Jerusalem Mayor Hits L.A. in Bid for Hollywood Filming

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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Nir Barkat pitches Israel's capital as a prime location for film and TV, offering NYC-style incentives: "Good business … good Zionism."

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Watch out, Toronto and Vancouver. Jerusalem is about to enter the competition for a share of Hollywood's runaway film and television production.

Nir Barkat, mayor of the Israeli capital, quietly traveled to Los Angeles the week of May 20 to talk up his city's new entertainment production initiative. In an interview with THR, Barkat says he hopes to capitalize not only on the ancient site's historical locations, mild climate and a package of modern-day tax incentives, but on Hollywood's deep strains of support for the Jewish state. Making films and television in Jerusalem is "not only good business, it's good Zionism," says Barkat. "It's the right thing to do."

Barkat's two-day L.A. visit included sit-downs with several studio executives and a reception hosted by singer Pat Boone and Jon Voight at Boone's Beverly Hills home. Boone, a conservative Republican and devout Evangelical Christian, gave his original lyric notes for the song "Exodus" to the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

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Barkat's film production initiative is modeled after New York City's highly successful effort, building on an existing infrastructure of the city's film schools and international film festival, complemented by a new package of tax incentives. The Israeli government first enacted a law in 2008 offering tax breaks to foreign film companies, though the incentives were far lower than what other countries were giving. In 2011, the government upped the offering to $400,000 in tax breaks per project. In addition, says Barkat, Jerusalem is prepared to offer more than $12 million in additional subsidies, a substantial sum by Israeli standards. A special city department already has been set up to issue filming permits and help with on-location logistics. Projects recently shot in Israel include the country's Oscar-nominated feature Footnotes and scenes from Showtime's Homeland, which is based on an Israeli series and shot in the more cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv.

Barkat tells THR his city is setting up a new L.A. office to liaise with the Hollywood community and promote what Jerusalem has to offer. But challenges persist. While the city's modern West Jerusalem is a thriving metropolis with hotels and restaurants a Hollywood production would expect, its eastern neighborhoods teem with political tension and violence between Arab and Jewish residents. Holy sites in the city's tiny core draw millions of tourists each year, complicating filming.

Still, among those Barkat met with in L.A. was billionaire mogul Haim Saban, who says he already has committed to support the mayor's initiative. "Jerusalem offers a magical environment for filming," Saban tells THR. "And I promised the mayor when I met with him that we will be shooting our next live-action series in the City of David."