When did you decide to go into filmmaking?
I was not raised in an Orthodox home, and attended an exclusive New England prep school in North Andover, MA. In my senior year, a fellow student approached me with the idea of making a movie as a spring project. We wrote, directed, and I edited, a 30 minute fictional silent film that we ended up charging admission for, which most of the school attended.
This is when I first fell in love with making movies, and also discovered I had a talent for it.
How did ‘Agent Emes’ come about?
In the summer of 2002, I moved my family to Pittsburgh to begin life in a new community. The following winter I volunteered to make a little movie for our yeshiva’s annual dinner. They were honoring a gentleman that year who specifically wanted to star in a movie about himself, so I concocted a little spy adventure yarn about his time spent working with Refuseniks in Russia. The video was a big hit at the dinner, but what surprised me the most was what happened later when the film was made available for purchase to the people in our community. I began to hear many stories about how their children were watching this little film over and over again, and really loved it.
Realizing that once our frum children reach the age of five years old they have nothing to watch on video, I decided I would try to fill this very glaring gap in home entertainment for Jewish kids.
‘Agent Emes’ came to me as a result of a purim costume my son, Sholom Ber, had worn a few years earlier from a little makeup kit his grandparents once bought him. We made him up as a little spy, complete with sunglasses, moustache, and a hat. In fact, the only thing that didn’t make the cut in the final Agent Emes costume was an ugly scar, which we deemed a) to scary for little kids, and b) to difficult to re-apply during filming.
Who stars in the Agent Emes series?
Agent Emes features a mix of amateurs and local professionals. The one constant has been an old friend, Reuven Russell, who became a baal teshuva around the same time I did, and with whom I have maintained contact with throughout the years. He remains today one of my very best friends, and most dependable of actors.
Who plays Agent Emes?
My second oldest boy, Sholom Ber, played the secret agent in the first videos. He started the series when he was 10, but is now almost 16, and far too large to play a boy secret agent. Furthermore, his yeshiva schedule keeps him way too busy to commit to the time required to act in the series.
Last winter I held a nationwide search for a new star, and received a number of videotaped auditions from around the country. In the end, I chose a Pittsburgh boy named Yissacher Shollar who I truly felt was strongest in that one area of acting that cannot be taught; naturalness in front of the camera. Shooting with him was a challenge however, as just days after we finished, his family moved out of Pittsburgh to a different city.
What future episodes in the Agent Emes series can we expect in the near future?
A new episode should be in stores this week, before Chanukah.
One episode is slated for release this spring, and three more early next year.
My plan at the moment is to continue making three episodes a year for another five years, which will leave me with a catalogue of 20 episodes that, I hope, will continue entertaining kids for years to come.
Why do you feel that Agent Emes is so important to a Jewish kid of today?
Kids nowadays are exposed to much more, as we are living in a digital world. There is a great need for “kosher” entertainment in the video medium.
Jews have always been storytellers, there being thousands upon thousands of stories told throughout the ages to illustrate theological ideas and concepts. In film, I believe, we have a tremendous opportunity to teach values to children. I believe they are more likely to absorb a Torah lesson that they watch through a story, in an entertaining way.
Still, one of my primary goals in making Agent Emes is to raise the “taste” bar, if you will, of Jewish entertainment. I strive to produce the best quality I can, given the obvious financial limitations, and from most accounts, the Jewish people recognize and appreciate this.
Has the Agent Emes series been accepted by your intended audience?
The series has become quite popular among Jewish audiences in general, but the first place we started becoming well-known was in the Chabad community. The earliest promotions I did for the first episode was at the Kinus Hashluchim in 2003. The Chabad community worldwide, and especially the Shluchim, have embraced our films as a great source of fun and educational entertainment for their kids.
To watch the trailers and order online visit www.agent-emes.com.