63rd Monte-Carlo TV Festival: Israel Signs Up for 'Night Therapy' Sessions
BY Yako Molhov
Created by Raanan Caspi, 'Night Therapy' is a psychological drama starring Yousef Sweid ('Munich Games', 'Game of Thrones'), Yaron Brovinsky ('Spyders', 'Checkout') and Shira Haas ('Captain America'), as well as Lucy Ayoub, Yaakov Zada Daniel and Firas Nassar, all of whom have starred in 'Fauda'. The series is directed by Gabriel Bibliowicz and produced by Dafna Danenberg, Aviram Avraham and Benny Menache at Eight Productions. Caspi (who is also the showrunner), Brovinsky, Sweid, Danenberg and Avraham attended the Festival and talked to international journalists as well as took part in discussions with the audience following its world premiere at the Festival on June 15. The 10-episode drama launched on Yes TV in Israel on June 30 and is being sold internationally by yes Studios.
Left to Right: Raanan Caspi, Dafna Danenberg, Yousef Sweid, Yaron Brovinsky, Aviram Avraham
'Night Therapy' tells the story of Louie (Sweid), an Arab-Israeli psychologist struggling to raise his two children after the suicide of his Jewish-Israeli wife. Louie's 13-year-old son, Amir, begins to fail his studies and is on the cusp of dropping out, whilst Louie's daughter, Nur, suffers from agonizing abandonment issues and refuses to leave Louie's side. Louie is left with no time to mourn, as his fatherly duties become all consuming. In an unconventional turn of events, after yet another sleepless night, Louie decides to transfer his clinic hours to the wee hours of the night, accepting patients from dusk till dawn. An eclectic mix of Tel Aviv's nocturnal creatures attends his clinic, along with their compelling stories throughout the series. Shira Haas plays a patient – a computer genius who rarely leaves her home, preferring to lead her life in the virtual world. Haas was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Monte-Carlo Television Festival for her role. The actress, who accepted the award via video because she was in the United States filming, took to Instagram to thank the Festival. “This is such a special project for me, a personal and genuinely (ongoing) healing one, and I can’t wait for you all to meet Yasmin very soon,” she wrote, referencing her character’s name in the show.

The series creator Raanan Caspi shared that 'Night Therapy' was his first show: 'my background is from the startup business, from high-tech. I've had a high-tech company for many years. I was an actor 15 years ago - unfortunately, or lucky for me - I'm not an actor anymore. So I went to high-tech and business and I was writing for 10 years, to myself - just pitch show after show after show. And after 10 years, finally, someone said yes. And then everything happened so fast. In three years, we had a show and 10 episodes, around 40 minutes an episode - very emotional, funny drama. And I think I am the oldest person that ever got a TV show in Israel, who hasn't written anything before... I am also the showrunner, I'm involved in every bit of the show. And I am a control freak and I have to control every detail from the casting, the rehearsals. I was in every shooting day, all day. And I'm editing the show with the director every shift... For me, at the end of the day, it's business. If you invest money in you, it's like a start-up. You don't leave anything by chance."

Caspi noted that "Israel is much therapy-oriented, a lot of people go to therapy, we are the leader in the world, unfortunately, for post-trauma treatment and therapy. So everyone goes to therapy, the therapy world is collapsing right now, from overloading for requests... Honestly, Yousef, when he sits on the therapy chair, he looks like he's a therapist - one of the best things of the show, in the first minute, when he sits down - okay, I feel like you're my therapist, and I'm a patient... This is why I know it has to be a second or third season, because it's so natural. And I think, I hope all of you are in therapy, you should if you don't, therapy is magic for us."

