Millennium #15 Issue, May 2005
"If you keep going the barking dogs will be far behind
An Interview with Emre SAHIN, director of CANTA
Across TWO Continents....
Searching for ONE briefcase.
Poster of the CANTA (The Briefcase)
2) Emre SAHIN, director of CANTA, at the Beverly Hills
by Light Millennium
"I always feel like I am connected no matter what. And
sometimes I think that being away has helped me understand
it a little better or appreciate it. When you are living
there, traffic is just traffic and a mosque is just a
mosque. But if you aren't in Istanbul, the images that
come to mind are very different than if you live there."
to Hollywood to Istanbul and back, Filmmaker Emre
Sahin's debut short film,"Canta" (The
Briefcase) was awarded the coveted "Best Cinematography"
prize at the 2005 Beverly Hills International Film
Festival. "Canta" was chosen out of 1800
film submissions and beat out 40 shorts, 7 features
and 7 documentaries in contention (including David
Duchovny's "House of D" and Executive
Producer of "The Terminator" and "The
Last Emperor", John Daly's "The Aryan
Couple" starring Martin Landau) to take home the prestigious award at
last month's celebrity filled gala event. "Canta" is also an official selection of the 2005
Palm Beach International Film Festival and is in
consideration for upcoming 2005-2006 festivals worldwide.
The man behind this whirlwind success is Emre Sahin, a 28 year
old Turk who credits his fresh filmmaking style
- best described as a masterful blend of gritty,
raw verite with polished cinematography - to growing
up amidst the beautiful chaos of Istanbul. Sahin
moved to the states to study film at Boston's Emerson
College. He's spent the last 8 years living and
working in Los Angeles shooting, directing and editing
for television networks including MTV, VH1, FX,
E! Entertainment, ABC Family, National Geographic
Channel, TLC, The History Channel, The Travel Channel,
The Discovery Channel and The Food Network.
But Hollywood wasn't the first to take notice of Sahin's unique
talent. After "Canta"s 2004 winter debut
Turkey's Radikal Newspaper called
Sahin (translated to English from Turkish) "
one of the best examples of the new generation of
Time Out Istanbul agreed, "An original story, beautiful cinematography, crisp editing.
Canta is a must see."
And NTV raved "Canta is a one of a kind film... Emre Sahin
shows promise for the future of cinema in Turkey."
We sat down with this Hollywood Turk to find out what all the fuss
is about, what's next and why he just might be the
Woody Allen of Istanbul.
- First of all, congratulations on "Canta"s
success. Is it something you expected?
It was something I had hoped for but not necessarily expected.
Obviously if I didn't think we could have done something
good we wouldn't have done it but I felt like there was
a good story, the timing was right. I felt ready and it
was a good debut film. We did it hoping for the best and
so far it has been great.
Go back in time for us. When and why did you decide to
be a filmmaker?
Officially in high school, but I was always into visual things
and I always knew I couldn't have a normal office job
from the time I was 6 years old. As someone growing up
in Istanbul, filmmaking never seemed like a reality or an actual job. It
seemed like something people far off do and they aren't
real people - so I never really considered it. It wasn't
until I started to see that universities had film programs
that I thought "why not?". I hadn't ever shot a film, I just watched
tons of films and was fascinated by the visual aspect
and the technological aspect. My father is a journalist
and when I would go on the road with him to do stories
I loved the mechanics of setting up the tripod, or the
buttons on the camera.
Once I started film school at Emerson, I knew right away I had
chosen the right path. The theory classes, the history
of film - it was amazing. I never knew
that was out there. It was like the passion I had
actually had a name and class to take. My first college
won Best Film and Best Editing in the college version
of the Emmy awards and that was the reinforcement I needed
to move to LA.
- Then what?
I moved to Los Angeles and applied for the internship
at Panavision. They only choose one student out of thousands
per semester so I was lucky to have had that opportunity.
I worked in every department and worked closely with AC's
and DP's. It was my first taste of the Hollywood system
and I got to see how systematic it was. My work now has
the discipline of Hollywood, you know, the team effort,
how you really have to depend on people to do their job.
Hollywood has created the most efficient way of
filmmaking and it is the standard all around the world
and I got to see the inside of that. But I also saw all
the negatives of that system. It can be limiting to creativity.
It can be about trying to repeat successes instead of
trying to find new ones. It has become too safe. Most
decisions aren't made for creative reasons but for financial
ones. But I think this formula will change. The success
of foreign films and documentaries shows that you can
spend less and make more and in the end people just want
to relate to a story. A good story is a good story and
you don't need 50 million and a Tom Cruise to tell it.
- Tell us
It is an Istanbul film in every way. This film wouldn't work unless
it was done in Istanbul. I always like the idea of the
fine line between coincidences and miracles and letting
the audience in on a secret that the characters aren't
aware of. It happens all the time in Istanbul and in the
film we look into the lives of three very different characters
whose actions all affect one another's lives beginning
with the day a briefcase full of money appears to fall
from the sky. I like the idea of watching seemingly unconnected
events unfold, like opening a window for the audience
to see these people, to know what is going on, but being
able to relate to the character and to get lost in their
- How did
the concept of the film evolve?
