Interview: Tomer Shushan Talks About Writing and Directing Short Film ‘White Eye’

Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.

Interview by Anna Harrison

Could you explain the timeline of this movie to me? When did you first get the idea, and how long did it take to get from the idea to filming to distribution?

It’s actually a very interesting story. About two years ago, I was on my way to meet my writing mentor, we were working on some short script that I wrote and was supposed to finalized it so we can send it in the night to the Makor film foundation so I can get funds. So then the story of White Eye really happened to me, I was finding myself getting late to my mentor because I was trying to get my stolen bike back after seeing it in the middle of the way. The experience was very hard and when it was all over I couldn’t think about anything else but this guy that I may just ruined his life. It took me 40 minutes to write the script and Makor film foundation supported me and finance to production that happened later that year. I guess it all happened in two years. And the most important thing is that in the real story nothing bad happened to Yunas. 

One of the most striking things about this film is that it’s filmed in one long take. Was that always the plan? Did you have to find a location that worked for the take or did the idea come after you scouted the location?

That’s a great question, the Idea to make it one shot was because this story is about a person who experiences a stressful and intense moment. Instead of acting from a rational place he gives in to an egoistic rage. Everything happens to him in a short time without a moment to stop, reconsider, breath. I wanted the same effect for the audience to really feel the main character’s situation. But between every take in a film, the viewer has a tiny little break to catch breath. I wanted the camera to connect the viewer and the main character in a never-ending, motion like tension that doesn’t give you a break. 

And about the location, I was plan to do it in a restaurant like it was in the real story and all was planned and the location for that has been chosen

But then I went to visit my friend who works in this meat factory and I saw this fridge, I felt like it’s supposed to be there. Could be a great metaphor for how society treats and threatens immigrants and refugees. To compare them to pieces of meat was something that I felt can reflect the feeling I had and wanted to give the audience. 

So doing it in one shot and around the scene in the meat fridge was my opening plan for the film. 

On a similar note, how much rehearsal did you need to prepare for the shoot? How many takes were there once on set?

We knew that everyone on the set, not just actors, every crew member on the set should have some choreography how they move when the camera starts to record.

It took us about 4 months to understand the rhythm and the movement of every person on the set because we filmed it on 360. 

And we shot the film one night and had 7 full takes. 

Were there any major script changes from conception to end? 

The script hasn’t been changed except to change the location from restaurant to a meat factory as I said. I wrote the script less than an hour after it happened and I didn’t touch it until the end. It felt like a dream that it’s so clear to you that only if you write it down the moment you’re waking up you are able to experience it in a way again.  

Would you mind talking about the ending, with Omer’s realization of what he’s done and his destruction of the bike?

I guess I wanted to emphasize how people and life are much more important than objects. I felt that after the harm was done, no one would get the bikes. Omer felt that his actions may have ruined someone else’s life and he doesn’t deserve it anymore. 

What takeaways do you want the audience to walk away with after seeing the film?

We constantly meet immigrants with different social status in our everyday life but people do not always act in a way that can keep up with their actual ethical beliefs. Often this behavior stays unnoticed and life just goes on. White Eye shows the audience these social differences and reminds everyone of their privilege. 

What’s your favorite memory from the making of this film?

Making White Eye was full of amazing and also very hard moments. 

We planned it so hard and had money to make it only in one night. 

We started at 4:30pm when it got dark and until midnight we couldn’t complete one full take from the beginning to the end. People around got frustrated. But I knew that my main job is to make them believe. So we took a break and It’s just filled me with new positive energy. I think everyone felt it and I felt how I changed the atmosphere and the morale of the team in a short moment. After the break we started again and completed a full take. Everyone celebrated and we saw it was possible. From midnight till 4am we made 7 full takes and it felt amazing to see how everything you were working on the last year was getting life. 

It is a really dreamy unique moment that you see how all this suffering is worth it for this short moment that was captured with camera and became immortality.  

You can also read Anna’s capsule review of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website

Capsule Review: White Eye

Tomer Shushan’s White Eye has screened at over 70 film festivals, including 23 Oscar-qualifying. This Live-Action short has won numerous accolades including the Oscar-qualifying Best Narrative Short Award at SXSW Film Festival. White Eye was nominated for a 2020 Ophir Award.

Written by Anna Harrison

85/100

Tomer Shushan’s film White Eye is a feast for, well, the eyes (and the ears with its excellent sound design). Shot all in one take, White Eye tracks Omer (Daniel Gad) as he attempts to retrieve his bike, which he believes has been stolen by Yunes (Dawit Tekelaeb), an Eritrean immigrant to Israel. What follows is a simple story told with deftness and precision and lingers long after the credits roll.

White Eye’s long take ensures that we follow Omer every step of the way as this unfolds in real time: we watch him call the police, walk across the street to ask for help, uncover a group of migrants hiding from the police in a freezer. We don’t get a rest as the tension builds about what Omer will do, but instead are forced to watch as the film builds to its inevitable but no less affecting conclusion. The shot takes us through the dark streets of Tel Aviv, where people lounge about and the same prostitute wanders in the background looking for customers, to a bright, sterile meatpacking facility, its harsh lights contrasted with the outside. Shushan makes sure our eyes would never want to leave the screen, even though the story flags in places.

The premise is simple and the scope small, which in many ways makes White Eye more effective than an overblown feature might be. It’s simply about people navigating a world that changes vastly depending on what social strata you belong in. While the technical prowess might overshadow the script itself at times, White Eye remains a powerful story about the precarious situation of immigrants where countries only pretend to accept them with welcome arms, but in reality have a knife behind their back. 

You can also read Anna’s Interview with the Tomer Shushan the Director of White Eye or you can follow more of Anna’s work on Letterboxd and her website