Tag Archives: Burak Sağyaşar

Changing for the Bitter

Showrunners Burak Sağyaşar and Timur Savcı tell DQ how they aimed to break the Turkish drama mould with their series Bitter Lands for ATV, and talk about the challenges that come with the rapid growth of a local scripted industry.

Ultra-long series runs, melodramatic romantic storylines and high production values have made Turkish drama a sought-after product across MENA, Latin America and parts of Europe in recent times. But Bitter Lands, a project for local broadcaster ATV, was created with a desire to turn the wheel rather than produce more of the same for the local market.

Burak Sağyaşar, from the show’s prodco Tims&B Productions, tells DQ: “It was a period where mainly action and cold, dark stories were being told on screen. Then our writer, Ayfer Tunç, told us a story we just loved – pure yet daring and grandiose at the same time. The structure was made up of a great love story at the core, along with appetising character stories. We were sure it would resonate with audiences.”

The story begins with seamstress Zuleyha (Hilal Altınbilek), madly in love with mechanic Yilmaz (Uğur Güneş) and preparing to be married, only for her cruel step brother to lose a big poker hand and sell her to mafiosa man Demir (Murat Ünalmış) to pay his debt. In an attempt to rescue her, Yilmaz kills his love rival and the pair have to flee.

Burak Sağyaşar (left) and Timur Savcı

The series was shot on location in the Çukurova region of southern Turkey, with many of the same team from Star TV’s similarly ambitious Magnificent Century involved in a lengthy set construction process to build the ranch and mansion where the plot unfolds.

Sağyaşar’s fellow producer Timur Savcı says: “We decided to design the story on the scale of a literary novel with a high level of production. Casting went on for months, and hundreds of actors were auditioned before the final selection. And after eight months of construction, the mansion and ranch that you see emerged.

“We are aware that every broadcaster has its own colour and audience following. Bitter Lands fitted ATV perfectly and instantly connected with its audience, so we met with the network and quickly came to an agreement. Usually we sit down with only one broadcaster, depending on the kind of series we are making. And most of the time, we reach an agreement without any second-guessing. We don’t shop our projects around. There are those who prefer that, but we do not find it right.”

Novelist Tunç was attached as screenwriter following her success on series including 1001 Nights, Love & Punishment and Broken Pieces. Faruk Teber directed the first two episodes, with Murat Saraçoğlu (Black Rose) taking over for the remainder. Inter Medya started shopping the project internationally at Mipcom in October.

Bitter Lands was filmed in the Çukurova region of southern Turkey

Bitter Lands’ record-breaking start to life in Turkey justifies Tims&B’s approach not to follow the crowd in a congested market. “Although the marketplace looks crowded, there are not many premium works out there,” Sağyaşar says.

“We always aim high but we do that by concentrating only on our projects. We do not make plans to destroy rival companies; we continue on our own path and aim to produce the most successful projects.

“We find that the key to cut through so many series is by producing content that can bring something different to the table or that discovers an innovation within a cliché. We currently have on air an action drama called The Oath, a period drama in Bitter Lands and a drama based on today’s conception of motherhood and family, Gülperi.”

But as the drama boom continues in Turkey, there are increasing challenges facing the local scripted market, according to Savcı. “The biggest challenge is unfortunately the long hours of labour and having to produce series with very long durations,” he says.

“This is entirely due to the irregular economic structure between the broadcaster and the advertiser. Some of the major advertising brands underestimate the significance of television. Since the low-budget commercials that the brands want to advertise do not financially satisfy the broadcaster, we all end up having to cater to the system where long-duration series and lots of commercials are broadcast in a slot. The conditions greatly strain everybody in front of and behind the camera.”

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Rocky road to love

The path to romance proves bumpy in Turkish comedy-drama Hayat. DQ hears from producer Burak Sağyaşar about making a series for a younger audience and why fantasy shows could be on the increase in Turkey.

In a sign of the growing reach of Turkish series around the world, more than 20 million viewers in India have been watching clips of one romantic drama before it has even aired in the country.

The show in question is Hayat (Aşk Laftan Anlamaz), the story of an affair between the eponymous woman and a businessman named Murat. It airs on Show TV in Turkey.

Burak Sagyasar

Following her graduation, Hayat is struggling to find a job and her mother threatens her with an arranged marriage. As she runs from one interview to the next, she scolds a young man in a taxi line – who turns out to be her next interviewer, Murat. After a case of mistaken identity, she ends up working with him, and so begins a rollercoaster of events with their relationship at the centre.

The series, which runs to 102 episodes, is produced by Bi Yapim and distributed internationally by Inter Medya. The cast is led by Hande Ercel as Hayat and Burak Deniz as Murat.

Here, producer Burak Sağyaşar tells DQ about the unique origins of the series as he sought to make a show targeting younger viewers.

