Can Evrenol has achieved a great success in an area where few has had worthwhile productions. He’s been the maker of significant examples of horror genre in Turkish cinema. Evrenol achieves a challenging tone by blending horror stories with a unique sense of humor. His short films (“Sandık”, “Büyükannem”, “Anneme ve Babam”) have been critically acclaimed at festivals. He raised the bar even higher with his feature-length movies “Baskın” and “Housewife.” His latest movie “Al Karası” was included in SXSW 2018’s schedule. Nowadays, he’s interested in filing “The Protector,” Netflix’s first Turkish production. Let’s take a closer look at Evrenol’s world.
Let’s begin with the most exciting news. How does it feel to be the director of “The Protector,” Netflix’s first Turkish production?
It makes me think “Let’s see where it goes.” It was kind of a surprise for me.
How did you partake in this project?
The show’s producer Alex (Sutherland) invited me. It was a week after I learned I was going to have a child.
They say every baby comes with its luck.
Exactly. It was weird. I answered the phone, it was Binnur Karaevli, the project’s showrunner. She said they wanted to talk to me about a Netflix series. I didn’t get very excited at first because I knew Netflix has been in contact with all the directors in the industry. I went and talked to them. We had a Skype conversation with Netflix U.S. and came to an agreement.
Why do you think they wanted to work with you?
“Baskın” was the only Turkish movie available on Netflix U.S. for a long time. I don’t know if it’s still true. I guess it was because of my experience in featurelength and commercials.
Why did you accept it?
We filmed the first three episodes. I already feel that it has taught me a lot. It’s been a great experience. I knew it was going to be like this. Alex Sutherland, Gökhan Tiryaki, Çağatay Ulusoy, Okan Yalabık, Deniz Göktürk… I admired them so much. I keep saying “Wow, this is going to be amazing!”, working with these people have alredy contributed a lot to my vision.
Would you accept this project if it were for a TV channel instead of an online platform?
I’d decide based on the money. (laughs) I was wondering how it’d feel to make a series as a movie director. The fact that the story spans a long time and that you also have to be very fast. I guess I’d want to live these experiences. But I was curious what kind of project would suit me. This was just perfect.
What can you say about the series? We know that it’s about superheroes. What kind of a superhero does Turkey have?
We can call it an adventure story with a touch of supernatural. It’s on the way to becoming a superhero. It can easily be categorized along with “Iron Fist”, “Flash”, “Punisher” and Dan Brown’s works.
Istanbul must have a pretty special role in the story.
Yes. A mysterious villain suddenly emerges in the story, but he’s been in Istanbul for centuries. Çağatay Ulusoy’s character, Hakan, is a “boy of the Grand Bazaar.” While working at his father’s antique store, he sees doors opening to a ver y interesting world.
Who’s writing the story?
We have some turkish young authors. But the outline was by Jason George, who wrote some episodes for “Narcos” as well.
When are we going to see it?
We filmed the first three episodes and are in the editing process right now. I’m directing the first three and the last two episodes. The ones in between will be directed by two other directors, Umut Aral and Gönenç Uyanık. The show will be online towards the end of the 2018 season.
What do you think platform series will change in Turkey?
I’m not sure. It’s a bit up and down. We see the loss of quality because of quantity on TV. But there’s also an experience brought along by abundance. We see some good stuff between the turning wheels. We should see platform series as a continuation of this process. If we’re pessimistic, we can say “They’ll end up like Turkish soaps on TV.” If we’re optimistic, we can say “It’s encourage TV to produce as high-quality works as we see on platforms.”
What do you watch on Netflix?
I love “Ozark.” “Ozark”, “Friends from College” and “Glow” are my top three Netflix series.
”Since I wasn’t raised in a poor neighborhood, a challenging house, a war-torn environment or a melancholic background, I have to find those moments at home and dig deep for childhood memories.”
How much do you remember your childhood home?
My parents lived in their own worlds. We didn’t watch much TV at home. There’d always be classical music playing on Sundays. That’s what I remember when I think of my childhood. I’d get very excited about having guests or visiting someone else’s house. Other than that, I’d spend my time among my parents’ books and with my small toys. Those toys were like windows opening into new worlds. I’d recreate a cartoon or a football game with them. I was living in my own small world. Since I wasn’t raised in a poor neighborhood, a challenging house, a war-torn environment or a melancholic background, I have to find those moments at home and dig deep for childhood memories.
How did your parents’ profession as architects influence your visual world?
