Turkey: Film & TV industry on the incline
Turkey’s domestic TV business has been booming in recent years, with all of the major broadcast networks spending substantial amounts of Turkish Lira on primetime drama series, and there are now signs that the country is starting to catch the attention of international producers.
Recent high-profile movies to have visited the country include James Bond film Skyfall, Ben Affleck’s Argo, Taken 2 starring Liam Neeson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Ghost Rider 2. US drama Tyrant also relocated here from Israel in 2014, when violence flared up.
Among the top attractions of filming in Turkey are the country’s hard-working, inexpensive crews and its stunning rural and urban locations. Istanbul, for example, is an exquisite city, home to marvels such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace and the Bosphorus Sea. Outside the city, unique sites include Pamukkale Thermal Pools, Cappadocia, the Turkish Riviera, Mardin and Mount Ararat.
However in The Turkish Film Commission's online advice to producers section it is keen to point out that the country’s array of beaches, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, mountains, dry plains, modern architecture, ancient towns and quaint villages is also perfect for doubling. “A film whose story takes place in the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Palestine and Jordan can be shot in cities in the South East of Turkey, while the Aegean region is full of olive trees and vineyards, which can be the setting for Greece, Italy and Spain. The Taurus mountains in the south of Turkey can be the setting for Switzerland and the French Alps while the Black Sea Region is very similar to the UK and other North European Countries.”
In terms of supporting infrastructure, the TFC also points out that the country has a highly-developed tourism infrastructure. “Turkey’s accommodation facilities range from multinational hotel chains to small family run hotels, and there is an extensive transportation network that is both efficient and cost-effective. Airports across Turkey welcome 12,000 international flights per week. Should producers wish to transport film equipment via sea, many ports are open to international freight ships.”
Currently, the big negative about filming in Turkey is the lack of audiovisual industry tax incentives, but this is something the government intends to put right. At the end of 2014, Turkish Culture Minister Omer Celik told delegates at the American Film Market that the country was planning to introduce a 25% tax incentive for international film and TV producers. This hasn’t happened yet (perhaps because there has been an election since then, or maybe because of the wider geopolitical situation). But when it does, it should provide an additional impetus for foreign companies to try Turkey.
Alex Sutherland, who set up Istanbul-based AZ Celtic Films in 2010, believes the introduction of incentives would help the country attract more high-profile productions. But in the meantime he sees plenty of evidence to show Turkey is becoming more film-friendly. “The Ministry of Culture is certainly willing to help the sector. I’m also talking with the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ITO), which we worked closely with on TV series Ali & Nino. We are currently putting together plans about how the Chamber can support foreign film-makers and assist shoots that have economic and cultural benefits for the city.”
He believes some progress has already been made thanks to the international productions mentioned at the outset of the story: “As more projects have been shot in Turkey, the authorities have been able to streamline the permitting process. I think we have made big improvements in this area.”
Outside film, Sutherland says there has also been a decent mix of commercials and TV work: “In the last five years we get a little bit of everything across the sector. For example last year we shot the Heineken commercial for the Champions League, which was by far the biggest foreign commercial to have shot in Turkey. And we just completed filming Ali & Nino, which is being produced by Archery Films in London. The story is based on a book by Kurban Said. It’s set during WW1 and centers on a love story between a Muslim and a Christian during the time of the establishment of the 1st Muslim democracy of Azerbaijan. At the moment we are working on a feature film project from China that has backing from the Turkish Ministry of culture.”
In terms of the country’s appeal, he laments the lack of decent studio space but echoes the Film Commission when he says: “Istanbul is still an under-used and visually interesting location. I particularly like all the streets around the Suleymaniye Mosque and the Rustem Pasha Mosque. It’s one of the few places remaining that can almost take you back in time to the very old Istanbul. I also think the possibility of getting a little bit more in terms of production values than some other major cities in Europe is very interesting to directors and producers.”
Much of Turkey’s production infrastructure is currently centered on Istanbul. But the southern city of Antalya is keen to establish itself as the prime production hub for Turkey’s film industry, mixing local and international work. In an interview with Variety, the city’s mayor Menderes Türel said he would like the city, which is on the Mediterranean, to have a state-of-the-art film studio up and running within three years. He told the magazine that: “The sunlight is great for shooting movies; our locations include coastline, mountains, Roman ruins, and modern architecture.” Once the national tax incentive comes into play, he also said the city would look for additional local level support around categories like hospitality and logistics.