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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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+.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.