Turkey’s popularity as a filming location is growing, thanks to its extraordinary geographic and cultural diversity. While it has traditionally attracted much of its international work from Russia and Eastern Europe, the popularity of Turkey as a tourist destination has also put it on the map for western companies.
At the same time, the strength of Turkey's economy means the local TV production business has been booming in recent years (there has, for example, been a surge in the number of foreign entertainment formats acquired by Turkey). The knock-on effect of this is improved crews and greater investment in everything from cameras to post-production equipment. The quality of the local industry is also boosted by the strength of the domestic movie business – with Turkish films currently taking approximately half of box office revenues.
The cost of shooting in Turkey is not high, crews are good value, accommodation is moderately priced and there’s also a decent transport infrastructure. The industry is centred on capital Istanbul which has many production companies, technical crews, studios and facilities.
Istanbul is also home to production companies like Bocek, Karma, Dinamo Istanbul and Atlantik Film. FPS has worked with brands like TUI, Swarovski, Gillette and Fiat. Complete Works was involved in a Bochkarev Beer campaign, managed by Publicis Moscow, produced by Russia’s Bazalevs.
There are luxurious hotels in every region and their prices are less than those in Europe.
Turkey has seen a recent spike in interest from international television producers keen to establish a presence in the country. At the start of 2017, Red Arrow Entertainment Group’s Karga Seven Pictures launched a new production hub in Turkey, with the opening of a permanent production office in Istanbul.
In May 2017 the streaming giant Netflix annouced its first original series from Turkey. The 10-episode drama comes from Istanbul-based O3 Medya and is a hero-driven action story full of Ottoman and Turkish legend and history, written and produced in Turkey.
Also in the summer of 2017, CJ E&M, South Korea’s largest entertainment conglomerate, announced that it was going to set up a unit to produce local content. The move was set to include making Korea-Turkey co-production feature films, the first of which is Hot, Sweet & Sour.
Blockbuster films to have shot in Turkey include Argo (2012), Taken 2 (2012), Skyfall (2012) and in early 2014 the directorial debut of Australian actor Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner, also starring Olga Kurylenko.
Changes in the country’s incentive structure should ensure this success continues. Turkey has a vibrant domestic TV business but has not as yet seen many foreign TV productions come to the country. US TV shows to have visited Turkey include The Bachelorette (ABC TV) and The Martha Stewart Show.
The BBC has also been to Turkey to shoot films with specific historical requirements (ie subjects such as the Byzantine Empire and Seven Wonders of the World). There’s a regular turnover of ads from markets like Russia, India, the US, UK, France and Germany. Brands to have been in Turkey recently include Nokia, Opel, Footlocker, Max Factor, LG, Megafon, Lukoil and Stary Melnik (the latter is a Russian beer brand owned by Turkish brewer Efes).
Overall, the production industry in Turkey is on the incline, with international producers starting to take notice of all that is on offer in the country.
One good starting point is the Turkish Film Commission, another is your local embassy or consulate. As a general observation, securing permission in Turkey is not difficult as long as you leave plenty of time (weeks rather than days). Typically, you need two types of permit. The first covers general public locations while the second deals with specific sites such as palaces, parks, museums and so on.
Attention needs to be paid to the latter permits because rules can vary from site to site. Most producers hire a local fixer (eg a production company) because they can smooth the process considerably. An example would be AZ Celtic Films - based in Istanbul, which worked as the fixer on the 2011 production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Another good port of call is Fixer in Turkey.
Aside from permits, don’t forget you will also need filming visas (tourist visas aren’t enough). These might take more time to process and cost more but are an essential adjunct to the permits.
A major player is Istanbul Film Studios, a division of one of Turkey’s largest business groups MV Holdings. MV entered the studio business in 2004 with the purchase of ATA Studios. In 2005, ATA acquired rival TEM and the enlarged business was renamed as Istanbul Film Studios.
An added bonus in Turkey is that Istanbul is home to post-production houses like 1000 Volt, which is equipped to provide telecine, editing, VFX, animation, 3D stereoscopy and audio. Also at the cutting edge of post-production in Turkey is Mojo, well-known for its VFX and animation work. In terms of casting, Turkey has a variety of ethnic and cultural looks available.
Turkey is a huge country that borders Greece, Bulgaria, Syria, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Georgia and Armenia. So it’s no surprise it can offer a variety of climates and locations including stunning beaches, exotic islands, spectacular mountains, deserts-like areas and diversified forests. The popularity of Turkey works at two levels.
Firstly, it can mimic other settings.The Taurus Mountains, for example, look like the Alps; Northern Turkey is like Ireland, England, Scotland or Scandinavia and south-eastern Turkey can resemble the Middle East. This latter point is a key consideration given the unrest in that region at present.
Secondly, Turkey has unique locations like Istanbul, which offers a mix of classic architecture, café culture and twenty-first century modernity. And if you’re looking for something really unique then there are awe-inspiring sites like Cappadocia, Bodrum, Mardin and Pamukkale. Cappadocia, home to unique and unusual rock formations, was a location for Nic Cage’s Ghost Riders 2 (2011).
You can shoot spring, summer, autumn and winter scenes throughout the year. For example, you can shoot a skiing scene on a snowy mountain and then a swimming scene on the beach in the same day in Antalya for about nine months of the year.
There are numerous equipment rental firms that could be recommended by your local fixer. One option is Orion Lighting and Camera which has a wide range of digital, 35mm and 16mm cameras. Orion also has three studios.