I later realized that it was a huge because I think directing is more like architecture than theater, painting or acting. You have to plan and organize it beforehand and present an individual production while it’s for the use of a mass, it has a delayed presentation of work along with the sense of creating something which interacts with a variety of disciplines.
I heard your family was also interested in painting.
Yes, I’d play with my toys on my mother’s Renaissance books. It’s funny to say that “I grew up surrounded by Renaissance books” but it’s true. One of the criticisms about “Baskın” was that it featured “a sense of Caravaggio’s works.” When my mother saw that, she called me right away and said, “Oh! Caravaggio is both your father’s favorite and mine!”
But you didn’t want to be architects like them?
When I was young, they were struggling with their work. That’s why I never wanted to become an architect. After graduating from Üsküdar American High School, I enrolled in the department that was closes to Business Management: International Finance.
Didn’t you have a passion back then?
Not one. I just thought, “If I have a lot of money in the future, I’ll make a movie without any worries.” But it was more like a dream.
How did you get into cinema while studying Finance at Istanbul Bilgi University?
In my junior year, I realized that the courses got more complicated and that I didn’t remember anything from the previous year. I thought, “What am I doing? Instead of barely making it, I should study something I love. I was never going to work in finance” and decided to study cinema.
How did you cross paths with University of Kent in the U.K.?
It was a love affair. My then girlfriend studied there. I went to visit her and stayed there for 15 days. I loved the atmosphere of the campus. The school enabled you to choose Cinema and Art History. I thought “Great!” and enrolled. But I then realized that it wasn’t a department that teaches filmmaking, it was just theory. It was a huge failure not to realize it from the start but then it had an amazing influence on me. I thought I’d become a movie critic. I wrote over 100 reviews for “Öteki Sinema.” After graduation, I made a short movie thinking I haven’t had the chance to hold the camera while I was studying. Then followed another one and another one. It was kind of like a hobby. Then I sent them to film festivals.
What did you learn from New York Film Academy?
I filmed “Vidalar,” a story by Sulhi Dölek which has been wandering in my mind since middle school.
How do you feel watching your first short films?
It has an indescribable feeling of nostalgia. I feel as if I directed them with a formula that enables watching again and again. It was as if I shot them for myself. But whatever you do, you actually do it for someone else – a friend, an ex- lover, parents, a teacher…
For whom do you make your movies?
For my parents. That’s why I named it my latest short film “Anneme ve Babama.”
Why did you choose horror when you decide to make a short film?
Because I’ve loved dark literature since I was a kid. I always felt relaxed when I looked at the nasty car toons in Lemanyak or at Caravaggio’s paintings. It feels like the highest point of ar tistic expression.
What do you feel when you encounter something truly frightening and violent?
I feel very disturbed. But I tr y to imagine it in cinema. After watching “Baskın,” a friend of mine commented, “First, it mocks authority. Then it adds elements of horror. Then it mocks horror.” I loved this comment because that’s what I want to do. I also love very disturbing movies but I’m not sure if I’d work on something like that for months. I like it bet ter when it’s caricaturized with a dark sense of humor.
There is a very small community in Turkey that’s interested in this genre, isn’t there?
Yes but I never thought about that, I looked at it from a more universal perspective. I always make movies with a purpose that 100 years from now people can still interact with it. Maybe what drove me to this was that horror movies have never been that popular in Turkey.
Why do you think that is the case?
I thought about this a lot and I don’t know. It may have something to do with adopting a sedentar y life or something with religion. “Action figures” are actually a kind of idolization and means challenging death in photography and cinema. when Lumiere Brothers made the first moving image, people said, “No one will be as dead as someone from 100 years ago.” I think fantastic movies and horror carr y this a step further. It tries to make us believe something that doesn’t exist, and we know it will never exist in the future. That’s why I like it a lot but it’s a bit counter- intuitive for our culture.
“A festival movie”, “art movie”, “box of fice movie” and “djinn movie…” How are you with labels?
They have good examples and bad examples. I filmed some commercials with great joy. I watched an Iranian djinn movie “Under the Shadow.” It was amazing. Actually, “The Exorcist” and “Ring” are also djinn movies. We shouldn’t focus too much on labels.
What inspires you?
Everything from a stor y I heard in a conversation among friends to the movies I watch and the books I read. It feels weird to watch a lot of movies when I’m writing a screenplay; it feels as if I’m stealing from them. I feel more inspired when I’m reading.
What is your circle of friends like?