When asked about 'BeTipul' ('In Treatment'), which is one of the most-popular Israeli shows abroad and also deals with therapy, Caspi commented that: "In Treatment" was a legendary series for me. Also, I was inspired by this series. When I saw it 20 years ago, my jaw dropped. They had seven of the best writers ever in Israeli TV and three of the best directors and some of the writers then are now some of the best directors in Israel so their team was unbelievable and they were an inspiration for me. For 20 years nobody in Israel did a show about treatment because everyone was afraid, because that show was so successful worldwide and everybody was afraid so when I came up with the idea, they told me, oh, finally now we can do a show about treatment because it's different. I looked at them and said what can I do differently from them? And the therapist was the main thing, I don't want to be them, I can't be them, I need to bring someone else, younger, a bit more sexy, a bit more up to date, a minority. It was very important because in real life, women in Israel are like 70% of the therapists and another 25% are white males and there's a really, really small minority therapists so I said, okay, let's go there... I wanted to do something that is less traditional. Usually, the therapists in the show are the white privileged male or female that I see in life... I used to live almost 10 years in the night. I used to be a night creature or a night crawler. And I wanted to bring the people that I knew from the night, I wanted to bring them to therapy. They are just like you and me, but they have a twist. First of all, everything looks better at night, so everyone looks better, it's quieter. I've been in therapy for a lot of years... We have a team of three psychologists that follow me through the show because every therapy is very, very professional. And I wanted to give it a twist of the night - at night you can talk about things that you cannot talk about in the morning when things happen faster. In the night, you talk and it just goes right to the point."

On the format of the series, the author commented that "my background of writing and knowledge is mainly Sherlock Holmes. My main profession, my main skill is detective skills. When I sat in front of the psychologist, I thought it's a shame that outside the four walls of the clinic I tell him something and then I go. And I always wonder when I tell him a story he imagined maybe something different than what I'm telling. So I said, hey, let's infuse the Sherlock Holmes element to the therapy scene and it will help us make it more dynamic. The show for me was important... It's a new generation, it's a new TV. I have some time, 14 minutes of dialogue in the clinic - it's not easy today, like, for people to sit down and see 14 minutes of dialogue - let's change the scenario. Let's place live action inside.And I think it's surprising, it's fresh and it works amazingly. So, the show is not exactly what you're expecting... The format is very clear.We have four patients. Every episode two patients occur. We have two episodes that are completely outside the mainstream of the show, the main arc. But it's very surprising. It's a bit different than what you think."

In terms of its potential adaptation around the world, the creator commented that "it's very refreshing and I think a lot of people would embrace this idea and probably a lot of talented writers and showrunners will say 'I want to do this show' because everyone has their own therapist in mind, probably the actors... I think the potential is there and hopefully they will. The most important thing for a show is to find the beat, to find the rhythm and 'Night Therapy' has a beat and when you have that beat then things keep on moving, even in 10 minutes of dialogue, of supreme acting." Sharon Levi, the MD of yes Studios which is distributing 'Night Therapy' added that "the unique format element is the fact that we're flashbacking into the actual scenes and we see therapists watching from the sidelines, that is something that when we talked to a lot of producers that we're in touch with, really catches the eye because they haven't seen it before so it's kind of like the next evolution of 'In Treatment'". She also shared that 'Night Therapy' is a passion project for her, it was the first series on her table when she arrived at yes Studios.

'Night Therapy's main character - Louie - himself is not in therapy. The showrunner revealed that "right now he's not in therapy. In season 2 is going to be in therapy because one of the things about him is that when his wife died, my main idea was that he pretty much lost the belief in his profession. Because when you failed on treating the person who was the closest one to you, he's not supposed to be a psychologist. She's his wife, but she has a shrink, and he failed also. So, when you fail at something that defines, that is the DNA of who you are, everything goes sideways. So, right now, he doesn't want to be treated. Also, he doesn't want to send his kids to a psychologist which we'll see later on in the show." As far as season 2 official confirmation is concerned, he said "no, just my dream and ambition. I also have the arc for season 3 - I'm way ahead."

When commenting on the cast, Caspi said that "we have the best cast I ever saw in Israel. We have 'Stisel', 'Fauda' - A-list actors, some of them are also A-list celebrities, like Shira Haas, and Lucie Ayoub, and Yaakov Zada Daniel. Shira is one of the best actresses in the world. She's now filming for Marvel, she's amazing, and we're very blessed to have her with us." When asked by TVBIZZ on picking up an Arab-Israeli main character and selecting an Arab-Israeli actor for the role, Caspi commented: "I knew that I wanted to do a show about a minority, I wanted Yousef Sweid to be the actor and I knew I'm going to put all the show above his shoulders and Yousef is Arab, so I said, okay, let's go for it because I don't have anything to contribute to the Israeli-Arab conflict from the Arab point of view. So I asked Yousef: 'listen, I'm going to do a show and it's going to be about you but I'm not going to talk on the show about Arab-Israeli conflict because I'm not Sayed Kashuaa who is another writer that writes everything about this conflict. Is that okay with you?' He told me - I was waiting for my whole life for someone to come and ask me to just play a show just like without a race or something, just to be me. So the show is not about the conflict and it's just about the person and about people and there is one episode that I said, okay, we're going to deal with it, it's the fifth episode and then we're going to show how difficult and complicated it is to be an Arab in a Jewish life when things go wrong."

