Tag Archives: Ay Yapim

Walking tall

Ali Bilgin, the director of Turkish drama Ufak Tefek Cinayetler (Stiletto Vendetta), tells DQ about steering the Star TV series about revenge and rivalry between four old school friends.

Four women who were once childhood friends are reunited as adults with old scores to settle and new rivalries to emerge in Turkish drama Ufak Tefek Cinayetler (Stiletto Vendetta).

When they were teenagers, Arzu (Tülin Özen), Merve (Aslihan Gürbüz) and Pelin (Bade Iscil) played a cruel prank on their over-achieving best friend Oya (Gökçe Bahadir), leaving her shamed, devastated and suicidal. Years later, when fate brings the four back together, Oya plans revenge.

From Turkish production company Ay Yapim and distributor Eccho Rights, the series has been renewed for a second season on Star TV, which is due to begin in September. Deals for the show have already been struck in Israel, Greece, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia and Romania.

Speaking to DQ, director Ali Bilgin talks about how Stiletto Vendetta has broken new ground in Turkey, developing four unique lead characters and why local stories are the key to Turkish drama’s success.

Director Ali Bilgin on set

What was the appeal of working on Stiletto Vendetta?
What attracted me most about this project was that it was a genre that had never been tried in Turkey and the fact I hadn’t done such a thing in my career. It was presented to me by Ay Yapım in a period when I didn’t want to work on classic stories. The script attracted me because it contains humour, tension and drama. The opportunity of working with good actors, and the depth of the characters, was very precious. I was excited because it was a project with high potential to which a director could add different interpretations. Knowing women, working with them and interpreting their troubles made me feel curious.

How were you involved in the development of the series?
Although I felt excited that it wasn’t a typical Turkish series, the hardest part was to find a way to localise the project and elevate it to a level that general viewers would like. Together with our producers, our screenwriters and our team, we put a lot of thought into forming a realistic and convincing story. We paid extra attention to choosing the most realistic locations, styling and cast in order to avoid an unrealistic world. From the moment I got involved in the project, we shared the same excitement as the producers, which made the project work perfectly.

Stiletto Vendetta comprises 105 episodes

How would you describe the style and tone of the show?
Our priority was to create a location, a world where the characters made contact with each other for a long time. We created a neighbourhood called Sarmaşık and tried to narrate it in a believable way. We tried to design an environment with lots of shimmer, which was easy to watch and not depressing. Whatever happened in Sarmaşık had to remain there. It had to be isolated from the outside world but right in the middle of it. The clothes of the women, the design of their houses, their hair and make-up rituals had to serve this world. Eventually there’s a murder and we had to sprinkle tension among that shimmer.

Was it challenging to define the individual characters of the four women at the centre of the show?
The key part of the project was to set up the four characters as different from each other. Their acting and lifestyles wouldn’t be so different, but it was important to design their outfit and their choices properly. I can say that I worked with four different types of actress. At first it seemed to be a risk, but it’s bliss to see that I have made the right decisions. Our actors’ contribution to their characters has considerably helped the project and our screenwriters.

How did you work with the lead actors?
After rehearsals with the actors, we had long conversations about their characters. The language and acting rhythm was very important in this project, as it is in all projects. Although each character and their styles are different, we had to preserve the harmony with language integrity and credibility. It wasn’t easy but I think we succeeded.

The show centres on a woman seeking revenge against three former friends

How is the role of a director changing in Turkish drama?
With all of my projects, I try to reach a wide audience. I try to create moments and emotions that the audience can enter. My biggest aim was to break down the wall between the audience and make them feel as close to the story as possible. The hardest part was to appeal to both total individuals and the AB category of viewers. The actors have proven, with their discipline and compromises, that the right casting plays a very important role in star-focused projects.

What was your role across the entire 99-episode run?
I was always passionate about enjoying every aspect – the music, the editing, casting, styling and trying to do something new.

What is the international appeal of the series?
We believe it’s a universal story. We’re showing a form of relationship between women that can be seen all around the world. Since it has attracted attention in Turkey, although it’s a more conservative country compared with other European countries, I believe it will be successful in other countries as well.

How is the Turkish drama industry changing in an increasingly global market?
Unfortunately, the country’s political situation leads the drama industry to self-censorship and we often avoid focusing on universal stories. I think working on universal topics in the local atmosphere, receiving financial and technical support, will lead us to success in international markets. We’re a country with very talented actors, directors and screenwriters. We shouldn’t try to create projects that look like the Nordic shows or try to localise a series that’s very successful in America. I think we can gain momentum throughout international markets as long as we reflect the realities of our region.

