JeruZalem brings the apocalypse to “the real Jerusalem”

Doron Paz on shooting a demon apocalypse movie guerrilla-style

Jeruzalem

There’s been a lot written about the emerging genre scene in Israel, with movies like Rabies and Big Bad Wolves impressing global audiences. Now, Doron and Yoav Paz have given us a hugely entertaining horror that makes incredible use of its setting: JeruZalem.

The film begins with two American teenagers, Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) and Rachel (Yael Grobglas), on a trip to Jerusalem. They enjoy the nightlife, they have a great time, but their holiday takes a rather drastic turn for the apocalyptic. It’s the end of days, and demons are rising. Oh, and we see the whole thing through the eyes of Sarah’s Google Glass.

We had the chance to talk to Doron Paz ahead of the film’s screening at the UK Jewish Film Festival in London to talk about his experiences of shooting guerrilla-style in Jerusalem, the inspirations behind the movie, and what makes the city such a powerful place.

JeruZalem has been touring all over the world at film festivals, how are you finding the reaction so far?

It’s crazy. We just came back from the Dracula Film Festival in Transylvania, there is a festival in the town where Dracula’s castle is, and we won the first prize, which is really amazing. It’s screened in Mexico, and New York and London again for the Jewish Film Festival! It’s great. We’re especially excited for the release of the movie early next year.

There’s such a different energy to screenings with an audience. Especially in different countries, you can see how people react differently, which is amazing. The world premiere was in Montreal at Fantasia, it was crazy, 800 people, it was like a rock concert! Everybody screaming and shouting, the festival director goes on stage and he shouts, “Do you want to get scared?” Everybody clapping their hands, all through the movie, and then you screen it at FrightFest in London and it’s amazing, but they’re very polite as you British guys are, you sit and watch the movie, and then you clap.

What was the starting point for JeruZalem?

Yoav and I were thinking about making a POV movie for years. We had an idea about an American tourist coming to the old city and the backpacker’s life, not the one you see on postcards and National Geographic but the roughness, the real Jerusalem. We had this idea for so long, and the other idea was ‘How come nobody ever did a zombie movie, an apocalyptic movie, about Jerusalem?’ It’s the first city that comes to mind when you talk about the apocalypse. There are so many zombie movies, but I think only one, World War Z, deals with Jerusalem.

So we had these two ideas and then we read about Google Glass and it blew our mind. It was the beginning of this product and everyone was sure that it was going to be the next iPhone, the next big thing, and we said ‘OK, it’s a good excuse to tell a POV movie, and also we can add a layer of technology and tell the story in a different way.’ We love the idea of telling a traditional story but not just with POV but also with Facebook and apps and it’s another layer you can add to your movie, and we loved the idea. We wrote the script and then we went shooting!

The most important thing for us was that we wanted to show Jerusalem in a different kind of way. To give you an amusement park ride; take the audience inside the head of a tourist coming to Jerusalem and what she really sees. Not like the regular place, the underground, the nightlife, it’s a very special city.

It’s a movie that comes with certain expectations: found-footage, American tourists abroad…but it kind of turns those on their head.

It’s a trend to not appreciate found footage movies, and it’s justified. There’s too much. We don’t like to see our movie as, obviously it’s found footage, but we like to see it as a POV movie, and in a way it’s a new way of storytelling with this technology layer. If you do a movie, you’re willing to give three years of your life to it, obviously you need to think about the audience but it doesn’t help to think about trends and what’s happening now in the horror industry or whatever, it’s not helpful. So we just did it.

Doron and Yoav Paz, writer-directors of JeruZalem
Doron and Yoav Paz, writer-directors of JeruZalem

I wanted to ask about the Jerusalem Syndrome that you mention in the film…

It’s crazy, a crazy phenomenon. 100, maybe 150 tourists every year, especially Christians, are coming to Jerusalem and going loco. Because it’s such a powerful city. Especially from South America, they see the Via de la Rosa, and they see the place where Jesus was crucified in Golgotha, all these places. There’s a very famous mental asylum in the mountains near Jerusalem that specializes in these kinds of patients, they go there, they rest a few days and they go back home.

When you walk in Jerusalem you can feel the madness in the city. It’s a really tense, religious, hardcore city. I live in Tel Aviv, which is 180 degrees from Jerusalem; it’s a beach town, very casual. More laid-back. And Jerusalem has a very heavy, intense religious atmosphere. When I go there I also feel like a tourist. If you don’t live in Jerusalem you always feel like a tourist when you’re there.

