AZRA DENİZ OKYAY/ Director

What did you think about your first feature film, Ghosts, and its success in terms of both the audience and the festivals?

Our film was discovered by the Venice Film Festival in April 2020, during the pandemic. We did not send it to the festival. They watched the movie and said, “We want to buy this movie.” We finished everything like a James Bond movie with my super producer Dilek Aydın. We had to stay up until the morning to rush the movie to Venice, finishing the audio and the post-production at the last minute. The whole thing just continued at its own pace after receiving the Critics’ Grand Prize. We are very happy and proud of course.

How does the society you live in affect your creative process as a director?

I’d say I had no choice but to self-educate and create my own working space. Apart from the film-making factors, of course, there are also daily living conditions that affect you tremendously. As an artist, I think it becomes important where you stand about this and how you can help them. It was important to me to process the whole film like weaving a carpet. When you work in different media as a director, you try to take it from a short film to an experimental film, without losing the rhythm in a long film, with your own impossibilities, like constructing a building. During the hard shooting process, we always worked with Dilek on other alternatives in case of the slightest risk. We sat down with our cinematographer Barış (Özbiçer) and our editor Ayris (Alptekin) before shooting and reviewed the script, stitch by stitch. The smallest details were very important to me. We were committed to this movie. It gave us as much hope as believing we could change things.

You have a cinematic language that feeds on many different topics, including urban transformation, women’s movements, immigrant issues, political polarization, class discrimination. What is at the heart of your understanding of cinema, where you reflect all these social issues?

In this film, I had a particular responsibility that I cannot distinguish between one subject from another. What I want to emphasize is that the dark webs and dots are completely intertwined in the administrative system in Turkey right now. The movie creates a domino effect in itself, which is a responsibility I leave to the audience. What is your position in all of this? As an artist, my idea was to change something by making people question this. As Dalai Lama said, “Governments can do something, but people do what is necessary.”
Most importantly, as a director, it was my intention to archive these figures like a war photographer.

What makes a story and a movie good for you?

The fact that it is innovative. That it boldly and sincerely take its aesthetic and political ideas to the end. That it will break your prejudices, make you breathe, and make you think for a long time when the movie is over… That it will make you feel as if you actually live in the movie…

What is the state of today’s Turkish cinema? What do you think about the current production?

New blood is still very rare because there is no funding and support. I also find similar themes very stereotypical and sexist. For example, they turn female characters into objects that have no function, lock them in the house. There were characters that were more dynamic even in the ’80s. I feel like we’re senselessly driving on the same highway.

Taking into account what you intend to accomplish, what excites you about the future of cinema?

I think, especially this period is a phase. In the pandemic, where we are trapped and our freedom is taken away completely, perspectives and production take a different form. We are starting to see what we have and how we can use it well. Productions are changing forms. For example, theater plays become movies. Mini-series are being produced. Many documentaries are being watched. YouTube has become an uncensored television. Of course, a great visual thurst was created and people are being served accordingly. We’ve started to pave a limitless world, and it’s very valuable.

ONUR GÜVENATAM/ OGM Pictures CEO, Producer

You have been a producer in many popular series such as The Gift, Masumlar Apartmanı, Kırmızı Oda, The Protector. How do you think these productions affect the societies in which they are watched?

In societies that watch a lot of series, such as Turkey, the audience builds an extremely deep, extremely real connection with what they watch. I can say that we are in one of the geographies where fan culture is most prominent. We are also aware of how internalized the series are, and of course, we also act with the responsibility that this places on our shoulders. I can say that our recent works, which we can call “psychological drama”, is a good example in this sense. In short, we continue to work knowing that we live in a geography where the stories to be told will never end and that every content produced finds its audience.

What criteria do you follow when choosing the series to produce?

I’d say I’m always trying to do different things. Our productions so far continue to focus on the true human story, but we are open to any story that will make a difference. If we talk about our current choices, the works that touch people, create awareness, establish identity, are created in a way that is just correct and different are the priority. Both the response of the audience and the responsibility encourage us to keep on creating those stories. Actually, I should end by saying that we are open to all bold, game- changing, well-established, and innovative works.