Production on the series was challenging "because we had 47 days of shooting and from them, 16 shooting days were overnight which is not usual to Israelis, we usually do one or two and we had 16. We had a studio, we paid a lot of money for a huge screen, and we filmed the most up-tech technologies and we filmed the night in a lot of hours because we wanted to really nail the hours. If the therapy is 3 o'clock a.m. or 4 o'clock a.m., we have a different background for 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock. It's not just night, it's actually the hours of the night that the therapy is in... My wife wanted to kill me but you have to make sacrifices sometimes..."

Elaborating on his writing career and the new technologies, Caspi said that "I had (an idea about) a show about football because I'm a fanatic of football - similar to the movie 'The Hooligans' that I wanted to sell to the UK. And then I saw another show on Netflix Italy called the same, like 'We Ultras'. So four years of my life just went away. I asked Chat GPT to evaluate my writing in the last 10 years and I have more than 10,000 hours of writing material. I just have this bug of I'm doing business, and I'm doing well, and my life is going in the right place, but I just didn't do the thing that I was born to do, I think. I use Chat GPT for research, my company works with Google. My entire business model the last 15 years was with Google. So Google is like my second hand. And now, unfortunately for them, I use Chat GPT for research, it's like I have a company of researchers. I train models to give me research in different countries - it's amazing. And about writing, they (Chat GPT, ed) will compete with me. I think like two, three years, they will compete with a screenwriter like me... I'm not afraid and I'm a tech guy, so I don't think they can actually (compete), especially in a TV series."

Shira Haas

Dafna Danenberg, one of the producers of the show, confirmed that the night shooting was more expensive. "When a creator approaches us, I always tell them: dream big. Whatever you want, I will make it happen... I never say no, it makes me more 'I want to do it, I will find a way to create this'. Budget was, of course, an issue, but we found a way so we can film it at night because it's night therapy, sometimes you look at the big picture, and then you decide what your expenses are. But I did everything he (Caspi) wrote, because it was so emotional. I had a vision, a big vision for this show, it must be extraordinary." Aviram Avraham, the second executive producer from Eight Productions added that "we had night shoots on the street, so we couldn't fake it. There was no way to fake it, to make it cheap."

'Night Therapy' had its world premiere at the Festival and the team commented that the feedback was amazing, people applauded, people laughed after the screening. Yousef Sweid who plays the title role of Louie said "the people who were there, we felt that they really enjoyed it but we still have the premiere next week in Israel, so we are waiting for that too. It's really in the beginning, and it's very exciting, we all feel like we saw it for the first time, and every time we are excited." Yaron Brovinsky added that "we felt good reactions, there were more people than I expected in the crowd. And they were clapping, they were laughing. We felt that they had good energy... but we are in the beginning, the first steps of bringing it to the audience, so we are still searching, exploring how we feel."

Talking about his character, Sweid said that "Raanan (Caspi), the writer, called me three or four years ago. He said 'I have an idea, and I want to base it a little bit on your life'. And he started asking me questions, and continued every couple of months. I said to myself 'okay, he's a writer, he's trying to write something' and then suddenly it happened, and I saw some of the stuff from my life, like the mixed couple, they have two kids, one daughter is small, the boy is older, like my family, but all the rest is fiction. My character is a psychologist and because of his wife's death, he has to deal with his kids and their trauma. His sister comes to help him, but it's not enough, so he uses all his therapy at night. Then all these creatures of night come, and every story is just a beautiful story of a different kind of therapy, that my character goes through my own therapy session with those people. Giving therapy to others is actually helping my way of dealing with my wife's death, my loss. It's beautiful and very sensitive."