I had the idea for about 2 years and I knew my first film had to
be in Istanbul. The stories I am going to tell fit there.
But once we started production there, it was a challenge.
Filmmaking is difficult and independent filmmaking is
even more challenging and then to do it in Turkey... Once
you say short film, people automatically think it's a
- How long
of a process from start to finish?
Because it is an independent short, I shot straight for 2 weeks,
then had to take a job back in the states while we were
in post production. In the end it
took 8 months.
- Tell us
how your work in documentary helps!
Working in TV is really fun. It allows me to shift gears because
I can be intense about writing and my own projects. It
forces me to think in a different way - the budgets can
be smaller and the conditions less than perfect so it
makes you question why and how you are doing everything.
It has helped me train my instinct of what works and what
doesn't work - and this helps in fictional storytelling.
I like the discipline and structure of Hollywood system
and this trickles down into the shows I do. But we also
have much less time to do them so we are all about setting
up and going - running with things and letting things
happen. It's very real and exciting.
do you apply this to your filmmaking?
I have a plan, I storyboard, and break down each scene just as
much as anyone else. But when we are on set, I am able
to let it all go out the window if needed. I like when
the actors bring something of their own. With "Canta",
they brought things I wouldn't have thought about.
My documentary background allows for that more
verite or real style - in the sense that I prefer not
to do camera moves that are unmotivated. I prefer to follow
the action instead of gimmicky camera tricks. I think
it helps with a better performance for the actors too
- they don't have to worry about hitting their mark constantly
and I'd rather the shot shift out of focus than a 3 key
lighting that seems stiff and predictable. I think this translates to the audience. It feels more genuine
and interesting to watch. It shouldn't be treated like
a mathematical equation.
SAHIN, director, at the set .
- What was your criteria to select the actors?
We looked for
many many weeks for the right people for each role, as
the actor selection is the most important part of any
film. A good actor can make a film come alive while a
bad actor can kill a good script. So we were very careful
about this process. In the end, it was word of mouth that
led us to the people we chose. I feel we were very lucky
to have found the actors we did. The young ones like Ali
Atay, Ceyda Sener are great actors who truly know the
craft of acting. They brought many things to the film
that I had never imagined. But also, to balance them out
with the more established actors like Abdullah Sahin,
Mehmet Gulerbasli and Sema Onur turned out to be a good
dynamic as well. It was great in the end to have such
a wide range of actors and characters.
us some funny stories from the shoot!
We were doing the chase scene on Istiklal Caddesi during the bayram so it was busier than usual.
As soon as we started shooting we were looking at the
action one way and when we turned around at least 300
people had gathered in less than a minute. And no one
was shy and no one seemed to mind interrupting to find
out what we were
Sound was an also a huge issue for us and I realized quickly why
so many Turkish movies dub over instead of shooting sound.
You don't realize the noises of your own city until you
need it to be quiet for a take. I'd yell "action"
and the guy selling tomatoes, oranges, plastic, or whatever
would take his cue. One day there was a refrigerator seller
and then of course there is the prayer call five times
a day. It can be frustrating but you just have to laugh.
And those are the sounds that make Istanbul so dynamic.
So our shooting schedule basically had to fit in between
the street vendors and the imam.
And of course the language barrier always makes for good set stories.
The producer, director of photography and AC were all
from Los Angeles and the rest of the crew and actors were
Turkish so there were plenty of dictionaries out and by
the end the set spoke and gestured in a weird mix of both.
obstacles did you overcome while shooting Canta?
After months of prepping, we were a week away from shooting and
the bombs went off. That was a big blow for the moral,
everyone was shocked and we weren't sure if we should
go on. One of our locations was across from British
Embassy and was pretty much destroyed and our apartment
is on the same street as the synagogue bombing.
So everyone we knew was affected. But instead of
going into hiding the city kept going so we thought we
Another obstacle that we faced from the very beginning and even
now to some extent is the negative attitude towards making
a film in Turkey - especially a short.
I can't tell you how many people questioned why
I wanted to shoot in Turkey. Why would I not just stay
in the states where I was making a good living and why
I would put my own money up to do this short. But I do
have a plan and the films that I want to make are in Turkey. Turkish cinema does lack a certain eye that it needs to be
able to open up to the world. I'm not saying we should
be doing Turkish films with a Western view - but we need
to make Turkish films with a certain standard. There are
good stories but there's an obvious lack of know how.
You can see basic mistakes in Turkish films whether it's
the sound, continuity, editing, whatever. Right now the
most successful Turkish directors live abroad because
they learned where an infrastructure exists for successful
filmmaking. Now if we can just bring this into Turkey
and adhere to a standard, the potential of Turkish film
and filmmakers is infinite.
- What do
you hope for Canta?
