Turkish drama Kara Sevda (Endless Love) picked up the 2017 International Emmy Award for Best Telenovela. Director Hilal Saral and producer Kerem Çatay tell DQ why it stands out from the crowd.
Turkish telenovelas have been knocking on the door of their Latin American peers for several years now as the format continues to grow in popularity around the world.
Now the door has been bulldozed down by Kara Sevda (Endless Love), the long-running drama that last year became the first Turkish scripted series to win an International Emmy, triumphing over competition from 30 Vies – Isabelle Cousineau (Canada), Totalment Demais and Velho Chico (both Brazil).
The series has now been sold by distributor Inter Medya to more than 60 countries across Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, following its debut on Turkey’s Star TV in 2015. It runs to a total of 244 episodes.
Endless Love follows Kemal, an engineering student from a middle-class family whose life is turned upside down when he meets Nihan, who comes from a wealthy background but finds herself distant from her own world. Viewers discover what happens when two people from different backgrounds fall in love and whether they can stay together.
Produced by Ay Yapim, it is directed by Hilal Saral with a cast led by Burak Özçivit (Kemal), Neslihan Atagul Dogulu (Nihan) and Kaan Urgancioğlu, who plays Emir, a businessman who is also in love with Nihan.
Following the show’s Emmy win last November, Saral and producer Kerem Çatay, CEO of Ay Yapim, tell DQ about the series and how it stands out from other telenovelas.
What are the origins of the series?
Hilal Saral, director: Kerem Çatay’s own project, Endless Love is about a test of real love. Kemal, a mining engineer, falls in love with Nihan but she refuses him. He then goes to work at a mine for five years and comes back to Istanbul for revenge. It goes without saying that there is no revenge in love – nothing is more important than love.
When I shoot, I always decide from whose eyes I’m going to tell the story and for Endless Love, it was through Kemal. I thought a lot about Burak Özçivit’s dark eyes while I was designing the shots. Kemal and Nihan break up but Nihan never forgets him. We all felt sad for Nihan and came up with the character of Emir, who was portrayed by Kaan Urgancıoğlu. Good things happen when the characters and performers match perfectly and when there is harmony between the director, the actors and the setup.
How was it filmed? Does it have a unique style?
Saral: My starting point was Kemal’s eyes – black like coal. Kara also means black/dark in Turkish. All of the design and the locations were developed with this image of Kara. The director of cinematography, Tolga Cetin, was very helpful in developing this image. I’ve been working with the same technical team for almost 10 years and I believe this is the proof of my stability. I’m the kind of director who always tries to highlight all the characters, primary and secondary. If you focus only on events and ignore the characters, it becomes harder for the audience to bond with the characters. After receiving the setup, I focus on the situation, style, personality and tension of each character and find what they represent sociologically. What I care about the most is the current mood of the character, not the before or the after but the experience they have at that moment. When I’m able to catch that, it is easier to make sense of the scene.
Kerem Çatay: The secret is that we never produce series we wouldn’t watch. We can’t enjoy our job if we stop trying new things and challenging ourselves. A few years ago, even the use of flashbacks in a series was a risky idea for Turkish audiences, but we took the risk and produced Ezel. This season, we have a new title called Ufak Tefek Cinayetler (Stiletto Vendetta) with a very special tone. We take the viewers’ expectation into account while producing series, and Turkish viewers always expect to watch refreshing products.
Apart from that, we have Phi, the first Turkish series made for the digital market, so we are always trying to produce good-quality products and it is important to make them long-lasting.
People we are working with play an important role in our success. We choose to work with concentrated co-workers. Even though sometimes things don’t go as planned in the long term, I always prefer to work with people who never lose their concentration. The storyline and the scenario are the two most important factors in the success of a series. When a good scenario, good performers and a successful director come together, the result is usually a successful product. You can make an original story out of a stereotype and you can make it watchable by telling it in a different way.
What makes the characters stand out?
Saral: In Endless Love, Nihan sacrifices her love for her brother and she is exposed to severe psychological violence. For me, it was important to tell her story as a woman. She was subjected to horrible events, which Kemal probably had no idea about. I think being realistic is what makes this show appealing to foreigners and what made it win the International Emmy Award. When shooting, I also always have an aesthetic concern. When you combine reality with aesthetics, the product acquires a different dimension. It’s not only about Kemal, Emir, Nihan, Vildan or Leyla.
I also have to highlight Zerrin Tekindor’s great performance as Leyla. She is an incredible actress – a great advantage for any director. Her talent makes our job easier. Nihan and Emir are also really important because they were also very realistic. Emir was also a passionate lover. He made us really feel his passion. It all came from his childhood – the traumatic relationship he had with his mum brought him to where he is now. We [put a lot of faith in] Kaan Urgancıoğlu (Emir) and it resulted in a very good [performance].
I can’t deny the importance of the secondary roles to our success. They complement the main characters very well as they increase the conflict, which then increases the popularity of the show.
What does this show winning the International Emmy for best telenovela mean for Turkish drama?
Saral: In recent years, several Turkish dramas have been nominated for International Emmy Awards but this was the first to actually win – a huge success and honour that got all of us very excited. I wasn’t expecting such a success, since we had applied with different titles in the past and always came back empty-handed.
The situation over here is utterly different and [everybody knows about] the political circumstances. For this reason, to win the award was a total surprise for us and that night was one of the best nights of my life.It was also a gift for my 20th anniversary as a director. I’ve been working non-stop for 20 years aiming to improve myself. I’ve always tried to develop shows with great effort, experience and imagination, and with all my soul. It is also a great feeling to see a project written and directed by women win an International Emmy. We won this award on behalf of the whole industry.
Çatay: In 2014, we applied to the Emmy Awards for best actress with Tuba Büyüküstün’s performance in 20 Minutes. That was the beginning of Turkish content at the Emmys. At that time, there were no other applications from Turkey. In 2015, we applied with Engin Akyürek for best actor with his performance in Black Money Love. In 2017, we applied with various titles and Endless Love managed to make it to the finale. We were lucky to win in the same category with one of the most successful Brazilian producers out there. No one was expecting a Turkish production company to win the award but we did. There are so many rules at the International Emmys both during the application and the evaluation stages. There is a judging system composed of approximately 600 people from the industry and from different countries. It’s a reliable system in which many people vote through the final stage. At the ceremony, the host said, “This contest is the World Cup of series,” a contest in which different contents from different countries compete in. It is, of course, a great pleasure to win the award in such a platform.
How does Endless Love stand out from other telenovelas?
Saral: In the case of Endless Love, I think ‘emotion’ is the key word. The demand for series that are emotionally charged and upbeat is higher than ever. There were three countries competing in our category: Brazil, Canada and Turkey. Brazil was competing with two different telenovelas and the country has won so many Emmy Awards in the past that we were not expecting to win this one. There was a medal ceremony one day before the award ceremony and even getting that medal was a great honour for us. We had the chance to meet other finalists as well. That was the first time I actually asked myself if we can really win the award. Everyone was so interested in Endless Love that they were asking us many questions and they were very surprised when I told them that I shoot 150 minutes in five days. We worked on this title a lot and this award is the result of the great efforts of our industry.