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Into The Pit

The writer and the executive producer behind Turkish crime drama Çukur (The Pit) tell DQ about the series, which mixes themes of love, family and community in the story of a man who returns to his old neighbourhood to become head of a criminal clan.

Turkish drama Çukur (The Pit) tells the story of Yamaç, a young man from the influential Koçova family that rules over Çukur, one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in Istanbul. When he meets Sena, they fall in love and get married – but when the family he thought he had left behind comes between them, Sena follows Yamaç back to Çukur where he takes up his new role as head of the family.

Produced by Ay Yapim and distributed internationally by Inter Medya, the drama stars Aras Bulut Iynemli as Yamaç, with Dilan Çiçek Deniz as Sena. It is due to return for a second season on Turkey’s Show TV this autumn.

Following Çukur’s official international launch at MipTV this spring, Inter Medya has sold the series into Northern Iraq, Afghanistan and Georgia. It is also set to air in Chile.

Here, scriptwriter Gökhan Horzum and executive producer Yamac Okur tell DQ about making the series.

Gökhan Horzum

How would you describe the story?
Gökhan Horzum, scriptwriter: The Pit is basically the story of a family. This family does not just include the mother, father and children. It is a neighbourhood based on values such as fraternity, solidarity and unconditional commitment. The neighbourhood earns its money from crime. The focus is on a young man who is trying to protect his family; who does everything to protect his family. Although the genre is seen as crime, it is blended with romance, excitement, intrigue and a dose of comedy.

What are the key elements of the show?
Horzum: The story is based on a father whose past is full of conflict. He has paved his way through crime and is not afraid to commit acts of violence for his family and community. He raises his sons so that one day they can replace him. However, the youngest son refuses to be a part of this life, and leaves the house. But what happens if this son has to return to seize the inheritance?
A woman who comes from a traumatic family, all alone and dishevelled, meets a man who really loves her for the first time and falls in love. She has to leave behind the life she knows and go with the love of her life so he can become the leader of a criminal family.
A lonely man plans revenge on someone who has abandoned him all his life. As time matures, he takes action. But what happens when he finds out that everything he thought was right until today has a completely different background and, in addition, meets his childhood love?

Tell us about your writing process.
Horzum: At first, I searched for pictures of contrast. A modern figure who plays punk or rock on stage in a bar; and another, traditional, figure holding prayer beads, with a typical Turkish suit – a man who everyone calls the ‘father.’ Then I tried to find ‘injured’ characters. These are characters who still carry scars from various traumas.
Even if it seems that they are pursuing a common goal, they only pursue their own goals. I’ve tried to bring those who have wounds together with those who have misplaced them. Then I stepped into their shoes and tried to intervene as little as possible.

How are the storylines featuring the Koçova family and Yamaç and Sena intertwined?
Horzum: Initially, Yamaç was a man who was away from his family and played rock music in a bar at the weekend. He did not know what to expect from life. He met Sena. They fell in love and clung to each other. Sena has no roots, while Yamaç rejects his roots – until the day he finds out that his family is on the verge of disappearing, so Yamaç has to return, taking Sena with him. If all went well, they have would left, but that doesn’t happen. They both fall into the ‘pit.’

Yamac Okur

How did you work with the director to create the style of the series?
Yamac Okur, executive producer: We had worked with the director, Sinan Ozturk, previously on our TV series Insider. He was the director of the second unit. The Pit is his first TV series as a director. At the beginning, we had the general story of the first season and the scripts for four episodes. Each year there are more than 100 TV series produced in Turkey; only a dozen of them are successful enough to finish a season. The duration of one episode in Turkey is approximately 120 to 130 minutes. So our first aim is to attract the audience to the show and then make them to stay with it by having a fast rhythm and fast editing with lots of cuts. We watched more than 1,000 auditions and at the end we cast the most talented actors who would work best for the characters. Our team is also very talented. Composer Toygar Isikli, editor Serdar Cakular, DoP Tolga Kutluay and art director Oya Koseoglu, who we worked previously (The Insider, Karadayi, Ezel), contributed a lot towards making a unique style for The Pit.

Where was the series filmed and what do the locations bring to the show?
Okur: Our main locations are in Ayvansaray and Balat, some of the oldest and most authentic neighbourhoods in Istanbul. This location choice brings the feeling of reality to the show. But we also used various locations in different parts of Istanbul. Most of the locations are real locations.

What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Okur: The biggest challenge is to finish shooting on time. With two units, we shoot five or six days a week for one episode. Two editors also work simultaneously. With a high production quality for a show like The Pit, you have to work with the most talented actors and crew in order to meet deadlines.

