'Dig' a labor of love for Gideon Raff
'Homeland' creator enjoying second chance at producing for American TV.
Watching the USA Network series "Dig" can be an intimate experience, especially when the story's setting moves to Jerusalem. That's the way Gideon Raff, the creator and executive producer, wants viewers to feel about the scenes in his hometown.
"Truthfully the city dictates how to shoot in it," he told From The Grapevine. "When you’re running in 3,000-year-old tunnels that are very narrow, you have to either be in front of the actor or behind the actor (with a hand-held camera). Obstacles are always between you and the actors (being filmed). We play with focus a lot. There’s a sense of movement all the time, of lack of control. This kind of a bubbling unpredictability is very much sensed when you’re in Jerusalem."
Raff is a well-known name in television in the U.S. and Israel. His Israeli drama, "Prisoners of War," was adapted into the Emmy-winning Showtime series "Homeland." "Dig" is the second series he developed for an American network. Raff is thrilled with how it's turned out, especially after his departure from his first American series, FX's "Tyrant."
"Dig," whose first season ends May 7, is a world-spanning mystery that involves an archaeological dig, a high-profile conspiracy, a New Mexico pastor and his creepy protege, and a red calf. The entire mess is being pieced together by a troubled FBI agent (Jason Isaacs), his boss/romantic partner (Anne Heche), and his local police partner (Ori Pfeffer), who likes him about as much as he trusts him, which isn't a whole lot.
It's a complicated story, one that Raff wanted to make after an in-flight conversation with Avi Nir, the CEO of Keshet Media Group. Keshet is the company that adapted the Israeli version of "Homeland" for American audiences.
"He always wanted to make a show about archeology in Jerusalem," Raff said about Nir, "and because I was born and raised in Jerusalem, I hopped on the idea and said, 'Let me think about it. Let me investigate a few possible conspiracies.'"
He discovered the idea of U.S. embassies hiring legal attaches who are really FBI agents. These agents investigate crimes against American ex-pats in the countries where they're stationed.
"I thought if Peter Connelly, this main character, who is an FBI agent, investigates the murder of an American on foreign soil but unveils this big conspiracy ... it could be really cool," Raff said.
Shooting in Jerusalem was a key to getting the show off the ground, Raff said, because the city is "a character" on the show.
"We were in tunnels under the city – places that have never been seen before by tourists," he said.
Eventually, the production left to shoot in Croatia. Even Raff was surprised at how well the Croatia locations could pass for his hometown.
Raff developed the pilot script with Tim Kring, who is best known as the executive producer of "Heroes." Raff describes his work with Kring as "the most successful and fruitful collaboration I’ve had in my life. It’s more than his experience in Hollywood, which is great. Many people have experience in Hollywood. It’s more that he’s a genius at storytelling."
For his first collaboration on an American television show, the FX drama "Tyrant," Raff worked with Howard Gordon, who is also the executive producer of "Homeland," but left the show due to creative differences.
"'Tyrant' was a show that was very dear to me," he said, "and I’m still very much in touch with the actors and the producers, but I am no longer involved.
The process of creating a show for an American network is different than what Raff experienced creating shows for Israeli TV. "I wrote all of the episodes [of "Prisoners"] by myself, and I directed all of the episodes. Some writers work in pairs, or in threes in Israel, but there isn’t a writers' room," he said. The shows are shot like a long feature, where an actor may be in a scene from episode seven, then one from episode two, based on location availability.
"Israeli creators have to compete in an open market. We have to be very creative in how we tell a story." The American development process is longer, "and there’s a lot more checks and balances along the way. Every step is noted to death," he said, referring to network feedback.
"On one hand you’re working with very smart people that make the show better," Raff said of working with American network executives. "On the other hand you have to fight not to lose the vision. But at the end of the day it’s always the same in terms of really good people trying to tell a really good story."
If "Dig" gets a second season from USA, it'll be a different story with a different cast, much like the anthology series "Fargo" and "True Detective." So Raff will be busy. But he always takes time to enjoy "Homeland."
"I think this season was brilliant," he said. "I thought Claire Danes is just as brilliant as ever. I can’t take my eyes off of her. That’s true from the very first episode of the very first season to now. I really think the show did a fantastic job, this season, in reinventing itself. Yeah, I’m not only an executive producer, I’m a huge fan."
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