How has digitalization and all these content platforms changed production?

In the past, production companies only did works for TV or movies. I think that the existence of the global digital platforms in the Turkish market and the increase in the number of local platforms is a very valuable development in terms of the film and TV industry in Turkey, which increases not only the quantity but also the quality. As OGM Pictures, we have made many productions for global digital platforms and we are aware of the importance of the opportunities offered by them. Of course, it is a great opportunity for the content we produce for digital platforms
to reach people from different geographies. However, conventional TV channels still have an extremely important place in the industry. Both digital platforms and traditional TV have their own unique dynamics, and none of their audience should be underestimated.

Series and films are now easily accessible to a global audience. How is the creative process affected by this?

It is certain that much more effort has been made to be able to do quality work and achieve international standards. For this reason, creative teams work more diligently and more eagerly with this motivation.

How do you evaluate the TV series in Turkey when compared to the rest of the world?

Generally, the Turkish series has a very emotional narrative that feeds on drama. However, it has been proven that with the predominance of digital platforms, quality content can also be produced in different genres. I believe that in the near future, apart from drama, we will also create successful works in different genres. Because good storytelling and the number of platforms on which these stories can be told are rapidly increasing.

What do you think about the future of the TV and film industry?

I think that the main focus of the industry will be good storytelling. It used to be important too, of course, but with the increasing diversity, it will become even more important. Now content that can tell its stories with more emotion in less time will be one of the pioneers of the industry. This is because of the increase in content offered to the audience,while the audience is limited in time and focus. Standing out from this plenitude will be the most challenging part of our job. Now, we have to put a lot of things together in our productions. We will need to be able to pay attention to not only the quality of the content but also many elements, such as its timing, the conjuncture in which it is published.

SEZİN AKBAŞOĞULLARI/ Actress

How do the characters you play affect you in real life?

It actually depends on which discipline I work in. For example, when I’m rehearsing for a play, I have a chance to relate more deeply to the character I portray. The mood of the character affects me more. In a film, the way the director works determines the actor’s method. Usually, because of the limited time and technical aspects, I have a more distant relationship with the character. The part that is reflected in my private life is the sense of success and satisfaction I felt about the work, rather than the character I played. I mean, if I feel successful and safe, then I feel good and positive about my personal life too. If things don’t seem to be going well, if I feel in danger in terms of production, I also reflect this tension on to own life.

What makes a character unforgettable for you? Which of the characters you have played affected you to most?

The feeling of satisfaction, I guess. For me, the fact that I love the role, that I feel like I’m improving, that I trust the people I work with, and that I’m happy with the result that comes out, makes that work unforgettable. Trying to play Maggie was unforgettable for me. Evlat is up there on the list too, with its success as a play, the reaction of the audience, and the fact that I love my colleagues. Also King Lear too. I loved Cahide, the character I played in Cesur ve Güzel, and the whole process. I could go on and on if you’d let me, I am a little whimsical in that sense.

What makes an actor good and realistic?

I think, primarily the actor’s capacity to believe. We’ve seen actors stood out and shine even in terrible works before. Because they are committed to what do. Believing is the beginning of magic. But, of course, working hard, the director, the colleagues, the script, and even the marketing stage of the work are also elements that greatly affect performance.

Why is it valuable for you to be in front of the camera or on the theater stage?

Because I feel like I’d rot if I didn’t. I love working. I feel alive when I work. I connect with life, that’s what I understand about working, I don’t know anything else, to be honest. That’s the situation for now.

Who was the person you were most impressed with while working together?

I guess I can’t only say one person. There are a lot of people that I’ve worked with or that are still in my life, who have taught me a lot of things. Although I am a little stubborn, I always keep myself open to experience and learn.

Every profession, including the film industry, is being renewed in this period. Do you think this is the case for acting too?

Acting, directing, writing, even producing are dynamic professions. Professions that need and are expected to develop in direct proportion to the spirit of life and time. The actors, of course, need to renew themselves, be dynamic. Otherwise, it’ll get old, boring. I think the worst is being conservative. I mean, clinging to the old and despising the new, finding it inadequate and incomplete. Of course, I’m not talking about opening an Instagram account and having 1 million followers. I think the recipe for this is to watch, read, travel, improve yourself, continue to be curious, maybe learning a new language, dance… These are the recipe for renewal. I feel like once you keep on learning, there is no way for you to come to a deadlock.

