Foreign Film Spotlight: The Cakemaker’s Ofir Raul
December 19, 2018
Eight years after beginning work on his first feature film, multi-award-winning writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer’s film The Cakemaker is Israel’s submission for the foreign film category of this year’s Academy Awards®.
An impressive feat for an industry where resources are so limited and the competition is vast. “There are so many wonderful stories written in that small place, and so little means to tell them,” Grazier says. “That is why nearly every movie is low budget. That is why directors are also usually the writers, so agents and managers aren’t as prevalent. In television, there’s more spec work; new channels and a lot of content is needed. But in film, it’s very, very hard.”
It’s a hard life examined in Grazier’s tale. The Cakemaker tells the story of Thomas, a talented German baker, who has an affair with Oren, a married Israeli man. When Oren dies in a car crash, Thomas travels to Jerusalem seeking answers. Keeping his identity secret, he starts working for Anat, his lover’s widow, who owns a small café. Although not fully kosher and despised by the religious community, his delicious cakes turn the place into a city attraction. Finding himself involved in Anat’s life far beyond what he had anticipated, Thomas must stretch his lie to a point of no return.
While the film has earned Ofir awards, 5-star reviews from the NY and LA Times, and an impressive 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, it wasn’t a smooth start to the spotlight. The Cakemaker was in production for eight years. “Filmmaking in Israel is based on Film Funds—and there are very few of those to go around, so competition is high,” Grazier reflects. “So for six years, we did the near impossible: shoot the film with what we had. The second obstacle then was to be able, even though we had less than a fifth of the budget we needed, to do the film I’d envisioned—without compromises. Overcoming that obstacle was possible thanks to an amazing crew, creative thinking, and the magical mixture of strict planning and down-to-earth flexibility.”
Grazier attended Sapir College’s School of Audio & Visual Arts during which time his shorts played the renowned Cannes Film Festival, as well as the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival—the largest international short film festival. Now, thanks to The Cakemaker, Ofir is an Oscar® contender as well.
And it’s all thanks to real-life inspiration. “A friend of mine lived a double life; married with children and having affairs with men. He died unexpectedly, leaving the wife to discover his ‘other side’. This tragedy, of losing someone and then finding out something disturbing about them, was the starting point of the film. I was still a film student when that all happened, and at the same time, thinking about tackling my first feature. As I was shooting a short film in Berlin, I saw a man riding a bicycle and suddenly, the entire story came to me. I just needed that one small moment to light it all up. I needed to see it,” said Grazier.
The other elements—the homosexuality, Berlin-Jerusalem, religion and secularity, and the love for food—were all drawn from Grazier’s own life. It took him a year to finish the original script. “I was in the process of moving to Berlin, learning a new language, daily jobs, so writing was done on the side. But all those things helped shape the script.”
He found that working in phases produced the best results. Starting with the synopsis, Grazier then wrote an outline, a full treatment, and only then, the script itself before going back to the outline phase to rewrite. “I spend more time with the outline and the structure then I do with the writing itself. That is why I like Final Draft. For tools like Index Card and Scene View. I also prefer to print the script and work on real paper. I find it somehow much more efficient than sitting in front of the computer.”
Then there were the rewrites during shooting. “But it’s all part of the process,” Grazier says. “Because you always write a script three times. Once when you write it, second when you shoot it, and the third time is when you edit it. Sometimes condensing a dramatic script can be a positive thing for a story because it demands you concentrate on the essence of the scene, and what you want to achieve.”
As a writer who also directs his own material, Grazier understands that the script is only the first element of the filmmaking process. “A film is remade and rewritten during casting, pre-production, shooting, editing and sound design—so I consider all those elements and plan the film as its director while I’m writing. I think of scenes not as ‘functional to the plot’, but as scenes that I can actually imagine creating.”
The next step for Grazier was getting the film out to the world, which he did thanks to international sales agent Films Boutique. The Cakemaker premiered at the Karlovy Vary Festival, one of the oldest film festivals in the world, and one of Europe’s premiere film events. From there, it found its way to other festivals and abroad. Grazier considers himself lucky to be involved in as many of the decisions that Films Boutique would allow—from posters and trailers to press—but doesn’t necessarily believe that it’s the best move for directors. “Honestly, I don’t think any director could or should do that, but this film was my baby; I had to be a part of the process.”
But the most crucial lessons he’ll carry with him to his next feature? “How to focus on the right things. When you are on set and you have the option to do one informative shot that is imperative to the plot, or another close up that has a strong emotional impact, do the latter. Every single time. A moment where an actor expresses a strong emotion will define whether a scene will resonate or not. Another thing that I took from my short films, which became more evident during work on The Cakemaker, is to trust the audience. Trust them. They are smart.”
Grazier’s biggest piece of advice to other writers who also want to direct their own work comes down to being a part of the process beyond writing. “Edit movies. Short movies, documentaries, feature films…all of it. Editing teaches more about the craft of writing than anything else because it offers insight to the very foundation of the script. When you edit other people’s films, you play with the elements of character, structure, plot, and learn what is essential and what is not. Also: do the research. Just go out there and immerse yourself in the world you are writing about. Get familiar with the material. It will inspire you more than anything else.”
Written by: Adi BlotmanAdi Blotman has a background in acting, improv, sketch and standup comedy. She holds a writing certificate with distinction from the UCLA Writing Extension Program and previously won 2nd place in their 2014 screenplay contest. Adi recently won the Big Break℠ 2015 Comedy/Romantic Comedy Category for her feature screenplay “Reality Check”. You can follow her on Tumblr and Twitter @adiblotman.