Oren Rehany is a Tel Avivian actor, screenwriter, and producer who considers himself a “ninja” in comedy, improv, and standup, with a natural passion for drama. He recently directed a short musical called “Tel Aviv Dreams” (video below).
We talked with Oren about his success in Tel Aviv, his aforementioned production, and more!
Citizen Café (CC): What brought you to Tel Aviv, and what do you love most about the city?
Oren Rehany: I was born and raised in Jerusalem to a very non-artistic family. (My parents are doctors.) I spent many years abroad – New York City, London, and Los Angeles.
When I left Tel Aviv in the early 2000s, it was basically a large toilet for pets, and was still the most interesting place in Israel. A big part of my recent relocation from the “City of Angels” to the “City of Cats,” was how friggin’ cool Tel Aviv has become in the past 15 years.
In my eyes, Tel Aviv is best described as “SOHO meets Miami Beach,” but with the soul of a shtetl (a tight-knit Jewish community from 19th-Century Europe).
As a filmmaker, I am often drawn to polarity and contradiction – where I believe great art lives. Tel Aviv is a physical manifestation of this idea. So many contradictions live in a harmonious chaos in this city.
I often wonder what was missing from my life when I lived in LA. It took me years to realize it is actually the chaos of Israel that I miss. You can say many things about Tel Aviv and Israel, but boring is not one of them.
CC: Where did the inspiration for Tel Aviv Dreams come from?
Oren: My love for musicals started when I lived in LA, where I worked as an actor and was lucky enough to be a part of “West Bank Story” a musical comedy that won an Oscar.
Prior to “Tel Aviv Dreams,” I directed a musical parody in Helsinki, Finland for Lalaland’s “Someone in the Crowd” called “Midnight Sunset.” I was struck by one of the songs titled “City of Dreams” (written and performed by David Gindis) – a Lalaland-inspired parody of Tel Aviv. I told the producers, David and Daniel Gindis, that I want to make a music video for it.
We expanded upon the original song’s lyrics, and we went into the studio to record the first version with the band. The concept of being on a scooter and meeting all the people of the city was born on the 992nd time, when I was almost run over by one on a sidewalk.
The Gindis brothers loved the concept and, a short while later, the film went into pre-production. At that point we chose my friend Nicole Feinholz, an actor and producer, to star in the film. Nicole realized the international nature of the project and knew Tel Aviv was the perfect place for it.
Nicole was also my assistant director and made sure not one minute was wasted on out four day shoot and kept my set working smoothly. Without her, I would be lost in a fog of despair. To be the “eyes” of this film, I called Yaniv Assa – a brilliant cinematographer – to oversee the project. Yaniv really understands the value of composition with his wonderful, childlike enthusiasm and artistic perception.
The last missing piece of the puzzle was our lead female. We needed someone who was an exceptional dancer, and Daniel sent me Amber Joy Layne’s reel. I knew right away she was perfect for the job since she is also a choreographer. Amber did a fantastic job coming up with dance moves that matched out lyrics perfectly, and brought an amazing team of young dancers who danced every single take flawlessly.
CC: How would you describe your video to a non-Israeli?
Oren: Daniel Gindis, my co-producer, defined it well: It’s a grassroots musical compilation of immigrants and Israelis who came together to sing a love song about Tel Aviv. I, myself, have a more visual description: The musical Lalaland that takes place in the Middle East – on a scooter!
CC: What’s one crazy story from the filming of Tel Aviv Dreams?
Oren: On the first day of filming, unfortunately my film bag was stolen. Luckily, the bag had a GPS tracker, so I was chased down the thief while the crew and cast were moving to our next location.
I decided that the film is more important than the bag and got on-set as soon as I could. We had to move very quickly because the dancers had to leave. We got that one on the twelfth take, and I broke a personal record for how quickly I filmed a take.
Sometimes, working under pressure brings the best out of me. The whole experience was a good reminder of how vulnerable to theft a production outside is.