The Pit will return for a second season on Turkey’s Show TV this autumn

How does The Pit offer a fresh take on the gangster genre?
Okur: The family is at the centre of our story. Gökhan created very strong characters that are very real. The characters and the story are all fictitious, but most of the audience thought the characters were real.

How does the series compare to other Turkish dramas? What new risks did you take for a local series?
Okur: Most Turkish series use a lot of music, and so do we. Our composer, Toygar Isıkli, composed great songs, but this time we also worked with different singers who also composed songs for us. Because of the content, we used a lot of Turkish rap music and also local folk songs. Throughout the year, our songs are always at the top of music lists.
We had a lot of action scenes. We continued our relationship with our action director Ugur Yildiran (who is also one of our actors, playing Kemal). He created a Turkish style of action. In particular, having youngsters running on the rooftops was a great idea, and that worked very well in the show.

Why does the series appeal to an international audience?
Okur: I believe that if a TV series is successful in Turkey, most of the time it will also appeal to a foreign audience. Our plan is simple: to be successful in the local market. The Turkish audience also represents a great portion of the foreign audience.

What are you working on next?
Okur: We are working on the second seasons of The Pit and Stiletto Vendetta, and new TV series are on their way. We will also produce more films next year.

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Emmy love

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 Endless Love team proudly show off their International Emmy

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.

The telenovela centres on the relationship between
Neslihan Atagul Dogulu and Burak Özçivit’s characters

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.

Director Hilal Saral used the dark eyes of Özçivit (right) as a ‘starting point’

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.

The show comprises 244 episodes

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.

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In treatment

Turkish drama Phi centres on psychologist Can Manay (played by Ozan Güven), a serial womaniser whose behaviour becomes increasingly erratic when he falls in love with Duru (Serenay Sarikaya).

As Manay gets closer to her, Duru begins to question her life with boyfriend Deniz (Mehmet Günsür) as a cast of characters – including Özge (Berrak Tüzünataç), a journalist working on an exposé of the celebrity psychologist – find their lives changed forever by Manay’s crazed pursuit of love.

Cast members Sarikaya, Gunsur and Tüzünataç tell DQ about the appeal of starring in Phi, which is based on a trilogy of novels by Azra Kohen.

They reveal how they used the original books in their preparation for the series and the challenge of bringing these well-known characters to the small screen.

The trio also discuss the ground-breaking nature of the series, which is the first original drama to air on VoD platform Puhu TV.

Phi is produced by Ay Yapim and distributed by Eccho Rights.

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The Heart of the matter

Turkish drama Bu Şehir Arkandan Gelecek (Heart of the City), which runs to more than 70 episodes, tells the story of Ali, a sailor brought up on a cargo ship after he witnessed his mother’s murder. Twenty years later, he is still terrified to confront his roots in Istanbul until he encounters enchanting ballet dancer Derin.

Speaking to DQ, stars Kerem Bursin (Ali) and Leyla Lydia Tugutlu (Derin) discuss their characters and the themes of the series.

They also reveal how they prepared for the show – including Bursin spending six months in LA learning to box and Tugutlu taking up dancing lessons – and the challenges of filming the equivalent of a movie a week.

Heart of the City is produced by Ay Yapim for ATV and distributed by Eccho Rights.

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Phi-ling good

Turkish producer Pelin Distas Yasaroglu tells DQ about Phi, the first original drama produced for VoD service Puhu TV.

Turkish drama Phi marked a major milestone for the industry when it became the first original scripted series produced for VoD platform Puhu TV.

Produced by Ay Yapim and distributed by Eccho Rights, the 20-part show centres on psychiatrist Can Manay (played by Ozan Güven), a serial womaniser whose behaviour becomes increasingly erratic when he falls in love with Duru (Serenay Sarikaya).

As Manay gets closer to her, Duru begins to question her life with boyfriend Deniz (Mehmet Günsür) as a cast of characters find their lives changed forever by Manay’s crazed pursuit of love.

Since its launch on Puhu on March 31, Phi has recorded an aggregated seven million viewers for its first three episodes. The platform, which launched earlier this winter, reported a 400% increase in app downloads in the week since Phi’s launch, with more than twice as many unique users on the service compared with the week before.

Following its world premiere at MipTV in Cannes last week, Phi producer Pelin Distas Yasaroglu tells DQ more about this landmark drama.

