Yael Shavitt is humble.
Take a quick glance at Yael Shavitt’s IMDb page, and you will see a considerable list of notable accomplishments. If you’ve followed her crowdfunding campaign for Split on my facebook page during the last week, or on Split’s actual Seed & Spark page itself, you’ve seen her add some additional exceptional accomplishments. And yet, over the course of our discussions during the last month, not once — seriously, not once — has she ever given herself a well-deserved pat on the back. Instead, with her ever-present candor and grace, she is always quick to point out that any recent success she has enjoyed is attributable to two things: Her female-based production team, and her very loyal followers (in other words, YOU).
I tried to dig a little deeper into Yael as a creative and what makes her tick. You’ll see her graciousness in her answers, as she always brings it back to her team. So without further ado, my interview with Yael Shavitt begins here.
JON: Good evening Yael. Thank you for letting me ask you a few questions about you and your new project, Split. Describe for my readers the premise, where the idea originated, and why it was important for the protagonist to be female.
YAEL SHAVITT: Hi, and thank you so much for taking the time to chat! Split is a web series about two possible paths that one life might take. An early decision in a young girl’s life creates a split in her world, sending her off on two parallel paths into alternate futures. A few years ago I simply woke up early one morning with the seed of the idea for Split in my head. I think it literally woke me up. Many drafts and re-writes later I can say that I wanted to explore this premise because in my own life I often look back at events and try to follow the thread connecting them. Sometimes I can clearly see how seemingly unrelated events led to each other. From there it’s an easy path to playing with the thought of taking one of those events out of the equation, and wondering how it would affect the rest of my life. I do believe we need more stories with female protagonists, and I personally both seek out and enjoy consuming these stories. The reason Split’s protagonist is female is because I’m a woman, and I was telling the story through my own eyes. I didn’t make her female as opposed to making her anything else. It was my default. Once the script started taking shape, however, it did become clear to me that I wanted to have a female team of filmmakers leading the project into production. And I’m so happy I made that decision.
JON: Thank you Yael. You just said the protagonist (Sammy/Sam/Samantha) is a woman because you’re a woman — in addition to your gender, what other parts of you did you bring to the creation of Sammy? Did your upbringing inform her in anyway?
YAEL SHAVITT: Some elements in my life have certainly inspired parts of the story. Like Sammy, I too auditioned for the theater department of an arts high school at 13. I’ve always felt that the experience of attending that unique school for four years made a big impact on my life. And I think getting into the school or not getting into the school, like any other audition, is as much about luck and circumstances as it is about skill or potential. So that was a crossroad I wanted to look at.
JON: Of course. That makes total sense, Yael, Split tackles some pretty big themes, such as Destiny and Choice. It brings to mind my personal awareness of the truth that a decision you make on Monday doesn’t just affect the following Tuesday; it affects some event or some person on a Tuesday twenty years into the future. Talk a little bit more about that in general, Yael.
YAEL SHAVITT: Well, I like to take a positive approach to how I think about this, and I believe that’s influenced my writing as well. Yes, we make a million decisions every day and any one of them may have repercussions we can’t even imagine. But I also think there are certain milestones in our life that we can potentially reach, no matter what path we take. So that one way or another we do get to the places we’re meant to end up at, and we do meet the people we’re meant to meet. And I don’t think we can mess that up with one “wrong” move.
JON: Interesting. It’s almost as if there’s a larger all-encompassing plan, not our specific plan, that’s going to completed no matter what. Like in Numbers (or In The Wilderness), Moses starts towards the Promised Land with about 70 people — 39 years later, Moses didn’t make it, but over 600,000 people wound up where they were meant to be. The story is in the journey between the Promise and the Place, isn’t it? Speaking of place, the all female team behind Split appears to also be an all New York team. How did you pull this team together, and how does a New York sensibility inform the project?
YAEL SHAVITT: One of the things I love about New York is that anyone can be whoever they want to be here. It’s such a diverse place, in various respects, and in my experience it’s also a place that’s accepting of diversity. That’s something that I hope to capture in Split. There are different ways to be, and as long as you’re not hurting anyone, they’re all legitimate. I want the characters of the show to reflect that. New York is also such a wonderful place to be looking for artistic collaborators, honestly. I found our director Molly McGaughey and our DP Samantha Pyra through their previous work, online. I reached out to each of them, we met up and we clicked. Producer Hannah Hancock Rubinsky and I met a few years ago in a writing class. Together with anther writer from that class we later formed our own little writers group. It was to this group that I brought the very first drafts of Split. So it was so lovely when Hannah decided to come on board as producer!
JON: That’s all very true about New York. Las Vegas is a lot like that too, and yet the sensibilities are so different. Anyway, this will be the last question, Yael. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, and we should definitely do it again sometime. So, as we close this interviewing, you are preparing to launch your Seed & Spark campaign. Since this interview won’t be released until later, when you are on the verge of some milestone during that campaign, I’d like to skip ahead to the day after the campaign ends. You’re exhilarated and you’re pumped! Your batteries are charged and you’re ready to go! What’s the first thing you do, and then what’s next?
YAEL SHAVITT: Well, the first thing I’d like to do after the campaign ends is go off for a few days and simply rest. Preferably on a beach. With minimal engagement with technology. After that, my team and I will be going into pre-production and production for the remaining five Split episodes! It’s going to be exciting and challenging, and so much fun. Just like it was when we filmed the pilot, only multiplied by five. I can’t wait!
JON: In May, I spent 19 days in a cabin in the woods without internet. Great idea on paper. (beat) On paper. (long beat) So… thank you Yael Shavitt for your time. Sounds like you’ve got a great plan for proceeding. You are an awesome interview, by the way. Stay in touch. Don’t be a stranger. I’ll be watching Split’s Seed & Spark campaign, and look forward to watching you hit 100%. And, of course, when it is completed, I’ll be watching Split!
YAEL SHAVITT: Sounds good, Jon. Thank you, I really enjoyed your thoughtful questions as well! And thanks so much for everything! Let me know if you need anything else. Cheers.
UPDATE: As of this writing, on 07.10.17, 5:30AM (EST), Split is at 119% of their target goal on Seed & Spark. HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP. Would you be so kind as to go to Split’s Seed & Spark page, and follow them? IT’S FREE, and if they get to 250 followers by the end of the week, Seed & Spark will contribute $10,000 worth of perks to the campaign.
FEATURE PHOTO (L to R): Molly McGaughey, Yaeel Shavitt, Hannah Hancock Rubinsky
BOTTOM PHOTO (L to R): Yael Shavitt, Hannah Hancock Rubinsky, Molly McGaughey, Samantha Pyra