign filmmakers. During the 1980s the Middle Eastern country hosted high-profile productions as Rambo 3 and Delta Force starring Chuck Norris. During the 1990s it began to lose business to other countries that offered better tax incentives to producers, but Israel is now implementing a range of initiatives to lure back an international clientele.
Israel is relatively small, with the space between its two farthest points only around seven hours’ drive apart. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are the two main urban centres and typically the bases for filming; as well as being cinematic locations themselves they offer access to Israel’s more rural landscapes.
Chaim Sharir, one of the most accomplished TV and film producers in Israel, whos credits includes the TV series Hostages, said that Israel is a "greenhouse for creativity" with more film schools per capita than any other country in the world.
International filming in Israel is increasing in popularity. In 2014, Natalie Portman shot her directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness in the country. The film is based on Amos Oz's acclaimed memoir of the same name, which details the author’s childhood in Jerusalem.
Huge US hit Homeland was based on an original Keshet production (exec producers of Tyrant), and doubled Israel for Lebanon and Iran during its second season. This was a welcome reverse for a country that has often seen the opposite happen, with big-budget productions such as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and World War Z from director Marc Forster using countries like Morocco and Malta as stand-ins for Jerusalem.
Israel is a very safe place to film overall, with issues only likely to occur when entering areas like the Gaza Strip, which may have an unstable security situation. It is advisable to research the latest news from the regions and remain up to date with any conflicts.
Those not filming for news and not in possession of a valid press card are advised to gain permission from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to enter Gaza and certain areas of the West Bank. Shooting in the big cities requires co-ordination with the Mayor's Office, and each major city council has a department dealing with this. For driving scenes or street-blocking a police presence is required. Shooting in airports requires the Israel Airports Authority's authorisation.
Unions are very prominent in Israel, with crews working up to 12 hours a day and then any additional house are billed as overtime, usually at a higher rate. A budget of $50 a day per crew member is not unrealistic, including three meals and snacks.
Israel is ideally suited as a filming location for religious projects, given the country’s significance to the Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Its deserts, mountains and ancient buildings mean it can readily invoke a centuries-old setting, with many recognisable locations to choose from, such as the Sea of Galilee, the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Dead Sea.
Most of the country’s churches and other religious buildings charge from $50 - $100 for a film permit, for exterior filming as well as interior. The most popular places to shoot on location in Israel tend to be Beer Sheva, Eilat, Haifa, Jerusalem, Ovda and Tel Aviv.
Productions are allowed to bring equipment with them into Israel, but may need a carnet to avoid paying customs, depending on the amount of equipment you are bringing. Hiring a local person who specialises in bringing professional people through customs is recommended by Biblical Productions, which can supply such a person at a cost of $250 each way.
While top-end equipment such as the RedOne camera can be hired, equipment in general is not as readily available in Israel as it is in Europe or the US and, as such, can be more expensive.
KFTV lists several companies based in Israel hiring a range of equipment.