Turkey is building an international reputation in the film industry
in: Disbook #4 March 2014
Production company AZ Celtic Films has proven in just a couple of years that big chunks of Hollywood hit movies can be shot in Istanbul and other Turkish locations, as Turkey has a wide range of locations and climates for any possible film.
Photos: Slawomira Kozieniec
Established only three years ago in Istanbul and already Oscars, BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards under its belt. What a dream start for production company AZ Celtic Films. In 2011 the Cold War espionage film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, based on the 1974 novel with the same name by John le Carré, won BAFTA Awards. Chunks of Ben Affleck’s Oscar winning political thriller film Argo (2012) were also shot in Istanbul, thanks to AZ Celtic Films.
“We were obviously very proud and happy with these awards”, Mrs. Zeynep Santiroglu Sutherland says in an interview with Disbook. Santiroglu, who is from Istanbul, and her British husband Alex Sutherland are not new to the business though. Sutherland’s father was head of Thames TV. “I have been doing this work for 15 years”, Santiroglu says. “I studied history of arts and archeology, and started the business as a production assistant on mainly international projects. Since then I had the fortune to work with some of the most highly respected people in their fields. The film world is a small world, and through our past experiences, we have been able to establish good friendships and connections all over the world.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the first film they serviced. Santiroglu read the novel as a research, to see what would be needed for the scenes in Istanbul. The film was a big success. “It was a reminder what Turkey could offer Hollywood and others who make films. Before that Turkey wasn’t really on the film making map internationally. Then we were contacted by “Argo”. You have to show them around. We had to convince Ben Affleck that this could be done here.
The preparation period took about six months. We did a lot of work with our dedicated team to prepare scenes that were crucial in this movie. In the Istanbul neighborhood of Bakırköy we built a wall that resembled the wall of the U.S. embassy in Tehran”. On 4 November 1979 revolutionary students stormed the building taking dozens of US staff hostage. “We used 2000 extras for three days to shoot the scenes at the embassy wall. In the Grand Bazaar the scenes were shot as if it was the Tehran bazaar. We did it when the bazaar was closed for four days during the Muslim holiday of Kurban Bayram (Feast of Sacrifice). We negotiated with over 200 shop owners to get their permission and we paid everybody the same amount. So a lot of contracts, a lot of lawyers, a lot of e-mailing comes into play. I like meeting everyone and explaining to them what it is that we are doing. Communication is key in our business. When you take such responsibilities everything has to go like clockwork; there are so many factors you have to account for.”
The next movie AZ Celtic Films worked on was “Two Faces of January” (2013) based on Patricia Highsmith’s 60-ties best-selling crime thriller with Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst. “Most was filmed here. Each time we love the challenge of finding the best suitable locations. We found and created Athens-like locations in Istanbul for this film. We always go the extra mile. You have to be the mother of it. We dressed the old horse race course of Istanbul up as Athens airport in the sixties. And we turned the so-called French street with all its bars and restaurants in the center of modern day Istanbul into Plaka, the old historical neighborhood of Athens with the tavernas.”
Their added value is their international experience and extensive network. They speak multi languages. “I’m fluent in Turkish, English and Spanish”, Zeynep Santiroglu explains. “We worked in India, Nigeria, Australia, Morocco, Spain, the U.S., Bosnia, Ukraine, and UK.”
It was always their dream to bring film productions to Turkey, because it has a wide range of locations and climates for any possible film. “All that was lacking was a good reputation”. Now, with the success of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Argo things are changing in a positive way in the developing relationship between Turkey and the film industry. But not fast enough, according to AZ Celtic Films. The main obstacle is that Turkish authorities do not give enough incentives to the film industry, she says. “Here in Turkey we have to compete with countries like Bulgaria, Hungary, Morocco and Malta. Most of them give specific incentives for filming from 20 – 50 percent. Turkey should also encourage international films and offer these incentives, because shooting a movie not only contributes to the country’s economy and employment, but also promotes it internationally, which is a great future investment.”