EFE ÇAKAREL/ MUBI CEO, Founder

How do you think digital content services have changed our world?

Streaming services are actually the result of a need. Without being connected to physical spaces, we suddenly found ourselves watching TV shows on our laptops. When we were going to the DVD shop to buy a movie, we started saying, “Where can I find this movie on the internet?” The consumer experience has changed very quickly. I think it primarily caused a decline in the film industry. We felt the same effect in music. But then all these digital platforms began to make the film world extremely healthy. We keep going to the movie theaters. But on the other hand, digital platforms are growing very fast and healthy.

How do these digital services shape movies, TV series, and the content itself?

In my world, the movie world, there’s not much change for MUBI. For TV series, there are different approaches to keeping the audience watching. In the “good” cinema that we focus on, the creator, the director, approaches the cinema independently, without paying attention to where it will be streamed. I think the content doesn’t change for the film sector.

What should we expect from the future of the film industry?

It will continue to grow in a healthy way. MUBI, Netflix, Amazon, Disney services are growing incredibly fast. Netflix is a $250 billion company. When it has such serious value, there is also a serious investment in content production. MUBI is small, of course, but we also invest millions of dollars in content. The sector is economically healthy. Besides that, movies are reaching more people. Especially the movies we stream. You were able to watch these movies if you were lucky or if you lived in Istanbul or had a chance to go to the Istanbul Film Festival. With MUBI, we started bringing these types of movies together with more people. A very good future awaits the industry both financially and audience-wise.

What can you say about the economic value generated by all these platforms?

There is a very serious financial income. Let me tell you about the numbers in England. Movies on MUBI are first shown in the movie theaters. We buy all its rights. When I show a movie at the theater, three out of ten pounds that the consumer pays is mine. If they watch this movie on MUBI, they stay for an average of 24 months. They give me ten pounds every month. That’s why Netflix doesn’t care about showing its content in movie theaters. Because it brings no income. It’s important that that movie comes ‘exclusively’ to Netflix. The reason we’re showing them in the movie theaters is purely philosophical. Not economical. We’re not trying to change the film industry, we’re trying to make it more accessible. But the value we create economically is also returning to the industry.

What do you think about the future of movie theaters?

The ones in the malls won’t be filled like they used to be. Because
the big studios like NBC, Universal, Warner Bros., Sony, Paramount started going straight to the audience. They see that they will generate greater income when they show their productions on their platforms. The pandemic accelerated this process. Warner Bros. will show movies like Dune simultaneously in theaters and on HBO. Now, when you have the opportunity to watch Dune at home much cheaper, you will prefer it. So the future of movie theaters is not good. But independent theaters will still be popular.

What do you think about the increasing number of digital platforms?

Many people will, of course, want to enter to a growing sector. But this is a very difficult business. We’ve been working for 14 years. The first 10 years were very difficult. We’ve only grown in the last 3-4 years. We have only started to be known around Turkey in the last year. So, it is not an easy job. Local platforms will be in every country, but only 4-5 companies will exist in the global. MUBI aims to be one of them. We appeal to a much smaller market, of course. 85 percent of the world is not interested in MUBI’s films. But we aim to serve that 15 percent better than anyone else.

SERKAN KESKİN/ Actor

Is there a difference between being in front of the camera or on the theatre stage for you? Does your approach to acting differ?

There is no difference to me. At least, there is no such thing like, “I act this way on plays, that way on movies.” Of course, there are some technical differences, but in terms of how I look at and internally prepare for the role, there is no difference in my perspective. For me, they are both the same thing.

How do you prepare for the characters you portray? What do you think makes a character strong?

I don’t use a different method when preparing for the characters and then bringing them to life. It is my priority for the character to serve the script, movie, or play in the best way possible. I’m interested in what the character is telling, what they are trying to say, how the character contributes to the scene and text, and how, when played correctly, it makes the text more accurate. I think what makes a character the strongest is sincerity. The most important thing for me is that the character is true, that they know what they are saying and they do it most sincerely.