CC: What’s your vision for it? What do you want people to get out of your film?
Oren: I want as many people as possible to view and enjoy it. But I would also like to help break a sad, distorted image that Israel carries around the globe. An image is being reinforced by an international campaign that delegitimizes Israel and presents the conflict as black-and-white, instead of the colorful reality.
The complexity of life here is not something I feel Israelis work hard enough to portray. We defend our political views too often without showing how real life is like here. I feel there is more cooperation and love, than war. My dream would be to sit and have hummus with our brothers and dance to the same music we love together.
Every time I see an Israeli film that is not about the conflict, I am overjoyed. The fact it is cinema is a window to life here, and an opportunity to break the stereotypical image of an endless war zone, with camels in the background.
Ignorance is the ultimate enemy of a civilized society, and I strongly believe that art and entertainment play a role in breaking them. If I opened even one person’s mind about Tel Aviv or Israel, then I see my work as an artist a success. If you save one soul – you save the world.
CC: What was your favorite part of the process?
Oren: I ask myself that question all the time. Because there are many crises during production that you constantly ask yourself (usually in tears), “Why the hell did I do this to myself again?!”
It’s more painful to make a film than it is enjoyable. I think the answer lies in the only thing that makes the final result worthy and valuable: teamwork.
I always say that I don’t see filmmaking as a democratic process; the director always gets the final word. But without brilliant, sensitive, and intelligent actors, a great crew, and a producer that can move mountains, this magic just isn’t going to happen.
CC: How do you define the term Tel Avivian?
Oren: The stereotypical Tel Avivian, let’s just get it out of the way, is a liberal leftist who hangs out at bars and coffee shops every day; has a magical source of income that allows them to pay rent; doesn’t know or care what happens outside of Tel Aviv; and almost never travels outside of it unless it’s abroad.
Like all stereotypes, there are people like that in Tel Aviv, but there are also all many other types. Tel Aviv’s humans are a wonderful mix of cultures, religions, and countries. This is why Tel Aviv has an international reputation. It’s one of the major global leaders, on the same list with New York City, Berlin, London, Paris and Moscow.
But, at the end of the day, a true Tel Avivian is someone that, at least once a week, runs after a bus like they are being chased by the devil, or steps on dog poop.
CC: Where can we find you in Tel Aviv when you’re not filming?
Oren: I love so many parts of this city; you can catch me all over, whether it’s going to see a film at the cinematheque, a show at a fringe theater, or visiting Jaffa’s ever changing art scene.
On top of that, I love the endless free events around the city. But by far the best thing about Tel Aviv is the local communities I belong to. It’s a routine of wacky and wonderful people, the kind that inspire you and support you no matter what.
I do improv in English every week at the Tel Aviv Improv Workshop – a great community of English speakers who just make each other laugh. It’s run by people who are very experienced at improv, and although being an informal improv class, offers great foundation and training. I met some of my dearest friends there.
Another great community is the KinoTLV Film Society, which holds a yearly, week-long festival of small budget films, with filmmakers from all over Europe.
As a proud geek, I also am a big enthusiast of escape rooms and board games. You can often find me at a local café and board game shop called Freak, which offers endless board games to play alongside your food.
My favorite coffee shop is Nahat Café right by Dizengoff square. I take their absurdly delicious coffee and sit in my favorite square, falling in love with my town more with every sip.
CC: What’s your funniest or craziest experience in Tel Aviv?
Oren: It would definitely be the first Pride Parade in Tel Aviv. I was young and lived with my girlfriend at the time on north Ibn Gabirol Street. The parade passed right by us and we joined the massive, crazy rave at the park.
I remember thinking to myself how different this city and country is, that day, compared to the one I grew up in. It was physical representation of values that respect everyone – regardless of their gender, orientation, race, or religion. It’s not only respect, it’s also the feeling that we are all unified under those values in Tel Aviv.
If a person is being bullied in this town, the citizens of this city will rush to defend them. It made me proud to live in this city.