Yaron Brovinsky also shared details about his character in the series: "I'm one of the four main patients - my character's name is Noam, I'm a doctor, the manager of the ER - very successful, very arrogant, very full of himself. We see it in the first episode, there was something traumatic that happened in the ER - one of the staff was murdered, and at the beginning of the series, I arrived at Louie's clinic only to get the permission to go back to work. And my character Noam, he doesn't like psychologists, he doesn't like psychotherapy, he doesn't believe in all these procedures and processes... By the way, it's the opposite of me, I have been in therapy for 13 years... what you see now is the outcome of 13 years of therapy (laughing)... During the series we discover a lot of things about him, a lot of inner emotions, procedures, and he keeps not loving this man, in a way but that's what makes the connection between us, there's like a mind battle between us... My big brother is a doctor, he's an eye surgeon, and he doesn't like therapists. He's not an arrogant person like my character, but he doesn't like therapists. So I talked with him quite a lot."

Danenberg also talked about one of the other major characters in the series - Yasmin - played by Shira Haas who got the Special Jury Prize of the Festival for the role: "one of the other patients is played by Shira Haas. She lost her mother a year before we started shooting and her character, she talks about her mom and the emotion that you see is real - she told me that it was like a real session for her. This show made a closure with her mom's death and every reaction you see, it's so authentic and real because it is personal and the show changed her life."

In terms of real-life therapy and the consultants used for the series, Danenberg shared that they used a team of therapists, headed by Raanan Caspi's wife. "Also, we sent Yousef to a therapist in Haifa, an Arab blind therapist, and they did sessions together. I have been in sessions all my life, so I use all kinds of approach, but I think everyone can find himself in this show." Brovinsky added that "personally I don't see any other way to go through this long life without having therapy, talking about, dealing with all (that is) inside... For me therapy is like maintenance, I don't wait for any big thing to happen in my life in order to go to a therapist. And, of course, with every project you do, especially this show, is going into the deep tissues of your soul.You learn things about yourself. The main good thing that happened to me until now is getting closer to this person (pointing at Sweid, ed). We liked each other before, but now I think we love each other" to which Sweid added jokingly "we were just flirting, now we're in a relationship". The latter continued "from the age of 19, I felt like I have some demons inside me I want to check. I want to take them out and see. And it took a while, not because I was stuck, it was just not a good therapist. It's really hard to find a good therapist but when I found her, I stuck to her, and I was with her five years and she really helped me change my life, she was amazing. Also for the show, I went not just to this therapist (that Danenberg mentioned, ed), there was another therapist and she was amazing. Just to sit with her and ask her questions like 'how do you do when you look at your clients; when a client comes in, do you shake their hand, do you touch them?' The Arab guy said, of course, we're Arab, we always touch but the other therapist said 'no, I don't touch, if they ask for a hug, we should talk about it first'... For me the 'small' stuff was also important, where do you put the tissue, do you serve them a glass of water, do you have a notebook, it was important for me to understand this for the character... Each character you choose, you have to understand the character psychologically. So it's like a psychologist, that you have to understand him psychologically (laughing)."

When it comes to shooting the dialogue, Brovinsky said: "for me these shooting days were the most interesting in my life, because we didn't have all the tricks that you use in shooting usually, because we just sat two actors, knowing the text by heart... long monologues, long pauses... And then, yes, we do another take, and another take but the whole shooting day was so, in a good way, slow, a lot of patience, so professional, real acting. Not all the tricks you usually do, you say one sentence, we change camera, etc - we sat and talked...it was one of the most interesting projects I've ever done, because it was so real, real people talking..." Sweid added "it was exhausting for me, we did all the sessions in three weeks, the director wanted the whole scene - ten minutes, fifteen minutes - the whole text is 15-20 pages you have to do it all, in one take like an audition, there's no cut and it's exhausting but all of the exhaustion is good for the acting."

The producers and the actors believe that 'Night Therapy' will become very popular with viewers all over the world. Danenberg said: "it's a show that everyone can relate to, anyone can find themselves in this... it will be very easy to sell it, for people to be interested in it, we have amazing characters and actors, I think all of them are the best actors in Israel, and I'm very optimistic - this show is going to do a lot and succeed in the world, definitely." Sweid added "and here you have a twist, it's not just therapy because you have shows about therapy and they are all really nice but this one is about these folks that come at night. People come to us and say 'wow, that's a nice idea actually - when I finish my job, I come and I have time, without the kids, to go to night therapy', it lights people up. We also have these weirdos which is a little bit funny so it has this humor inside of it but still it's deep - people will find this world very interesting."
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