Black Sheep Productions founders Saar Yogev and Naomi Levari tell Mark Layton why they didn’t use professional actors or a shooting script and have given up their salaries to ensure their new drama Innermost completes its circuitous path to the screen.
Blurring the lines between documentary and scripted title comes Innermost, the new series from Israel- and Germany-based Black Sheep Productions (Dismissed, Mama’s Angel), which makes its world premiere at Series Mania today.
Created, written and directed by Yaron Shani (Ajami, Chained), the 6 x 45-minute series tells a work of fiction, but the roles are portrayed by non-professional actors performing without a script or rehearsal.
“Each scene is a singular long-take with no pre-planned shooting script or lighting plan – the outcome is raw and rough,” reveal Saar Yogev and Naomi Levari, Innermost producers and Black Sheep Productions founders.
“Just like in a documentary, in which situations and texts are singular, if you don’t catch them, you don’t have them – but if you do, you display a piece of authentic life that can’t be imitated or questioned.”
Set in modern-day Tel Aviv, the series tells three intersecting stories – one about a soon-to-be-father and police officer whose reputation comes under threat; another about a promising young writer who tries to overcome a recent shock; and the last about an aspiring musician who goes against his parents’ wish by choosing passion over duty.
Yogev and Levari tell TBI that they wanted to capture “real life” in the performances, explaining: “An ex-cop playing the role of a cop will always talk and move more naturally than if dictated to him by a scriptwriter sitting next to a computer. A real woman giving real birth to a real baby doesn’t need to act as if she is giving birth.
“This also goes for the decision regarding the long duration of the shoot – it enables us to follow and witness natural physical changes. As people we are not ‘bigger than life’, we want to see how our true reflection looks on screen.”
The project was shot in chronological order for almost a year, with the producers telling TBI that “it became part of our lives, almost like a parallel life, and just like life, it was impossible to predict what will be the outcome of a shooting day.’
Working on Innermost led Yogev and Levari to strip away “most of all our prior conceptions and assumptions regarding filmmaking – which almost contradicts the very essence of our profession. In that sense, this project isn’t similar to anything we have done before or seen before.”
Adding to the unusual approach to production is that the series was not originally envisaged as a series at all. Innermost started life as a feature film that went through a series of transformations during the pandemic.
“The original idea of the project was based on six interwoven plots which are very TV-ish,” explain the producers. “But with Yaron [Shani]’s way of working, which includes non-actors and singular long takes, it is impossible to approach TV commissioning for all the known reasons – the lack of elements that can raise the comfort level and/or vouch for a predictable result.”
Shani’s feature success with the Oscar-nominated 2009 film Ajami meant that finding financing for a feature was more feasible, but as the scope of Innermost expanded it became clear that a single film could not do the project justice.
“As we were watching the materials, we reached the conclusion that the given length of a single film can’t embody the full scope of the plots deriving from the participants’ work and so it was decided to separate the plots into a trilogy of films, unwillingly, losing the holistic effect of interwoven stories but gaining the scope of full character arcs,” said the producers.
But then came another pivot; as the impact of covid hit the cinema industry and audiences flocked to TV, the creators decided that the three films should become six episodes.
Funding for finalisation
These changes to the format of Innermost have led to more than an editing room challenge, but also necessitated Black Sheep to rethink funding for the project.
“When we embarked on the shoot, we had financing for a single feature film coming mainly from public funding in Israel and Germany,” explain Yogev and Levari.
“During the editing, as we decided to expand to a trilogy – we managed to get some supplementary public funds which unfortunately didn’t cover all the costs. The director and we have decided to give up our salaries, and Black Sheep added some self-investment that was supposed to be covered after distribution.
“But then came Covid, and the idea of the series matured; we decided to take another risk and self-invest in the finalisation of the series – with the strong belief that these stories should be told.”
The show creators clearly have a lot invested in this series and while Innermost has not yet landed a broadcast partner, the series will be presented to the world for the first time at Series Mania today. Yogev and Levari tell TBI they believe that a “courageous streamer” would be the best home for the show, following its circuitous path to get here.