Gideon Raff, the Jerusalem-born co-creator of Homeland, the popular Showtime series about a U.S. soldier taken hostage in Afghanistan and turned by his captors, is also the writer and producer behind the original Israeli version of the show, known as Hatufim, or Prisoners of War. While the two shows differ significantly, Raff and his team bring a realness and sense of urgency to each.
That realness, though, which in Homeland at least comes in the form of fast-paced, high-octane scenes set in foreign counties, is actually meticulously created. Most of Homeland’s Middle East scenes are shot in Israel (the U.S. scenes, which are set in Virginia, are filmed in Charlotte, N.C.), which in different episodes stands in for a host of countries. That’s on purpose, Raff, who lives part-time in California, told Reuters, explaining his preference for filming in his home country.
“To concoct the Middle East in Los Angeles you have to spend a lot of money. You need to get the cars, the attire and the faces right,” Raff said in an interview at his Tel Aviv office, its walls festooned with actors’ headshots and storyboards.
“The Middle East is not just a desert, and Americans are increasingly sophisticated and expect a show set outside the United States to have been shot outside of the United States.”
He gave, as an example, the experience of filming in Jaffa, an Arab district of Tel Aviv, where “the moment you set up, everything you get on camera is worth millions of dollars”.
Still, since Israel doesn’t offer incentivizing tax breaks for filming, countries like Jordan and Morocco are often more appealing to location scouts. But Raff said it was worth it to set up shop in Israel, if only for the perks: “his American colleagues were drawn by the after-hours attractions of liberal Tel Aviv and ‘freewheeling Israeli creativity, which helps a lot in getting the job done.’”
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.