Pelin Distas Yasaroglu

How would you describe the story?
Yasaroglu: Phi is a psychological and philosophical story with a hint of the fantastic and a pinch of sexuality. It tells the story of Can Manay, a famous psychiatrist who thinks he will control everyone he meets, until he gets stuck on a girl and he messes up her world and the lives of everyone around him, as well as his own.
The story starts when Manay goes to his house away from the city’s chaos, where he takes his girlfriends to have fun. He sees a woman in white dancing in the garden near the house and starts watching her. Manay is struck by this young dancer called Duru, and an emotion that is beyond his control takes over him. Duru is leading a happy life with her musician boyfriend, Deniz. However, her relationship with Deniz changes as she meets Manay and she starts to question her feelings for Deniz. Manay’s passion overturns Duru and Deniz’s lives, in addition to his own.
Meanwhile, we witness the intersecting lives of Bilge, a student of psychology who has unfortunate familial traumas but can stand on her own two feet; her autistic, genius brother Doğru; Özge, the brave journalist who is the first one to discover one of Manay’s biggest secrets; Manay’s mentor, Eti; Deniz’s talented violin student, Ada; and sadistic, violent ballet dancer Göksel.

What are the origins of the series?
Romance, psychological suspense and passion – passion is the most important one. All the characters find themselves on the road to passion. It is a psychological suspense, erotic romance and character-based drama.

How was the show developed for the network?
There were eight months of adaptation [the series is based on the first in a trilogy of novels: Phi, Chi, Pi, by Azra Kohen] as we determined how the story would be transformed into a script. How will we use the story? Should we use all three of the books? Should we start at the beginning? What parts of the story do we have to fully emphasise? Those were the questions we had. The greatest problem was the genre of the book, which is mostly psychological. Great effort was spent on dramatising the characters’ rising conflicts without disturbing the story’s tone. The casting process was finalised when work on the script was being concluded. The world and tone of the show were discussed with the director for three months, and shooting started at the end of January 2017.

L-R: Phi stars Berrak Tuzunutac, Mehmet Gunsur, Serenay Serikaya, Ozan Guven and Busra Develi

Did you do anything differently knowing it would air on an OTT service?
We needed to think outside the box, as we are outside the conventional rating rules. We were also freer due to the fact we knew each episode would be 60 minutes long and we knew the total number of episodes in the season. We had to create a show for the mass audience, which doesn’t have to pay for it. We worked freely when we were creating the script and the characters.

How would you describe the writing process?
Since Turkish dramas commonly feature 120- to 140-minute episodes and run for a long time, it took a lot of effort narrating the introduction, development and conclusion of a story and its many characters in our 20 60-minute episodes. We designed scenes similarly to how they are done in the movies, where many things can be told in one scene. In the first episode, everything revolves around Can Manay and we get to know the other characters through him. There are five different arcs in the story. We worked to combine them in a linear plot and to set emotional links between characters. Then we started to expand the story.

Were there many changes from Azra Kohen’s novels?
We were loyal to the characters and the book but we needed to include stories that were not in the book to open up the characters and get them integrated into the screenplay. We needed to build up new stories. The characters are facing same conflicts with the new roads but the core values of the characters are loyal to the book.

Phi was the first original scripted series produced for VoD platform Puhu TV

How was the visual style of the show created?
We wanted to preserve the book’s feeling. There are a few main themes in the story, primarily strong aesthetics, power and passion. We built a visual world based on glamour, power, romance, passion and aesthetics. The director had great ideas and the author’s contribution was also strong.

Who are the lead cast members and what do they bring to the series?
Serenay Sarıkaya, Ozan Güven, Mehmet Günsür, Berrak Tüzünataç, Büşra Develi, Tülay Günal, Osman Sonant… We had many advantages in terms of casting, these are very popular, star names in Turkey and they also believed in this project. This is why they wanted to be in it and they were excited by the idea. This is a revolution for the Turkish market. You are making an original series of 60 minutes, which tells of the stories of extraordinary characters in an extraordinary way. This excited them, to be pioneering, leading this ‘revolution.’ They perfectly fit the characters in the book. When the first photo (the red photo) hit the press, it had a real breathtaking impact.

Where was the series filmed and how do you use the locations on screen?
The series was filmed in Istanbul. We use real locations, with the network building set in a real network building and the schools filmed in real universities, for example. The main locations were Can Manay and Duru’s homes, which we redesigned for the story.

How would you describe the current state of Turkish drama?
I find the state of the industry to be quite good this year. There are improvements – new channels are opening up in Turkey, free to air, OTT, digital, pay TV – not launched yet but in progress – and similar moves outside conventional broadcasting. These will make great contributions in the future. The creators, producers and directors will create even better, more different styles of content, which may work to break our habits. We are a country with rich content. The infrastructure is great and is getting even better. There still is a very strong demand for Turkish drama around the world.

What is next for you and Ay Yapim?
We produced five new dramas this year and we are developing new titles for next year.
Phi got us excited and we enjoyed it. We will carry on working with OTT platforms to produce premium digital content. We will carry out joint productions around the world. We will continue producing series and we also have a couple of feature films in our plans.

