Written by James Peak on Dec 16, 2010. Posted in On Location

On location in Turkey

Turkey has most of the ingredients a truly world-class international filming location needs. There is just one thing missing: incentives. But when you consider everything else it has going on, are tax credits really that important?

The 21st Century will mark a millennium since the birth of Turkey, a transcontinental country straddling the border between Europe and Asia. The past 1,000 years has seen the country develop an incredible cultural heritage that is both ancient (Troy, Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire) and modern (democratic, secular, a member of Nato, negotiating to become part of the EU). Turkey also has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

One jewel in the economic crown is a vibrant media industry that does huge business domestically (home-produced films currently get 50% of theatrical box office share). Now Turkey is looking to the West to bolster and develop its international co-production business.

Zeynep Santiroglu Sutherland runs AZ Films in the capital Istanbul. This year they have been hard at work on a Working Title production, John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the UK/US feature co-production Strange Love, and many Discovery and BBC documentary shoots. Zeynep explains that Istanbul can hold its head high as a global destination:

“Locations are very diverse. Many of them are yet to be discovered by international filmmakers, but now they will be helped by a more developed infrastructure, which is improving access every year. Accommodation is cost-effective and well up to world standards. This is the crossroads of the world and we have it all here!”

Producer Eris Akman, of EKS Productions in Istanbul, backs up these comments. 30 years of filming experience in Turkey have given him an encyclopaedic knowledge of what it can double for:

“The Taurus Mountains are just like the Alps. Aegean and Southern Turkey have amazing beaches that can be both tropical and sub-tropical. South-eastern Turkey can resemble anywhere in the Middle East and Arabic Peninsula. Then northern Turkey is just like Ireland, England, Scotland or Scandinavia. Eastern Turkey looks very much like Russia. Central Anatolia is a gem on its own. Cappadocia is like a magic film set. Oh yes! In Antalya you can shoot a skiing scene, then scoot down to the coast for 45 minutes and shoot a sunny beach scene.”

In 2010 AZ Films has doubled Turkish landscapes for Bosnia, Serbia, Paris and Iraq - without even going near the wealth of ancient and archeological sites, chiefly unspoiled by tourism, that dot the entire country. Turkey also has around 5,000 miles of coastline because of its Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea coasts, not to mention the inland Sea of Marmara. Filmmakers on a budget find they have a lot of choice and that production spend goes a long way, as Zeynep explains:

“The reason why Strange Love shot here is because it was much cheaper than in the Balkans, which tends to be the case on most productions that choose Turkey. On Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the book story was partly set here and it was the sensible choice.”

Eris remembers that equipment and quality accommodation used to be scarce in Istanbul, in sharp contrast to today:

“Now, there are so many hire companies that you can get any kit much cheaper than anywhere else in Europe. Stock is also the cheapest in Europe. Location transport like make-up buses and honey wagons are available at very reasonable prices. Car hire and truck hire is very cheap, as is food. Supplies for construction are so cheap that you can make a costume for the fee of a week's hire in the UK. Catering companies are professional and highly skilled. Nowadays almost everyone speaks English in the industry and you can get very low rates. Turkish people are very dedicated, uncomplaining and hard-working.”

There are some pretty decent studio facilities too. In 1999, to close a gap in the studio market, Eris co-founded Antalya Studios. Now ten years old, it claims to have the biggest sound stage in Europe, just a few square meters bigger than the Bond Stage in Pinewood, UK.

Both Strange Love and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which stars Colin Firth, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy) took advantage of the new Turkish VAT rebate. Now foreign productions can claim back all VAT spent on productions inside Turkey, although clearly the benefits fall far short of the kind of incentives that big international co-productions find so attractive, and that are available to near-neighbours Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.

Nevertheless, in 2011 EKS are diving head first into the international feature film market, with a Canada-UK co-production called Anzac and the Johnny-Turk focusing on the Gallipoli War, which will be shot in Gallipoli and around Troy. One thing that would make this project easier is a solid incentive from the Turkish Government:

We are still trying to convince the Ministry of Economics that it will be very advantageous for Turkey to give some incentives but as yet they don’t see the long-term gains.

"All we get at the moment is VAT exemption, but quite honestly when you compare the tax incentives you get in many countries and the money you pay for shooting in Turkey, it costs the same. Of course you also have the advantages of Turkey not being a European Union country, but a country that has a customs union with the EU.”

These advantages are evident for Serdar Dikmen, of Golge Film in Istanbul. They specialise in commercial productions and have been busy in the last year with many European clients. They have recently entertained projects from Radical Media in the UK, the French companies Partizan and The Gang Film, Hazazah Film and Neue Sentimental film and Marken Film, both based in Germany. Clients recognising Turkey as a good shoot option include T-Mobile, Oxata and Swisscom. Serdar says:

“[There are] heaps of locations, really cheap production facilities and crew who contract for 12-hour working days, very cheap and easy transport. Also Istanbul now has great studios, lighting equipment - all the 35mm or Sony HD you could ever need.”

Golge Film are now busy with new commercial and TV projects including commercial shoots for ING Bank and Unicredit. They clearly feel positive about the future in Istanbul.

Tuba Guvelioglu is Managing Director at Motion Films based in Istanbul. The company has recently made commercials for Lukoil and Nestle, and helped out a US producer with The Martha Stewart Show and The Bachelorette. Guvelioglu offers the last word on Turkish production in 2010:

We’re a one-stop shop for any shoot that needs many locations.

Clearly, Turkey has all the ingredients for an incredibly successful international production industry: intriguing heritage, solid and modern infrastructure, filming pedigree, location variety, good transport and accommodation, hard-working, experienced and affordable crew and modern studios. The only thing missing for Turkey is the type of financial incentives that neighbouring countries have already installed, but if these happen expect a production feeding frenzy at this beautiful border of Europe and Asia.

Images courtesy of Turkish Crew (www.turkishcrew.com) & Utopia Locations (www.utopialocations.com)

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    There are 2 comments

  • harun gece

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    ANZAC & Gallipoli I think gallipoli is a great city with its history; there are a lot of place to see. The Turkish people are quite friendly This tour let us see the history of Gallipoli with your professionalism http://www.toursingallipoli.com It was a best way to see gallipoli by taking a tour and we really enjoyed it. Our guide was brilliant as well; he knew all about Gallipoli and made us feel totally relaxed. I would like to thank you very much and your team for your professional service.

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  • Mert Gürel

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    I would definetely agree that the film equipment rental costs are going lower every other day. Crew rates were always lower than Europe though the work quality would most of the time exceed expectations. We at http://www.fixerinturkey.com are trying to put together the best local industy professionals together to meet the standarts.

    We would also like to point out that rumours say the additional government incentives for foreign filmmakers are on their way to be announced by the end of 2014.

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