Filming in Turkey with Producer Alex Sutherland
Alex started in the film business at the age of 18. His father, Muir Sutherland, was already an established producer so he knew this was the industry for him.
Muir helped Alex get his first job as a runner for the London and Sydney ends of LWT’s mini-series The Saint but made it clear that the rest was up to him. Being half Spanish, Alex also spent plenty of time working in Spain and helped Antonio Banderas improve his English before the actor set off for America.
Alex has worked in many departments on productions such as The World is Not Enough, Armageddon and Morvern Callar, but it wasn't until a position opened up on the third series of Napoleonic War drama Sharpe that he joined the location department, which eventually led him into production. Alex first came to Turkey in 1994 as the 1st location scout for Sharpe. He moved there permanently in 2009 and opened AZ Films in 2010.
Tell me about Turkey's industry
Turkey's industry is growing at a very rapid rate. In terms of equipment, the techno 50 and wire cam arrived in Istanbul earlier this month. There are still some infrastructural problems which are slowly being resolved as more productions come into the country. Crews are adapting well to the high standards foreign films demand.
What Turkish locations are most commonly used by film and TV crews?
Istanbul has some unique buildings, such as Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Bosphorous and the streets around Suleymaniye Mosque. The main versatility of the city is that alongside these iconic buildings you constantly have some of the newest structures going up around the city which offer you an unbelievable diversity.
What are the rare, more unusual locations that our readers would not associate with Turkey?
I would say that snow is not something that is often associated with Turkey. We have at least five major ski resorts in Bursa, Bolu, Kayseri, Antalya and Erzurum, where the last university winter Olympics took place.
What has been your most difficult location assignment to date and why?
Over the years we've doubled Turkey for Spain, closed down the Blue Mosque and had to find a 70s Russian cargo ship to dock at a passenger ferry terminal in Istanbul.
Recently we were commissioned to produce a commercial by one of Turkey's leading agencies for a big local jeans brand called Colin's (see the spot and Making Of video at the bottom of this interview).
They wanted a commercial that didn't look or feel local but due to budget constraints it had to be shot domestically. We set the commercial in the American Mid-West and looked all over Turkey for the right location.
We ended up finding the perfect location in a city in central Anatolia called Kayseri. To this day everyone who has seen the commercial can't believe that it was filmed in Turkey. We brought the Director, DoP and cast in from the UK.
What types of production do you work on most?
Our main aim is to work on productions that have some sort of significance to the region as a whole. For instance once you pass Turkey's Eastern borders there are few countries where crews would currently feel safe working. Turkey's varied looks allow it to double for most Mediterranean and Eastern countries.
Are there any tips that you would like to share with our audience about filming in Turkey?
My main tip is to have a good preparation period. Depending on the particular permits and what you're doing you need to go through many Government departments.
For instance, on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy we did a lot of filming in Government buildings where little, if any, filming had ever taken place. Once you have everything in place then it goes smoothly.
As a company we spent a long time developing strong relationships with the various Government ministries and now we have a great opportunity to afford productions exciting, beautiful and rarely-used locations.
Which are the best airports to use to film in Turkey and who flies there? Any tips on customs clearance or film-friendly freight agents?
Generally all the airports are open to filming. The usual restrictions apply, but again it's all about the planning and having the right contact in each place. Over the last seven years we have spent a lot of time and energy building very good relationships with all the relevant Government entities and we're now finding them very film-friendly.
What are the most crew-friendly hotels in Turkey and what and where is your favourite wrap party venue?
We have worked with a lot of hotels within Istanbul. The main problem is that the city has a lack of rooms and if you delay decisions then your choices narrow and the prices go up. There is a real lack of mid-level hotels in the city.
The hotels I like to use are the Hilton and Divan located in the centre of Istanbul. Both are very film-friendly now, having dealt with many film crews.
Outside Istanbul there are many new good-level hotels opening almost every month.
There are usually set costs for Public Liability cover for film units and costs for insuring locations - can you tell us about location insurance and give examples of costs in your region?
All the big insurance companies have branches in Istanbul. The quotes are on par with the rest of Europe but each company that you work with has different levels of coverage.
What do you do with your time off and what would you recommend crew and cast do to have fun and relax?
Recently I've had very little time off but I do try to escape to the south of Turkey for short breaks to refresh. There are some wonderful beaches in secluded spots that are not on the tourist path. Turkey is a paradise for anyone that loves the sea, I highly recommend the "blue voyage". It's the best way of exploring Turkey's shoreline and islands. The main places I like to go around the south are Bodrum and a little town called Gocek.
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