Contacts/Whatsapp: Interview with Nir Berger and Yogev Yefet

by Joy Bernard | 18.01.17

Yogev has just had a big fight with Hadas, who thinks he’s not paying attention to her because he is constantly distracted by his phone. Instead of confronting her, Yogev turns to his Whatsapp group for relationship advice.

This is the first episode of Contacts, a web series dealing with the effects of various digital media on our everyday lives and relationships. Each episode deals with a different digital platform (Whatsapp, Tinder, Instagram) in a new, satirical and inventive way.

The series has won several awards worldwide, including the two main awards in the Hong Kong International Mobile Film Awards, and was an official selection of NYC Web Fest.

Contacts was supported by Green Productions and is part of the First Course project.

It was partially funded by Tel Aviv University and the Blavatnik Foundation.

Telavivian Cinema’s curator Joy Bernard had an amusing chat with the series co-creators, Nir Berger and Yogev Yefet, who gave her a peek into the creative process that birthed their immensely relatable and funny web series.

Hi guys! I loved your series. Thanks for agreeing to feature the first episode here on Telavivian Cinema. Please tell our readers all about yourselves.

Nir and Yogev: “Hi there! So the two of us met at Tel Aviv University, where we both studied Film. Yogev got to film through acting. He studied acting at the Yoram Loewenstein Performing Art Studio and acted in the theater and in various television shows and films.

Nir studied film in high school and wrote scripts that never saw the light of day during his army service, before moving on to study screenwriting at TAU.

After studying together at TAU, we started working together and as part of a competition for online filmmakers, we developed the pilot episode that later turned into our web series, Contacts.

Today, mostly as a result of the series’ success, we are both still working in the field—Yogev has recently directed a sitcom for Nickelodeon Channel, and Nir has been working as a screenwriter for Israel’s Channel 2 and for Nickelodeon Channel.”

Contacts is a humorous series at its outset, but the statement it makes is quite depressing: the 21st century and the digital age in which we are living have turned us all into antisocial creatures who spend the majority of their time immersed in social media networks and whose heads are constantly buried in their smartphone or tablet screens.

We’re less susceptible to making eye contact with strangers on the street, noticing the world around us or even communicating with our loved ones.

To make my own little embarrassing disclosure, I must admit that when I watched the scene in which the couple are talking in their bathroom and are surrounded by all of their contacts I did laugh out loud, but I was also reminded of the daily chiding I get from my partner when he comes home from work and finds me utterly consumed by my laptop and cellphone, which he jokingly dubs my “lovers.”

Did you intend to make a didactic message about the public addiction to the virtual world? Do you have any compassion for this addiction? Do you relate to it or do you hold it in contempt?

Nir and Yogev: “So originally, we were simply amused by the idea that people would verbally speak out the dumb emojis they send one another. But yes, already in the writing stage we realized that we accidentally arrived at the realm of cutting social satire. Especially when we got to the second part of this episode in which the two protagonists discover that even when they finally manage to put the rest of the world on ‘mute,’ so to speak, they don’t really know how to spend time together alone, just the two of them.

The next two episodes of our series also make their own messages about the applications they revolve around— episode 2 is about Tinder (the infamous online dating application) and the illusion of affluence it creates, which makes us all anxious about making commitments. Episode 3 is about how obsessively documenting everything on Instagram has turned us all into self-absorbed monsters.

On the other hand, we are compassionate and forgiving (regarding this addiction), because whatever it is that we’re trying to say, we’re actually saying it from the depth of this bottomless hole that is social media, and we too are social media junkies.”

Another problematic element of digital communication is that it makes us all a bit more inarticulate and a bit less socially-oriented.

By inarticulate I mean that the means of modern communication, with the abundance of emojis they offer us, absolve us of the need to express ourselves—which is something that the two of you illustrated so well in Contacts, where the characters yell words like “smiley,” “heart,” and “LOL” at one another instead of expressing what they think in full sentences.

And by not as socially-oriented (or downright antipathetic) I mean that the very same means of communication also absolve us of the effort that lies in actually venturing out into the physical, real world, making eye contact, truly listening and not maintaining twenty conversations at the same time.

Not long ago I was talking to a friend of mine who suddenly complained to me that a distant acquaintance had decided to call him instead of sending him a text message. When I expressed my wonder at his complaint my friend explained: “phone calls are so intimate and when I don’t expect them, they can really startle me.”

While my friend may represent an extremely introverted tendency that reflects the impact technology has on our lives, there are more people like him out there.

Why did you choose to present this particular problem? Do you think that there is any solution or that true intimacy can still be achieved these days?

Nir and Yogev: “It may very well be that it always was and will forever remain man’s natural tendency to not be able to see past the tip of his own nose.

Digital communication, which doesn’t let you see the face of the person behind the text messages or the emojis, only serves as an enabler to those with this tendency. It’s a little like that typical driver’s attitude, that when you’re behind the wheel you have this illusion that no one can see you so it’s perfectly fine if you drive like some GTA character.

Apparently technology hasn’t really changed human nature, but it definitely doesn’t flatter its users.

We chose to present this problem mostly because it makes us laugh. Behind every joke hides some sort of pain, but it’s a relatively common pain that we all share and we guess that this is the reason people found it very easy to relate to our series.

It’s funny how, much like in the case that you described with your friend, new and super specific social ethics codes were invented within a mere few years. In one moment, humanity made up the Whatsapp code of ethics, the Instagram code of ethics, the Snapchat code of ethics and so on. The rules of the game are transparent to (almost) everyone but no one ever talks about this.

Maybe the only solution is that the next social media trend will come along and replace the current ones. And it will probably be even worse. Let’s not be quick to forget that not a long time ago, we used to complain about how much time we waste chatting up people on Instant Message”

The idea of bringing to life the countless Whatsapp dialogues we all have in multiple, mass Whatsapp groups is super creative and has such a fine comic potential to it. How did you come up with this idea? And what’s coming next?

Nir and Yogev: “Thank you! So like we said, there are two sequels to this episode, one is about Tinder and the other one is about Instagram. You can catch both either on our Facebook page or on our YouTube channel.

Right now we don’t have any other episodes lined up because we’re both occupied with other, just as cool, projects.

The idea of bringing all of these Whatsapp conversations to life came after we had a million other ideas that we turned down for several reasons. We were sitting together just staring at the wall and we were in utter despair because we felt like we ran out of ideas and had nothing original to say about the world. And then, suddenly, one of our phones beeped and the rest is history. Just in the sense that everything that happened in the past is history.”

That’s such a funny story! Thank you guys for sharing this with us, it was a pleasure.


Watch Contacts/Whatsapp on Telavivian Cinema and visit the series’ Facebook page for updates.

Telavivian Cinema is a project which will unveil work of cinematic art crafted by local directors.

From animation to drama to comedy, Telavivian short films will be streamed weekly and accompanied by our conversations with the their talented makers. Make sure you stay tuned for the screenings, as the films featured in the magazine will change on a weekly basis.

Telavivian Cinema is curated by Joy Bernard.


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