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On the Wings of Love

Actors Seda Bakan and Kadir Doğulu introduce DQ to Turkish drama Bana Sevmeyi Anlat (Wings of Love), in which their characters come together in search of love and a better life.

As is typical of a telenovela, love is the central theme of Turkish drama Bana Sevmeyi Anlat (Wings of Love). And in another trademark of the genre, viewers can expect to be taken on a rollercoaster of emotions before finding out whether love will conquer all by the show’s end.

The series stars Seda Bakan as Leyla, a single mother who agrees to marry Haşmet as she goes in search of a better life. However, when she discovers on their wedding day that he is not who he seems, she decides to flee, fearful for her son’s future.

It is then that she meets Alper (played by Kadir Doğulu), one of Haşmet’s employees who unwittingly helps her escape. Struggling to bring up his daughter alone after a car accident left his wife in a coma and killed his brother, Alper has just started to get his life back on track. But when he hears of Haşmet’s behaviour, his only thought is to keep Leyla and son Rüzgar safe.

The couple soon fall in love and, despite their best efforts to keep apart, circumstances continue to bring them back together.

Produced by Ay Yapim and distributed by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution, Wings of Love airs on Fox Turkey.

Here, Bakan and Doğulu tell DQ more about their characters, the challenges of filming long-running telenovelas and their experiences shooting in the Turkish capital, Istanbul.

Seda Bakan as Leyla

Who are your characters and how do they fit into the story?
Seda Bakan: I play Leyla, who has a daughter. She got married at an early age and then returned to her family when things didn’t work out. Now she is living with her father, stepmother and her siblings. Meanwhile, her father has an associate [Haşmet] who appears to own a restaurant chain – but in truth he is a member of a drug cartel. Leyla agrees to marry this man but, right before their wedding, she finds out he is a murderer and she runs away from the wedding. At that point, she chances upon Alper who is the executive chef of Haşmet’s restaurant – a meeting that leads to an escape story full of love, action, tension and adventure.
Kadir Doğulu: It is a beautiful and a very sincere love story but, of course, it doesn’t start as a love story. I play Alper, who is both a chef and a businessman. He is married and has a daughter. He has a great relationship with his daughter and he believes he has a beautiful relationship with his wife as well. One day, his wife and brother have an unfortunate accident, after which his brother passes away, his wife is in a coma and his life changes drastically. He then realises that the people around him, including his wife, have not been trustworthy and this causes his motivation in life to change – until he meets Leyla. It is a supe- romantic story that is full of love and action.

How does Wings of Love stand apart from other Turkish dramas?
Bakan: The thing that distinguishes us from other series is the never-ending tension. Anything can happen at any time. The story is so tense that something might explode at any point. When it comes to raising expectations and diffusing the action, it’s one of the best scripts I have ever read. It sounds like we are praising ourselves, but it’s the truth!
Doğulu: Lately, Turkish dramas and romantic comedies have been dwelling on the rich girl/poor boy or rich boy/poor girl stories. That’s where we differentiate from the others. Wings of Love has nothing to do with money. There are real feelings, the kind you would have in your daily lives. That is what makes our show more attractive. We are highly realistic and sincere.

When you got the script for the first time, what was it about the show that made you want to appear in the series?
Doğulu: Having a daughter [in the series] and my relationship with her.
Bakan: I had starred in comedies before and I was looking for a strong drama when Wings of Love came. I accepted it right away because it had a really high tempo and I thought it would be a great drama to be a part of.

Kadir Doğulu plays Alper

How do you get into character and do you draw on your own personal relationships or experiences?
Doğulu: It is not easy to get into that frame of mind. I have an acting coach and we get ready for each role together. We always dig deep to find the character’s feelings, obsessions and past. From there, I keep going by adding things from myself. Alper felt like he was written for me, so I didn’t have a hard time getting into character. I don’t know how the audience felt, but that’s the way I feel. I had strong motivations when playing Alper. One of them is him having a daughter, because I have always wanted a daughter myself. Moreover, I am freshly married and I live life to its fullest. I believe this reflects on the love Alper and Leyla share. Additionally, I used to be a chef and I had my own restaurant before I changed my career when I was 28. Alper is also a chef who is very knowledgeable when it comes to food. So I think it was one of the easiest roles for me to get into.
Bakan: I also work with someone to get a deeper understanding and a different point of view on the script. When I look at my character, I first distinguish her differences and what I shouldn’t use from myself, and I move on from there. Then I internalise the things the script, writer and director want from me. Finally, I observe how my co-stars act and create my character with their influences.
Doğulu: We built a past for the character with my acting coach. In addition to the character analysis we receive, we build an off-script past in order to get deeper into the character. Sometimes we go as far as designing the way he drinks coffee.