Career wise it was the first major step. Every goal I set for Canta
was fulfilled. So I learned you can achieve even when
everyone is telling you to go home and why bother since
there is no hope for Turkish film. For me, Canta is just step one of many
steps. Now what? There are many more steps. You can't
go from 0 to 100 overnight. My epic will come. Canta has
given me another confidence boost, allowed me to trust
my own instincts and to ignore the negative feedback.
There is a story I really like in Don Quixote that says
as you are moving forward if
you hear the dogs barking, don't be scared and
run away. Keep going because as you are striving for your
goal there are always people who want to stop you. But
if you keep going the barking dogs will be far behind
I also hope that the success of Canta will be an example that Istanbul
can be beautiful even if it isn't sugar coated. We can
be so nationalistic that everything we make or produce
has to be like a tourism brochure but there is beauty
in the chaos here. Istanbul isn't like Paris where almost
every street is like a postcard. Its crowded, loud, there's
a different kind of beauty - one that seems very alive.
In Turkish cinema we either try to sugar coat it or go
completely the other way. But in reality these aspects
live side by side and we are what we are. Instead of making Istanbul into London
or Paris we should just bring out more of what Istanbul
really is and people will relate to that genuine image.
After "Canta's" Beverly Hill's screening, so
many people, some who were interested in Turkey and others
who knew nothing about it,
said the film made them want to go. That was nice
- You shoot,
direct and edit. Why is this important for you to do it
I just enjoy it. I have specific ideas in mind
from the beginning and it is easier for me and makes a
better end product if there is this clear vision. I might
not always do it,
but when I can I enjoy it.
wife who you work with in Los Angeles was the producer
on Canta. What is it like to work together? Tensions?
Bonuses? Language problems?
Working with my wife on Canta was great. We work together on everything
else and I really don't understand when people say it is difficult to work with your spouse
because all we have to do is
look at each other and we know what the other person
is thinking. It puts us ten steps ahead of everyone else.
She knows when I am on track and when I am not. And before
I even know I need something, she makes it happen. I think
we really complete each other and look out for each other
more than a typical producer/director team.
- What has
it been like living in the states for so long? People
have said Canta captured the heart of Istanbul. How can
you do that from so far away?
I always feel like I am connected no matter what. And sometimes
I think that being away has helped me understand it a
little better or appreciate it. When you are living there,
traffic is just traffic and a mosque is just a mosque.
But if you aren't in Istanbul, the images that come to
mind are very different than if you live there. From afar, you capture more of the essence of the city instead of getting
bogged down in the details of the city.
I think certain directors are associated with certain cities. Woody
Allen gives a certain life and face to NY. When you hear
Emre Sahin, I'm projecting my own image of life in Istanbul.
- Why is
it important that you are a Turkish filmmaker and not
an American filmmaker?
It is important because I've seen so many Turks come to LA and
suddenly become American or "Hollywood". And
in that process of becoming someone else they lose their
identity. By not hiding the fact that I'm Turkish in Los
Angeles, it makes me more interesting. My aesthetic choices,
my tastes all bring something fresh and unique to a project.
Obviously, some assimilation is necessary. I'm not saying
we should walk around with a tesbih in our hands - but
just to remember to keep a piece of Turkey with you as
you move along and don't try to be someone you are not.
As a follow up to Canta, I'm writing a feature film right now to
be shot in Istanbul. The plan is to release it theatrically in Turkey and Europe. We've had some serious interest
in funding and are still looking. It is a project that has a bit more social commentary than
Canta but keeps the same mystical feel of Istanbul in
it. It will be the first true Turkish thriller.
Also, my wife and I just sold a pilot to The History Channel
in the states. It's a documentary about the hidden history
buried beneath modern day cities.
We'll shoot the pilot in Istanbul this summer.
I'll direct it and we are the co-executive producers,
as well. I'm also directing a documentary series about
professional bull riders for TLC and my wife and I have
teamed up with Newline television, the producers
of The Amazing Race and Big Brother and
Authentic Entertainment and are shopping around
a reality series that we developed to be shot in Turkey.
There is so much to shoot in Turkey and I hope it will
one day be seen as more than the backdrop for "Midnight
You work in Hollywood so why don't you want to do a "Hollywood"
I would do one if I could do it the way I wanted to . But no one
would let me. In the 70's, there were movies like "The
French Connection" and Hollywood was producing some
really cool films. But in the 80's it became much more
about the money. I understand that and that it is a money
making business so in that respect, I'm lucky to have
Turkey as my outlet and to be able to take the best of
Hollywood with me. I'd love to do an Ottoman epic
and I'll need Hollywood type money to do that. But since
I can do it in Turkey, it won't have to be a cookie cutter
movie. I have no interest in that. This is a creative
job and if I can't be creative I should just go clock
in for a 9-5.
brief information of the film:
Set in the gritty, yet enchanting streets of Istanbul,
Canta is the story of three strangers who each
unknowingly possess the object of the other's desire -
thus sending them on a collision course full of
surreal twists and turns and life altering results. The
duration of the film is 30 minutes.
- For more information on "Canta",
upcoming screenings and festivals or to contact Emre go
Millennium #15 Issue, May 2005
_ . _
Sarah Wetherbee & Haluk Sahin