Interview: Yoav Factor

The man behind a new "kosher" British comedy says there’s something more important to him than making movies

By Simon Round, October 19, 2011
Yoav Factor used to be a "party animal". Now he sports a kipah and tzitzit on set

Yoav Factor used to be a "party animal". Now he sports a kipah and tzitzit on set

For most film directors, making a movie is a 24/7 job. However for Yoav Factor it is more like 24/6. Despite attempting to fit the shooting of his debut feature, Reuniting The Rubins, into a "crazy" five-week schedule, come Friday evening, Factor, much to the surprise of the non-Jewish crew, would leave the set to go home for Shabbat.

"Everyone was pretty shocked," he says. "But then again it's my film company, so if anyone has a problem they can argue with God about it. Everyone in this industry thinks that making a film is the ultimate job so they are surprised that someone has something more important to do with their life."

Factor - who unusually among the new wave of British film directors, sports a kipah and tzitzit - first made his mark through award-winning advertisements and short films. However, since he decided to become a film-maker at the age of 25, every step of his career has been geared towards making a full-length movie.

Reuniting the Rubins tells the story of how a father, played by Timothy Spall, attempts to bring his warring children together for a Seder-night dinner. Factor reckons the themes are universal. Indeed the film, part-comedy, part-shmaltz, could have been about a family of any faith, but for his first feature, Factor followed the age-old advice that you should write about what you know - so this particular dysfunctional family is Jewish.

But unlike many previous British-Jewish movies, Factor has tried hard to avoid stereotypes. He has also rejected the hitherto compulsory klezmer soundtrack.

He says: "I was brought up in England, a third generation Reform Jew. So Yiddish is down to about five words in my vocabulary. I was brought up with secular music and Hollywood music - klezmer is not a part of my being Jewish. Anyway, I didn't want to make a film for a Jewish audience. I wanted something that would cross borders and boundaries. We've had a couple of screenings for predominantly non-Jewish audiences and the greatest thing I've been told by those who have seen it is that 'this is just like my family'."

The film also breaks new ground among British movies in being the first to throw in Jewish references without feeling the need to explain them minutely. Factor explains that in this he takes his inspiration from the American independent film sector.

Timothy Spall, Rhona Mitra and James Callis are members of a dysfunctional Jewish family in Reuniting the Rubins

Timothy Spall, Rhona Mitra and James Callis are members of a dysfunctional Jewish family in Reuniting the Rubins

"I love films like Little Miss Sunshine and About Schmidt. I wanted to make a film about a Jewish family which tackles some very serious matters about how people relate to each other in the modern world. The thing that has probably kept Jews going for thousands of years is our incredible ability to laugh at ourselves, so I decided to do something serious in a humorous and sometimes hilarious manner."

For a young film-maker, getting a project off the ground at all is a major achievement. To attract a star you need to have the finance in place, and to get the finance you need a star. However, thanks to his background in short films, Factor found it was easy to get the script to top actors. Much to his delight, Spall loved it, and with the star successfully recruited, everything else fell into place.

"There are only handful of actors who could handle the lead role and who have a high enough profile to justify the budget, but Timothy was perfect. He told me that most of the stuff he is offered is very English and this was more of an American-style film. He also loved the fact that while it was about a Jewish family, it was not overly Jewish."

Factor was also able to tempt '60s sex symbol Honor Blackman to the unlikely role of a Jewish grandmother, plus James Callis of Bridget Jones fame and Theo Stevenson, the star of Horrid Henry.

Reuniting The Rubins was shot on a budget of £1 million - a tiny fraction of what even indie films cost in the US. Says Factor: "We shot in South Africa, Elstree and Portsmouth. It was tight but we made a quality film, shot on 35mm, and it looks beautiful. We could really have done with £8 million to do it the way we wanted, but a lot of people did us favours and a lot more helped out. They had seen my previous short films and believed in what I was doing."

If the content is not over-the-top Jewish, Factor likes to think that the film is imbued with Jewish values.

"The main message is that our family life is important, that we should have meals together and appreciate each other. And also that we have to spend a little bit more time thinking about our families and a little less thinking about ourselves because we're so self-absorbed these days.

He adds: "The other great thing about the film is that it's completely kosher. By kosher I mean it's a clean movie - and one with some timely messages."

Factor, who is 40, was born in Winchmore Hill, north London, shortly after his parents returned from a spell living in Israel. As a young man he was not dedicated to work in the way he is now. "I had lots of fun at university, then I spent a couple of years backpacking. I had a wild, fun time. I was quite a party animal."

However, when he discovered film-making he decided it was the career for him. He started making commercials first though he did not enjoy working in the advertising world. "Advertising is just a horrible step you have to go through. You sell yourself to the devil in that industry," he says.

Now that he has managed to write, direct and co-produce his first feature, he is keen to expand his horizons. His next film, already in development, will be completely different.

"We're casting a thriller at the moment. I'm also making an animated film with a major Hollywood animation studio. I don't have a type of film. Actually I'd like to be like Stanley Kubrick. I know that's quite a claim, but I mean it in the sense that he made one film of every type. I'll probably return to comedy at some point, but I want to make thrillers and even science fiction - something like The Matrix would be the ultimate. But the one thing all my films will have in common is that you will be entertained and there will be humanity and heart running through all of them."

'Reuniting the Rubins' is showing at selected cinemas. Details at Review page 24

Last updated: 3:02pm, October 19 2011