What are the challenges on set and in production?
Doğulu: It’s maybe not a challenge but, as a result of my role, this project made me want to become a father in my real life, especially as I get to know Lavinya [Ünlüer, who plays Alper’s daughter Çiçek] more. She fascinated me with her intelligence and I became more and more of a fan of her character.
Bakan: The kind of comedy shows in which I used to act are about 60 minutes long [per episode], but drama series are much longer, about 120 minutes. This was something I wanted to experience because as the time gets longer, it gets more challenging to stay in character.

Bana Sevmeyi Anlat (Wings of Love) airs on Fox Turkey

What are the challenges of working on long-running Turkish dramas that can stretch for hundreds of episodes?
Doğulu: It really is a bit problematic – we need a fundamental change. But I learned to accept it instead of fighting it. Naturally, one wants to spend more time with his family and by himself as well. However, I accept this and carry my life to set, focus on my job and spend any minute that is left with my loved ones to motivate myself even more, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the industry. It’s just the way it is in Turkey. Since I personally cannot change it, I exclude the negativity from my life and carry the positive aspects and wait hopefully for things to change to the better.

What are the positives of being part of these vast stories?
Bakan: It doesn’t really have a positive side, only a negative. It affects one’s body and brain!
Doğulu
: I can take care of my family the way they want, keeping and raising their standards, thanks to this job. I learned how to manage my free time efficiently and happily. I learned that the psychological effects of the periods that I don’t work can’t be compared with the exhaustion of work. So it is a positive thing that I can satisfy the needs of my family and it is a positive thing that I learned how to best manage my free time.

What was filming in Istanbul like and what role does it play in the series?
Bakan
: It’s a very crowded city!
Doğulu: For me, Istanbul is the most beautiful city on Earth. It makes you forget all the troubles there are thanks to its beauty. The city turned into a huge studio for us, and we avoided the crowds by shooting in relatively calmer places. We only got into traffic and crowds if we needed to. We filmed as if we were in the centre of Istanbul, but by using places that are not right in the centre. So we were not affected by the chaos of the city that much. However, there were times that we ended the day at 16.00 but arrived home at 21.00. This is part of Istanbul; it doesn’t really matter whether you work on a set or somewhere else. To look on the bright side, Istanbul is a city that draws attention. People, including me before coming to Istanbul, think Turkey is all about Istanbul because of its population. The city draws attention from Anatolia, the Middle East and Europe as well. It’s  visually amazing and has fascinating views – and we have the Bosphorus!

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Buyers stick to the scripted in Mipcom

The sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was screened in Cannes
The sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit was screened in Cannes

The Japanese have a good strike rate when it comes to exporting animation and entertainment formats. But they have struggled with drama. There are a few reasons for this but, when it comes down to it, the core problem is that scripted shows that work in Japanese primetime don’t travel that well.

The country’s leading players want to do something about this because the revenues they are generating from the domestic media market aren’t as strong as they used to be. So now they are looking at formats and coproductions as ways of building up their international profile and generating a new revenue stream. They are also starting to ask themselves if there is a way of making shows that can tap into the world drama zeitgeist that has propelled Korean, Turkish, Nordic and Israeli drama around the globe.

There were a couple of examples of the way Japan is seeking to shift its mindset at the Mipcom market in Cannes this week. One was a deal that will see Nippon TV drama Mother adapted for the Turkish market by MF Yapim & MEDYAPIM. The new show will be called Anne and will air on leading broadcaster Star TV. It’s the first time a Japanese company has struck this kind of deal in Turkey.

Also this week, Japanese public broadcaster NHK screened Moribito II: Guardian of the Spirit, an ambitious live-action fantasy series based on the novels of Nahoko Uehashi – likened by some to JRR Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings.

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria
Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria

Produced in 4K and HDR, this is the second in a planned trilogy of TV series, the first of which consisted of four parts. The show has been attracting interest from channel buyers beyond Japan’s usual sphere of influence, suggesting the country may be starting to have the kind of international impact it wants.

Interestingly, NHK brought the actor Kento Hayashi to Cannes to help promote the Moribito franchise. Hayashi also starred in Netflix’s first Japanese original, Hibana, another scripted show that has captured the attention of audiences and critics around the world.

Away from Japanese activity, companies that had a good week in Cannes included ITV Studios Global Entertainment, which said its hit period drama series Victoria has now sold to more than 150 countries, including new deals with the likes of Sky Germany, VRT Belgium and Spanish pay TV platform Movistar+. It also sold comedy drama Cold Feet – renewed for a new season in 2017 – to the likes of NPO Netherlands, ITV Choice Africa, Yes in Israel, TV4 Sweden and NRK Norway.