You actually shot on location in Jerusalem! Could you tell us about that?

Yeah, there’s a funny story we tell about World War Z, there’s a big scene in the second act in Jerusalem, like a 20-minute scene. The choppers go about the city and you see the sea in the background, but in Jerusalem there’s no sea, so obviously they didn’t shoo the movie in Jerusalem, they shot the movie in Malta. And for us Israelis you see the scene and you laugh.

We wanted to shoot in the real places. And we managed to do it in really guerrilla, under the radar. There are so many security issues in Jerusalem, it’s very hard to close down streets, you need police and a lot of security, and it costs a lot of money. So we did it without permission, we did it under the radar for all of these places. Like the Wailing Wall, the Holy Sepulchre, we just got in, we had a small camera where if you don’t look carefully we looked like tourists, the sound man was working wireless 10 metres behind, and the crew just scattered around. It was a very interesting filmmaking process and I think you can see the result because it’s the real Jerusalem. It’s not sets, it’s not art dressing, it’s the real thing. This was very important for us.

We wanted to shoot at the Wailing Wall, the holiest place for Jews, and we went to the head rabbi, who manages this religious site, and we got permission to shoot only documentary [footage]. They don’t give permission to shoot scripted drama. So we told them ‘It’s a documentary!’ And we shot the scenes there and every time one of the actors pulled out the script the line producer shouted at us ‘No! Put it back, there’s no script, it’s a documentary!’  It’s very very complicated to shoot in Jerusalem. You can read the headlines now, what’s happening these days in Jerusalem is crazy.

The monster design is great too, there are creatures that are kind of zombies but definitely something else.

You can call it a zombie movie but we like to see them more as demons. We knew we wanted to combine two elements together, the practical makeup and the CG and that’s what you see in the movie. The creatures had amazing make-up on them, eye lenses, latex, and blood and gore, but we added the wings in CG, and we liked that because it adds another dimension. You say ‘zombie’ and you imagine a very specific thing, and we wanted to give it a twist. For us, when the resurrection will come and people start coming up out of the ground, that’s how we imagined it. With wings!

jeruzalem

It felt like [REC] was a big influence on that, as well as the POV technique. Were there any other influences?

Right, we were very influenced by [REC] with that thinking, we loved the idea that it’s a religious evil, a religious mythology, because every religion has this mythology about the rising of the dead. We were relating to that more than a biological plague or something like that. It’s deeper, darker to us to deal with these things. Cloverfield, we didn’t have the budget of Cloverfield but it was a big influence for us too. We loved the old classic horror films. Even Pet Semetary as kids, we saw it so many times and it blew our minds.

It’s funny because as kids we got our first video camera and did our first horror movies with our friends, killed all our friends with ketchup! There was no YouTube at the time but if there had been we would have uploaded so many short horror movies! We also do dramas, but as a director it’s a very cool medium to express yourself and your abilities. We loved that.

It does feel like there’s a really interesting genre scene coming out of Israel at the moment…

In Israel 99% of the movies are financed by film funds. And it’s obviously a very good system because it’s public money that goes into making movies, but the downside is that over the years the film funds became, and always were, very conformist. Very old school. The world has still moved on and they’re still making very slow art house movies that eventually a few hundred people will see. Until recent years no one really thought about the audience. Now it’s starting to change and they’re starting to do genre movies, comedies, thrillers, horrors, which is great, we’re really proud to be a part of this new generation of filmmakers.

It’s funny because our father is a filmmaker too, he’s 70 now, he did a lot of movies over the years, and he’s never made a genre movie. You can see the change in the movies coming out of here.

What are you two working on next?

It’s at a very early stage, it’s a sci-fi thriller with a twist. It will also be from a local perspective. It will happen in the Middle East. It’s a sci-fi Middle East horror thriller, because we always try to find our perspective. We’re trying to make very global, universal movies but from our point of view, our local perspective in the Middle East. There’s a lot of Israeli content now sold all over the world, from Homeland to other TV shows. There are so many good stories here and you need to find your own angle.

JERUZALEM screens at the 19th UK Jewish Film Festival in London on 10 and 18 November. http://ukjewishfilm.org/ for further details. Keep up with the latest horror news with the new issue of SciFiNow.