It ’s great. Mar tial ar ts are my biggest passion in life af ter cinema. Jiu- jitsu, kickbox, boxing… I share these with my friends. I have friends with whom I talk about cinema, horror cinema; with whom I play football; with whom I met at high school. I love learning things from them. That ’s what I think about when I think about living in Turkey or abroad.
You also have a film in English. Do you plan to move abroad and make only movies in English?
I decided to move abroad by saying, “ I really want this.” I lived abroad for eight years. My dream was to live in two cities: London- Istanbul or New York- Istanbul.
How did you decide to come back to Turkey?
I star ted doing commercials. I met my wife. My father was ill. I had to return when all these came together. But I ’m leaving the door open for a future opportunity.
Talking about commercials, Reha Erdem must hold a special place for you as he’s the one who introduced you to this field.
Yes. We met at Sitges, the world’s biggest horror and fantastic film festival. They were screening “Kozmos.” I was there with my short film “Anneme ve Babama.” I loved Reha Erdem for “Beş Vakit.” I went to him and met. I gave him my film. “I’d love it if you watch it and send me your review.” After watching it, he and Ömer Atay invited me. I hung out with them for some time. One day they sent me for the set of a Coca-Cola commercial. That was my first experience in a big set. Then I filmed a commercial for Yemeksepeti and it awarded with a Crystal Apple. It was a lucky work.
Do you respond to those who ask you to watch their films and send your review?
I do. I make sure to read the first 10 pages. That ’s how producers usually do. Unfor tunately, I haven’t discovered anyone yet.
“Baskın” was screened at more than 40 festivals and received five awards. How do you explain its success?
I don’t know. I ’m surprised that it became this successful. On the other hand, I ’m so in love with my work to think “This film would change the course of pop culture in Turkey if it were in the ‘90s.” But when it ’s selected by festivals, I think “How can this win among all those big productions.” I guess it will be in a bet ter
place 10-15 years later. I haven’t removed it from YouTube, I want people to watch it .
I guess you watch a lot of horror movies. Do you get immune to it over time? Do you have a high tolerance for horror?
What really scares me is the pessimistic aspects of real life we see in movies by Haneke or Zeki Demirkubuz. But I also get scared during the very modern jump screens in movies like “Get Out .”
I’m asking this because horror films are directly related to the subconscious. What is in yours?
A close-shot eye. I always have it in my films
You’ll soon be a father. How does it make you feel?
It ’s due in June. For tunately, Elif (Domaniç) is having a great pregnancy. It was so normal that we didn’t even truly understand it . I think we’ll feel like we crashed into a wall in June. I ’ve already begun to think about which films I’ll allow and what s/he’ll be exposed to on the Internet with such uncensored content .
You have an extensive collection of toys from your childhood. What does it include?
It’s a 1,200-piece collection of action figures from the ‘80s and ‘90s. I exhibit them at home in glass cabinets and on the walls. They’re usually rare stuff. I remember pursuing a piece for months for a cheaper price. I spent a year or two on eBay. I stopped when I bought almost everything I wanted to buy.
How did you start collecting them?
There was a toy store when I was a kid. When we returned home from Suadiye, we’d take the long road to stop by it. My mother would wait in the car and I’d look at the window shop for 15 minutes. There was a Rancor from Star Wars and I would always look at it. I started collecting figures looking for it. The kids nowadays cannot understand that feeling of looking at the window shop because they have everything they want. I was talking to my producer the other day. He told me that he couldn’t tell his kids about the concept of “movie sessions.” They could never understand it – why you have to be at one place at a certain time to watch a movie. For them, it’s accessible anytime anywhere. We could imagine many innovations about the future watching the ‘80s sci-fi movies but we never thought that this concept would disappear. I think the social need for people to go to the movies will decrease in time.
How does this make you feel as a director?
Of course I’m not a big fan because that dream of going to the movies is something I fetishize a lot. Going to the movies is a social act while watching it is passive. There’s this whole etiquette too – you turn off your phone, you can laugh but cannot talk. As someone who cherishes this experience, it saddens me to see the disappearance of that culture. But, just as we still see exhibitions of black-and-white photographs, we’ll also have them in the future.
What do you plan to film next?
We have a film that got accepted to Cannes and in the process of production – it’s called “Ağzı Olmayan Kız.” We also have a work from abroad titled “Ampüteler Tarikatı.” We also have a few series and are trying to sell it in Turkey. I also have a film project titled “The Field Guide To Evil” It was part of a collaborative work of eight directors. I think it’ll premiere at Filmekimi.
Fotoğraf / Photography by BURCU KARADEMİR