Further evidence of the appeal of lavish period pieces came with the pre-sales buzz around Zodiak Rights’ Versailles, which is going into its second season. At Mipcom, the show was picked up by a range of broadcasters and platforms including BBC2 (UK), Amazon Prime (UK), C More (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland), DirecTV (Latin America) and Movistar+.

Timeless
Timeless was picked up by Channel 4

Moving beyond period pieces, other shows that cut through the promotional clutter included Sony Pictures Television (SPT)’s time-travel drama Timeless, which sold to the UK’s Channel 4 to air on its youth-skewing E4 network. The show was also picked up by the likes of OSN in the Middle East, Fox in Italy, AXN in Japan, Viacom 18’s Colors Infinity in India and Sohu in China.

SPT also sold new sitcom Kevin Can Wait to Channel 4 in the UK, though perhaps the most interesting Sony-related story at Mipcom was the news that its international television network group AXN has joined forces with Pinewood Television to a develop a slate of six TV drama projects.

The series will be financed in partnership between Sony Pictures Television Networks and Pinewood Television. The plan is for them to air on AXN channels in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe, with a programming emphasis on high-impact action, crime and mystery. The deal was brokered by Marie Jacobson, executive VP of programming and production at SPTN, and Peter Gerwe, a director for Pinewood Television.

Midnight Sun
StudioCanal thriller Midnight Sun

Jacobson said: “As we look for alternative paths to expand original series development, Pinewood TV make for the ideal partners. We are look forward to developing projects with them that play both in the UK and on our channels around the world.”

Other high-profile dramas to attract buyer attention at the market this week included StudioCanal’s Swedish-French eight-hour drama Midnight Sun, picked up by ZDF in Germany, SBS in Australia, HOT in Israel and DR in Denmark.

Distributor FremantleMedia International licensed its big-budget series The Young Pope to Kadokawa Corporation in Japan, while Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution licensed The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story to French pay TV operator Canal+.

Another show that enjoyed some success this week was DRG-distributed The Level, a six-part thriller that was picked up by ABC Australia, UTV in Ireland, TVNZ in New Zealand and DBS Satellite Services in Israel, among others. Produced by Kate Norrish and Polly Leys, joint MDs of Hillbilly Films, the show follows a reputable cop with a secret that is about to unravel. The show has previously been picked up by Acorn Media Enterprises for the US market.

Jude Law in The Young Pope
Jude Law in The Young Pope

Reiterating the growing interest in non-English drama, Global Screen enjoyed some success with Rivals Forever – The Sneaker Battle, which tells the true story of how brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler set up Adidas and Puma. France Télévisions acquired free TV rights and will air the series in early 2017 on France 3, while Just Entertainment in the Netherlands has landed video, pay TV and VoD rights. Other buyers included DR (Denmark), FTV Prima (Czech Republic), LRT (Lithuania) and HBO Europe (for Eastern Europe).

Turkish drama successes included Mistco’s sale of TRT period drama Resurrection to Kazakhstan Channel 31. Eccho Rights also sold four Turkish dramas to Chilean broadcaster Mega. The four shows were all produced by Ay Yapim and include the recent hit series Insider. This continues a good run of success for Turkish content in the Latin American region.

While Mipcom is fundamentally a sales market, its conference programme is also a useful way of tuning into international trends and opportunities in drama. There was an interesting keynote with showrunner Adi Hasak, who has managed to get two shows away with US networks (Shades of Blue, Eyewitness) in the last three years despite having no real track record with the US channel business. He believes the current voracious demand for ideas has made this possible: “This is a small business, where everyone knows everyone. If you create material that speaks to buyers, they will respond.”

Participant Media CEO David Linde also talked about the way his company is starting to extend its influence beyond film into TV and social media. Known for movies like An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc, Snitch and Spotlight, the firm’s expansion into TV will see a new series about journalists breaking stories, developed by the team behind Oscar winner Spotlight.

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Turkish TV drama shows resilience

It has been a miserable year for Turkey – yet despite a military coup, suicide bombings and the fallout from the Syrian Civil War, the country has somehow kept on pumping out great TV drama in 2016.

Wings of Love
Wings of Love is doing well on Fox Turkey

A lot of this creativity will be on show at the Mipcom market in Cannes from October 17. For example, Sweden-based distributor Eccho Rights has just announced an exclusive deal that will see it bring a slate of shows from one of Turkey’s leading drama producers, Ay Yapim, which is behind Ezel, Fatmagul, Forbidden Love, Karadayi, The End and more.