What are the origins of the show?
This show was based on our desire to create a series that could stand out among the many productions that have been unable to fully capture young audiences. Generation gaps were growing between young audiences and producers. Having observed that, I decided to produce Hayat. A lot of young stars in Turkey wanted to work with me when I founded my company, Bi Yapım. So in a way, Hayat was a perfect match for that – with the universe it created, its cast and the trendy love story it told.

How was the story developed for the Show TV?
There was close cooperation with the network. Even though this is the first TV series I have produced, they trusted me completely and only made minor suggestions along the way. The result was completely original and the idea belonged to me. I hear it’s attracting incredible interest in India right now and the sales are going well worldwide, which is all exciting for me.

How did you find the right balance of comedy and drama?
In Turkey, productions are usually one or the other. Any ‘romantic comedies’ are based on situational comedy with some sweet banter between couples. The biggest difference with Hayat is the intense dramatic journey. When the story was first designed, it was a drama, which was then adapted to comedy. Thus between Hayat and Murat, you actually watch a solid love story.

Hayat stars Hande Ercel as Hayat and Burak Deniz as Murat

How would you describe the writing process?
I shared my idea with our writers and creative teams, then the story was conceptualised with a projection of the plot line. Finally, the script drafts were created. The one thing I prefer to never follow is a ‘make it up as we go along’ rationale. It’s a different thing to make manoeuvres according to the ratings. But knowing what you will be shooting and watching without any surprises is another thing. I always want to be able to see ahead, even if those stories may change later on.

How do you find enough storylines to fill 102 episodes?
We first laid down the groundwork. In my system, stories are worked on in batches of 10 episodes – which can change afterwards – and five episodes are approved in advance. I built close relationships with our writers and sometimes I even attended script meetings for hours. We have even created more than 400 episodes on other projects working this way.

How did the writers and directors develop the visual style and tone of the series?
During pre-production, three months prior to broadcast, our director and writers met at the production company every day. They were accompanied by creative department heads. At those meetings they discussed all details regarding the colour, tone and visual style of the show, as well as what camera, lighting equipment and other materials were going to be used – anything you can think of. I have a motto that I always like to say: ‘Everyone will see the dream on the table the same way.’

The story comprises 102 episodes

What do the lead cast members bring to the series?
Hande Erçel and Burak Deniz are two very promising and talented actors. After many auditions, I decided they were the perfect couple. There was very meticulous styling work done and Hayat and Murat emerged as a result.
Hayat has probably contributed to many people’s careers, but with Hande and Burak, it gave their careers a quantum leap. Their dedication, discipline and acting contributed greatly to the show. I’m happy to have worked with them.

Where was the series filmed and how were locations used in the script?
The series was filmed in and around Istanbul. We decided where the story would take place and the writers wrote accordingly. Beautiful and romantic locations were selected for shooting.

What were the biggest challenges during production?
We did not have any major problems or challenges, from episode one right up to the finale. Working with professionals, we were able to quickly take care of all minor troubles among ourselves. That’s why it was a project I happily worked on.
But referring to my earlier comments on the writing process, I can say this: at the risk of ratings dropping, there were at least five sharp turns in the storyline of Hayat along the way. Thanks to the support and collaboration of the network, and being able to read the audience reactions well, we were successful. Still, that was quite a challenge and a risk.

Hayat was created with younger viewers in mind

How do you think Hayat stands out from other dramas on air in Turkey?
As a producer, I try to keep track of everything on screen. There are certain periods when the industry enters a vicious circle of ‘temporary blindness’ and you keep seeing similar works on TV. In the name of raising awareness, as I mentioned before, Hayat is a series that was built on a dramatic structure. Telling the charming and impossible love story of two young lovers embellished with the components of a youth series and a different narrative style, it has become successful and stood out from its rivals.

How are television dramas changing in Turkey and what new stories are being told?
Successful producers in Turkey are those that follow global trends as well as observing their local market. We also follow innovative and exciting stories but, sociologically speaking, in Turkey it is the female audience that drives ratings. We can include women from all categories in this segment. Then come the youth and male viewers. That is why love stories always attract the most interest.
I think the fantasy genre will be the rising trend in the near future in Turkey. The world is transitioning into a new dimension with futurism, with artificial intelligence, space technologies and visionaries like Elon Musk currently among the top trends.
With the proliferation of digital platforms such as Netflix, Hulu and others, more courageous and futuristic stories will be told.

What are you working on next?
Bi Yapım and Tims Productions recently merged in a major deal. Tims Productions is the creator and production company of Magnificent Century and a number of works that have become global hits. From now on, producer Timur Savcı and I will be continuing as partners under the new company name, Tims&B Productions. We are currently working on three new projects, which will be on air in the new season.
Our action series The Oath, which is on air now, has been one of the most talked about series in Turkey and around the world. It was featured on Fresh TV at the last MipTV in April. We are working hard to bring many more successful projects to life.

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