Chen Drachman, a New Yorker and actress who originally hails from Holon, Israel, is the writer of The Book of Ruth, a short film starring Tovah Feldshuh (and directed by Becca Roth), about a woman, her granddaughter, and a Passover Seder that reveals an astonishing, long-hidden family secret. Ruth has been featured in The Jerusalem Post, Jewcy, Maariv and many other outlets, and has been accepted to a number of upcoming festivals, such as the deadCenter Film Festival, on June 11.
Chen Drachman answered questions from Audere’s Steven S. Drachman, who is no relation, believe it or not.
Audere: What does it feel like to finish your first film?
Chen Drachman: It’s very surreal. It’s one of those experiences that you really have to distance yourself from, and kind of understand in retrospect. You work towards something for so long and it finally exists. There was definitely a sense of “now what? What do I do now?” But it’s also the fact that most of the meaningful things caused by the making of this film are still to come, you know? We worked hard to make it, and then we made it, and then we waited and waited, and now it’s time to send this child into the world and see what it becomes. I’m excited, curious and terrified all at the same time.
How has the response been?
Honestly, it’s just been lovely to get into these festivals, to know they had a choice, and they chose your thing. We make something, we obviously think it’s good, we’re biased of course, but also, why would we waste all that time, energy, and money if we think otherwise? And then someone else comes and says, “I like it.” It’s a wonderful thing. I have this weird relationship with my art, where once something is out there, there’s a little bit of detachment. Meaning that if someone dislikes something I created, I don’t get insulted personally, I get insulted for the creation itself. So it’s almost like looking at it from the side and thinking – “oh, film, people like you! Good for you film! You go film!”
What was the last thing you did when it was finally done?
Cleaned the house where we filmed, haha. Which included, among other things, carrying a metal bench at 1 AM to a waterfront with no lights. It sure was interesting!
The day after I still had a ton of aftermath logistics to deal with, but I’m pretty sure after that I just slept like a jet lagged person. And then of course came the aforementioned existential crisis!
I first became aware of you because you’re a Drachman, although you and I are not related. How did your family find their way to Israel and how did you make your way to New York?
The Drachman side (David Drachman, my paternal grandpa) arrived from Poland, via concentration camps, of course, then Germany, then Belgium, and then on a ship during Aliyah Bet.
I moved to NYC about a decade ago to study musical theater at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, a field that is not huge in Israel, though progress has been made in the decade since I left! And I really am in love with New York, so I was very happy to stay and start the process of building my career as an actor and a writer in the city and the industry that I love.
Tell us how The Book of Ruth came about.
I am slightly fearful to answer that question because of spoilers! But I’ll say this – there was a study that was released around Passover 2015 with some newfound facts about historical events. One publication made a grammatical error in a sentence when they reported the story, and this extra punctuation changed the meaning of the sentence entirely and created a bit of a ‘what-if’ scenario in my head, and that was the spark that eventually became our story.
I have been a fan of Tovah Feldshuh since I was a boy, and she was in Holocaust. How did she join the production?
I think I sent Tovah the script 3 years ago, maybe even before that. She liked it, but we were in no place financially to make it happen. I then went and saw her do a talk with Rachel Bloom at a SAG Foundation event, said hello, checked in. We did do a live reading at the Manhattan JCC a year before the shoot, too. So Tovah and myself kept in touch on and off, until my director, Becca Roth and myself managed to secure the funds with a crowdfunding campaign and the support of incredible people. Then our producer, Caitlin Gold, came on board as well, and 3.5 months later we shot the thing! You gotta love how something can take forever, and then all of a sudden everything happens so quickly!
Why did it take almost 5 years?
There are so many moving parts to these things, and I can give you a whole spiel about the importance of funding for the arts and lack thereof, but the short answer is – money.
Tell us about one or two interesting examples about the process (what “tiny shot” had to go and why?)
This one is hard!
Okay I have what you’re looking for!
There was a whole scene which we shot in a den-like room. It was very lovely and tender, but it didn’t fit the pace of the final cut. The biggest bummer? That scene featured real photos of Becca’s and mine’s grandparents. I really wanted my grandparents to be a part of the movie, especially since none of them are with us anymore, but that sadly was not to be!
Did any character change during the course of the making of the film?
Our lead character was supposed to have Ehlers–Danlos syndromes (EDS) which is a connective tissue disorder, and we even talked to the EDS Support Organization in the UK for some advice and research for authenticity. They were so very excited to hear about the film, and have that representation on screen, but it was only mentioned in one sentence, which again, we took out for pace, and it made me really sad because I knew how happy they were about it!
What can you do? These things always happen.
How has coronavirus affected the rollout of your film?
Everything is such a precedent! You know the Yiddish proverb “A man makes a plan and god laughs?” Well, you work on a movie for 5 years, get your big moment, boom, pandemic!
Of course I’m very lucky and fortunate and this is nothing compared to what others are currently facing, but the film industry shut down completely, and festivals of course are at a loss as well. Many postponed, many cancelled, some moved online. They all do the best they can to benefit the filmmakers, especially first timers such as myself.
Sadly, nothing can replace showing up to a festival, which also means getting to travel to new places, and meet people, and do Q&As, but the staffs of the festivals we’ve been accepted into have been incredible and accommodating, and they’re definitely making lemonade. It’s not an ideal year to release a film, to say the least, but this has also been fascinating. The human mind gets very creative during a crisis, so we’ll have to wait and see. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to attend festivals in person in the second half of 2020 and early 2021.
Is any screening still on the schedule?
Our world premiere will take place on June 11th, as part of the deadCenter Film Festival, which was moved online. On the plus side, that means that no matter where you are, you can attend and watch our film. Please do!
Chen Drachman is a writer and actress; you can learn more about her work on The Book of Ruth’s website.
Steven S. Drachman is the author of The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is available in paperback from your local bookstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble; it is also available as a Kindle e-book.
Image: Chen Drachman and Tovah Feldshuh