Psychology professor’s screenplay becomes most successful Israeli movie of 2018

Posted Jul 09, 2019

It’s not every day you get asked to co-author a screenplay for the first time with one of Israel’s most successful movie directors. It’s even less often that the screenplay goes on to premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, becomes the most successful Israeli movie of 2018, and earns $7 million at the box office even before its U.S. release on June 28, 2019.

But for Otterbein University Psychology Professor Noam Shpancer, this surprising series of events is a reality.

Shpancer (left in picture), it turns out, has published three novels in Israel over the past 14 years. One of them, “The Good Psychologist”, attracted the attention of Israeli movie director and screenwriter Avi Nesher, who read the book and contacted Shpancer about writing a screenplay together for what ended up as the new film, “The Other Story”.

“This is the first time I’ve written for film,” said Shpancer. “It was an incredible stroke of luck for me to get to do this. This project was not something I dreamed, planned, or aspired to do. It just landed in my lap. I was given an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

The writing process lasted on and off for roughly seven years. After going through multiple revisions and rewrites, the final script was written in Hebrew and filmed in Jerusalem.

“The writing was a real joint effort, and hundreds of people were involved in making our words come to life on screen,” said Shpancer. “To be a part of that kind of a communal creative effort was a unique and thrilling experience.”

Shpancer spent parts of two sabbaticals and several summers in Israel writing with Nesher, whose earlier films have been nominated for several Israeli Academy Awards and voted some of the best Israeli films of all time by the Israeli Film Critics Association.

“It was hard work, but for a creative person, this kind of work is also sheer bliss,” said Shpancer. “You get to learn from a master and spend many hours just creating. The final product finds an audience and gets to live in the world.”

“The Other Story” is a family comic drama, in which a willful young woman suddenly decides to marry a member of Jerusalem’s insular orthodox community. Her secular, divorced parents and her grandfather connive a plot to thwart the upcoming nuptial, with unforeseen results.

Some of the plot points and main characters are based on Shpancer’s personal relationships and experiences, which he said creates a unique emotional attachment to the film.

“The movie deals with general themes that are meaningful in my own life,” said Shpancer. “It asks questions about how to be in the world and in a family. I often tell my students that the quality of one’s life depends heavily on the quality of one’s questions. I think these are good questions to ask.”