What do you learn from the different directors you work with? Is there a director you feel particularly close to?

I am already working with those directors because I feel close to the word they say, the world they are trying to create, the script they wrote. I can’t say anything specific, like, “I feel close to that director.”I wonder what they all want to tell about the script they wrote, the story they tell, and the thing they have trouble with.
Each of them has a different language of expression and a different problem. I try to look from their point of view and try to learn from their perspectives.

What excites you in today’s Turkish cinema?

I can say that young people excite me the most in today’s Turkish cinema. I’m very excited about the new stories, the new narratives, and what new filmmakers want to do. I feel particularly happy when I am working on stories like that.

As an actor, what do you think about the future of the film industry?

I cannot predict the future of today’s Turkish cinema due to the current circumstances. But there are many things that have been experienced but not yet told, and I have hope that many of the things we have experienced will be told. Being able to watch the things we have experienced and to say something about the world and the country excites me for the future.

How are all these technological developments reflected in your career?

The fact that there are so many digital platforms and that world is much freer now makes people more hopeful. I believe that we are in an era where everything is produced more, whether it is good or bad. I think that the last film we made with Reha Erdem is a good example of how, when you come together and have a problem you want to talk about, with a good crew, with a good script and using technology, you can create something without having to spend a lot of time and money.

ECE YÖRENÇ/ Scriptwriter

You have your signature as a screenwriter in the most popular series in Turkish television history, including Aşkı-Memnu, Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne, Kuzey Güney and Yaprak Dökümü. What do you think made these productions different from the others?

In common, they are all successful. I don’t know if they are any different from the other series, but they all were received direct audience attention. We wrote, “Every family is a tree, sometimes blooms, sometimes whithers. Share your happy family portraits with us.” after the credits for Yaprak Dökümü. For 178 episodes (five and half years), we showed the photos from the audience. I think the audience better understood the importance of their own families.

What do you think is the reason for Aşkı-Memnu’s popularity?

When we applied for the rights to Aşk-ı Memnu, we found out that another production company had the rights. We waited quietly for two years. Years later, I asked my screenwriter friend on the first team who worked on making the book a series why they didn’t. ”There was only one emphatic story in the book,” they said. I agreed with them. In Aşk-ı Memnu, Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil describes the psychology of his characters at length. He prepares us for the tragedy at the end. And when you read the book, you can’t contain your excitement towards the end. So for two years, we tried to make every episode feel like this. Even when Aşk-ı Memnu was still in the making, we dreamed that this work would be talked about and timeless in many senses. The right people came together and it was an unforgettable work.

Immediately after this series, you have worked with Beren Saat in Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne.

When we started writing Fatmagül’ün Suçu Ne, Aşk-ı Memnu was
still going on, and we only thought of Beren Saat for the Fatmagül character. Beren, who previously convinced the vast majority of Turkey that she was Bihter Ziyagil, a very famous socialite, now convinced everyone that she was Fatmagül, an abuse survivor who fought for her rights as a woman. The focus of the story was very strong, but Fatmagül in the original story was a more passive woman. Our Fatmagül sought her rights. She even screamed for everyone to speak up. Her story first began in our geography. Now all over the world, she keeps saying the same thing in completely different languages.

What do you pay attention to when creating scripts for the series you’re part of? What do you think makes a series good?

What makes a series the good is its story and the cogency of its story. If you can’t empathize with a character, you don’t watch that series.

How do all these next-generation digital platforms affect series and scenarios?

Our television series has very specific concepts. I don’t think there is anything like it. There are no series with such long-term, expensive productions. Every week’s scenario is a book, every episode is a two-hour movie. Since 2017, I have decided not to write any more TV series under these conditions. The digital world is our future.

What do you think about the future of TV and TV series?

Television should return to competitions, culture, and art programs. Series should be broadcast on cable TV or digital broadcast platforms, censorship should be removed. This is my wish.

Interview by ALPER BAHÇEKAPILI
Photographed by YAĞIZ YEŞİLKAYA