One of the most high-profile titles is Wings of Love (Bana Sevmeyi Anlat), which is achieving very strong ratings on Fox Turkey. The series premiered on August 22 and is currently number one on Friday nights. Also in the line-up is Brave and Beautiful (Cesur ve Güzel), set to premiere on Star TV later on this fall, with Turkish megastars Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Tuba Büyüküstün in the lead roles.

Another title in Eccho’s line-up is Insider (İçerde), which is loosely based on US movie The Departed. It debuted on Show TV on September 19 and proved a big ratings hit, also becoming the top-rated Turkish drama on IMDb with a score of 9.4. Gaining an audience share of almost 12%, Insider beat everything except for Orphan Flowers (Kirgin Cicekler), a popular ATV series that was launched in 2015 to great acclaim.

Karadayi
Fellow Ay Yapim drama Karadayi

With two more winter launches from Ay Yapim on the slate, Fredrik af Malmborg, MD of Eccho Rights, is understandably in bullish mood.

“We have been working closely with Ay Yapim ever since the global breakthrough of Turkish drama,” he said, “and we are very proud of the contribution we have made together in pushing the genre forward. Turkish drama is stronger than ever and Ay Yapim has always been a leader.”

Ay Yapim’s success on the international market isn’t just limited to completed show sales. It has also had success getting some of its formats away. A good example is The End, which was piloted in the US last year. More recently, the show has been greenlit for adaptation in four markets including Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. The latter version will be produced by Globomedia for broadcast on Telecinco in early 2017.

From left: Broken Pieces director Cevdet Mercan and stars Erkan Petekkaya and Nurgul Yeşilçay
From left: Broken Pieces director Cevdet Mercan and stars Erkan Petekkaya and Nurgul Yeşilçay

Eccho has also had notable recent successes with dramas from outside the Ay Yapim stable. For example, it recently sold Broken Pieces (Paramparça) to Swedish public broadcaster SVT. An Endemol Shine Turkey production for Star TV, Broken Pieces follows other Turkish dramas like The End onto SVT.

Eccho isn’t the only company to be heading for Cannes with Turkish drama in tow. Fox Networks Group is hosting an event on October 18 to highlight its Turkish drama slate, which runs to more than 700 hours. Among key titles is Pastel Film Production’s That is My Life (O Hayat Benim), which has already been sold to broadcasters in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia.

As in many markets, September to October is an important time of year in terms of new title launches on domestic TV. Aside from the aforementioned Insider, shows attracting attention include Black White (Siyah Beyaz) and You Are My Country (Vatanim Sensin).

The latter, produced by O3 Medya, is a big-budget period drama set just after the First World War. It tells the story of an army officer who is torn between loyalty to his country and the welfare of his family. Already sold to Croatia (a big fan of Turkish drama), the show is expected to prove popular with Mipcom buyers.

In terms of trends in Turkish drama this year, it seems as though some Western influences are creeping in. While Turkish viewers still tend to favour action, romance and historical drama, one of the most intriguing shows of the year was psychological thriller 46 Yok Olan, which aired on Star TV earlier this year.

O Hayat Benim
That is My Life has sold across the world

The series focuses on a professor of molecular biology who is trying to find a cure for his comatose sister. After trying a new potion on himself first, he releases an alter-ego that he cannot control and that seeks revenge for his father’s death and his sister’s illness.

While 46 Yok Olan didn’t draw huge ratings for Star, it did attract a fair amount of critical acclaim. So it will be interesting to see if it appeals to international buyers. The show is being marketed by Global Agency under the simplified title 46.

While a lot of attention in the next few weeks will be focused on Turkish drama exports, another story of significance is that SVoD platform Netflix has just launched a dedicated service in Turkey, with a fully localised user interface and local programming.

Signalling the seriousness of its ambition for the market, Netflix has also signed a deal with mobile provider Vodafone and is already working with Turkish TV manufacturer Vestel.

46
46 Yok Olan met critical acclaim

Commenting on the news, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said: “Turkish people are great storytellers with their hugely popular and internationally recognised Turkish dramas, and Netflix aims to become one of [the industry’s] most vocal ambassadors. We’re delighted to offer a more localised Netflix in Turkey that will continue to grow with both our Netflix Original titles and licensed content.”

Although it is too early to tell what kind of local uptake the service will get, it could provide a useful revenue source for creators of Turkish drama. Shows that will appear on Netflix in Turkey include Leyla and Mecnun, Suskunlar (Game of Silence), Karadayı, Ezel, Kurt Seyit & Şura, The Revival: Ertuğrul and Filinta.

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