Marc Kornblatt heads to Israel for his new web series

Marc Kornblatt Rock Regga

With Rock Regga, Marc Kornblatt wants to show Israel as a country about more than just religious strife and warfare

There’s a wonderful simplicity to Marc Kornblatt’s filmmaking. The Madison-based director centered his 2012 documentary on Madison poverty around a core relationship. More recently, he challenged himself to an hour-long sit in Still 60. Now, Kornblatt is taking his sleek premises overseas

Rock Regga, which is Hebrew for “Just a minute,” lives up to its name, showcasing human interest shorts that explore facets of Israeli culture. Kornblatt, who will be spending much of the next year in Israel, has covered photography, carpentry, and music in his six first episodes and is in the process of producing another six “sequels.” This past weekend, I asked Kornblatt about his latest project via email

The demise of Vine be damned, micro-content has become extremely popular. Has the viability of shorter media informed your choices here in envisioning your series?

Though never a fan of Vine, I am a major advocate of shorter media for several reasons. First, many people these days have limited attention spans, unless they’re watching Harry Potter or Titanic, two high-quality works that, frankly, I don’t pretend to emulate. Second, as an independent filmmaker whose small grants couldn’t even pay for the crew’s lunch on the set of Fellowship of the Ring, I have gravitated toward the ultra-short documentary form, because it is the least expensive film genre. Three, short pieces lend themselves to social media platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo. As far as I’m concerned, my shorter works have found far larger audiences than any film festival I’ve attended to date with longer pieces, and I’ve attended dozens.

You’ve done at least one short-form series in Fit People already. Was Rock Regga informed at all by your experience with those episodes?

In fact, my experience with the short-form goes back decades when I had several one-minute plays performed at the One-Minute Play Contest in New York City and brought the idea to Madison’s Playwrights Ink, of which I was a member for years. I wrote and directed for three very short play festivals and loved the experience. When I began producing films six years ago as an elementary school teacher, short videos came naturally. Rock Regga, for the record, is my fifth web series, which together represent more than 40 separate episodes, so by now I feel very comfortable with the genre.

Why Rock Regga in particular? Having spoken with you before, I would say you like to stay busy. Was this just “something to do” overseas?

Yes, you’re right, David, I am pretty much like a high-strung border collie who can become snappish if he doesn’t have something to herd. My wife talked me into spending a year in Israel so that we could be with our children, both of whom live there. I did need something to keep me from biting anyone. I conceived of Rock Regga partly for that reason, and partly for the reasons I explained having to do with my affinity to the short form. But the over-arching reason for the web series was my desire to show that the land of Israel, which I love, is so much more than a nation tortured by religious strife, war and terrorists.

Your preamble on the series’ page frames the series as a kind of socio-cultural mosaic for the country. Who’s your audience for this?

I am aiming to engage American Jews and non-Jews, as well as Israeli Jews and Arabs, both secular and religious. With the first six episodes now on YouTube, and six more due for release soon, I’m hoping to attract sponsors who will support me in hiring a crew that I can take with me to all parts of the country. I want to tell stories about water rights and land disputes, military matters and transgender issues, anything that helps expand people’s understanding of life in Israel. My audience, I hope, will carry on an active dialogue on my YouTube channel and Facebook pages to let me know which stories I should develop further and what other ones I ought to tell.

What’s your experience been like working with subjects speaking a different language?

I attended a Jewish day school through seventh grade, and have continued studying Hebrew over the years, off and on, so I’m comfortable and enjoy speaking the language, even if I’m not fluent. I was in my element when I filmed Ep. 3, “Friends for Life,” because I got to meet a lot of sweet dogs and speak Hebrew, English and French, which I studied in high school and college. Dogs and languages are as precious to me as bourbon and chocolate.

My favorite is Ep. 4, with Yarden Klayman and the saxophone. I love her story. You mentioned your intent to produce sequel episodes for each of these first six. Are there specific places you’d like to touch on? Pieces of biography or additional questions you’d like to ask? Or are you not conceptually there yet?

I love Ep. 4, too, because I heard Yarden playing her saxophone at night for weeks, without knowing where she was exactly. One morning I saw her playing the sax at her window across the street from my apartment and knew she was Rock Regga material. I interviewed her in one sitting and filmed her performing at a reception, capturing enough footage to produce two short pieces, so I already know where I’m going with her sequel. The same goes for the other five stories. The sequels are already set.

Where I go from there is up to the people who watch the series. If Yarden’s episodes attract a large number of views, shares and comments on YouTube, Twitter and my Facebook pages (I have both a personal page and a Refuge Films page), I’ll share more about her journey. The same goes for the other five stories.

As things stand, if the number of views and comments for the series is modest, and I receive no outside funding, I will probably produce another three stories (broken into six) before retiring the project and sending my inner border collie in search of something else to keep me out of trouble.

Do you have a preference for the consumption of these? What about binge-watching?

Binge-watching is an activity near and dear to my heart, though lately I find that I’m not good for more than two episodes of anything at time. Two 60-minute shows can be a long sit at the end of the day. Rock Regga requires much less of a time commitment, because every episode of the first 12 is under two minutes. Do the math. You can consume the entire first season of my new series in less time than it will take to watch one episode of House of Cards or American Horror Story.