A typical day of sheltering in place for the Nattiv-Newman family. A typical day of sheltering in place for the Nattiv-Newman family. A typical day of sheltering in place for the Nattiv-Newman family. (Photo: Courtesy Guy Nattiv)

Oscar-winning Israeli couple explores the challenges of long-distance dating in new TV series

The Quibi show will be shot entirely on iPhones while sheltering in place.

"Hello, Benyamin!"

I've called Israeli film director Guy Nattiv on his cell phone to chat about his new TV series. It's got a unique twist – each episode will only be 10 minutes long. And so, to see how much we could actually squeeze into that very specific timeframe, I told Nattiv I wanted our phone call to last exactly 10 minutes. Nattiv – who won an Academy Award last year with his wife Jaime Ray Newman – is a gifted storyteller, and was up to the challenge.

He told me that back in 2010, when he and Newman first began dating, they were in a long-distance relationship. He was in Israel; she was in Los Angeles. Between their busy schedules and the 10-hour time difference, catching up with each other became a juggling act. So they settled on a routine. "We decided to do kind of a video diary," he explained. Their motto was ABF – Always Be Filming. They would take videos throughout the day – Newman driving to an audition, Nattiv stuck in the rain. In one sweet video, Newman tells her boyfriend: "Honey, I'm going to bed now. It's midnight. I'm sorry I didn't get to hear about your day. But I want to hear everything about it, every nook and cranny."

They would upload all the videos before they went to sleep and would wake up each morning to footage from their beloved. The videos, like any real relationship, were a rollercoaster of emotions – from romantic musings to the inevitable fights that occur when you're dating someone more than 7,000 miles away. All of it was captured on tape, in little bytes of zeros and ones and stored in the digital ether. "After four-and-a-half years, we had tons of material of corresponding like this." Nattiv was ready to propose, so he rented out a small theater in Tel Aviv. He edited together all of their video messages and, when the footage finished playing, he got down on one knee and asked Newman for her hand in marriage.

Flash forward a few years. The couple now live together in Los Angeles. They have two daughters, Alma and Mila. In 2019, they made international headlines when they won an Oscar together, and 2020 began with work on their followup film. But then came a global pandemic, and life as we all know it was put on hold.

I interject: "Guy, you've got four minutes left."

Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, the husband-and-wife winners of the 2019 Academy Award for Best Short Film, give their new statues a customary smooch. Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman, the husband-and-wife winners of the 2019 Academy Award for Best Short Film, give their new statues a customary smooch. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Nattiv let me in on a little secret. Even after they got married and experienced the ups and downs of their new life – finding work, Nattiv becoming a U.S. citizen, coping with fertility issues – the cell phone videos continued to track it all. They had never stopped filming. And, so now, 10 years since they first met, there was an extraordinary archive of their relationship.

With Los Angeles a ghost town and the couple quarantined at home, they started editing together the story of their lives into a short documentary. It recently aired on Israeli TV as part of series of homemade movies made by local filmmakers while sheltering in place. It received rave reviews and brought some viewers to tears.

The film also caught the attention of executives at Quibi, a new streaming platform created by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former head of Disney and Dreamworks. Quibi has set itself apart from the likes of Netflix and Hulu and Disney+ in that its content is specifically designed to be watched on cell phones. Moreover, each piece of content is eminently snackable – at 10 minutes or less.

Quibi – which has shows from Steven Spielberg and Jennifer Lopez, among a whole host of other celebrities – saw in the couple's documentary the perfect format for a new series. 10 episodes at 10 minutes apiece that would track the ups and downs of a fictional long-distance relationship. All of it would be shot on iPhones. And it would be based on the real-life story of Nattiv and Newman: the man will be living in Tel Aviv and the woman will be in Los Angeles. Hollywood veterans Greg Silverman and Paul Shapiro will serve as executive producers.

Nattiv and Newman are spending their days writing the episodes in the guest house in their backyard. (Newman's mom, who riding out quarantine with them, sleeps there at night.) Casting will come soon and they hope filming can begin as well. After all, it's a story about social distancing and is meant to be shot from remote locations. "We're trying to make production happen with actors that actually will use their own cell phones and record themselves in a very authentic way," Nattiv told me.

I look down at the timer I started at the beginning of our call: 10 minutes, 37 seconds. Sure, there's more I want to know. But, like any good piece of episodic television, it leaves you wanting more so you'll tune in again.

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Oscar-winning Israeli couple explores the challenges of long-distance dating in new TV series
The Quibi show from Guy Nattiv and Jaime Ray Newman will be shot entirely on iPhones while sheltering in place.