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Ercan Kesal, A Versatile Filmmaker

Blog
Ercan Kesal, A Versatile Filmmaker

06.03.2019

Interview: Sasha Demir
Illutsration: Saydan Akşit
Translation: Yetkin Nural

Actor, author, and director Ercan Kesal will be part of the jury in Akbank Short Film Festival’s National Competition this year. He will also give a talk on screenwriting. He answered our questions about his transition from medical practice to cinema, the books he has penned, his new projects, and his cinematic journey in general.

You have a rich career in various disciplines. You studied medicine, worked as a doctor for years, then you set out with the dream of becoming a film director. You’ve acted in films, you wrote books and film scripts, you even ran for office in municipal elections. How do you combine so many different fields? What kind of an impact does doing so many things have on your life?

All these things do not get in each other’s way. On the contrary, they nurture each other. I take notes for my next script while reading. The film set is like a workshop for me. While preparing for a role I will play, I also work on how to direct actors. And while writing a film, in fact I also shoot it. Everything I ever do is actually nothing but the recreation of what I have read, experienced or observed. Isn’t this what life is all about?

Even though you did not aspire to become an actor, you got the chance to act in Distant (2002) by Nuri Bilge Ceylan in your first acting role. In his later films, you co-wrote the script. You wrote a book about your conversations with renowned director Metin Erksan. Who are the other people who have influenced you in your acting and your writing?

Nothing can be called a pure coincidence; nothing is that insignificant. There is a reason and a right time for everything. I’ve passionately wanted to be a part of cinema all my life. All of this was eventually bound to happen. Literature has certainly been decisive in my choices. Refik Halit Karay, Kemal Tahir, Sait Faik Abasıyanık, Vüs’at O. Bener, Anton Çehov, Cemil Meriç, Turgut Uyar... I wanted to follow in the footsteps of these writers. There is no doubt that I am a lucky individual; my path crossed with good directors, good writers, and good actors. I listened, I spoke, I argued, and I learned. Nuri Bilge has been an important factor in terms of bringing out my identity as a scriptwriter and an actor. Erksan was my library. I’ve learned from him what scientific knowledge is. Tayfun Pirselimoğlu is a friend whose films and literary work I follow with admiration. I give great importance to what he has to say on any given subject. In the process of writing, my editor Tanıl Bora is the closest person to me.

As far as we know, you are currently working on your tenth book. Do you wish to turn your stories, poems or conversations into films? What are the channels that nurture your writing, in addition to reading a lot?

My stories are the key source behind my scripts. I do not convert them directly into scripts but I keep going back to them. My books and my scripts are part of the same world. My book Peri Gazozu, for instance, includes some one hundred synopsis. But cinema is usually not the story itself; rather it hides somewhere inside the story, waiting for you to find it. The trick is to read, observe, and listen a lot; and live in general. To live sincerely, sensitively, tenderly, without losing your awareness. There is no other way you can nurture yourself.

Recently you directed a documentary called Fındıktan Sonra. How was your first experience as a director? Did your idea of a “director” and the director on the set match each other?

When I decided to make that documentary, I was already preparing for the shoot of my first feature film, Nasipse Adayız. I was already accustomed to the camera, the sound, the locations. I believe that is why I shot the two films together. They are sort of intermingled. But I believe that all directors make that one big film all their lives, or at least try to.

You are part of the jury in the national section of the 15th Akbank Short Film Festival. Certainly there are numerous criteria for grading films. In your experience, what are the most important factors in reading a film? Do you come upon films that have something new to say these days?

It is important that a film is not “old”, that is has something new to say. It should not be repetitive. It should stay away from clichés. It should be creative, surprising, and intelligent. It should also be honest and sincere. It should not try to fool the audience, it should not bargain with them. It should not surrender to their taste, and it should be brave. I come upon surprising films mostly from Romania, Hungary and Russia.

This year in Akbank Short Film Festival, you will also attend a conversation entitled “Writing a Script”. What will you talk about? What drives you to write a script? What guides you?

I prefer to follow an idea, rather than a story. The idea is something I keep in my pocket all the time. I never forget about it and it always guides me. The rest is basically technicality. You try to give depth to your characters, you make them talk, and tell your story. But what will remain is your main issue. That is what drives the audience and that is what remains with them in the end. Cinema is that tiny, impressive idea. If you do not have a good, surprising, and impressive idea, whatever you write is useless.

Finally, as a writer of short stories, what is your opinion on short film? There are certain views on what a short film is, but there is no single description. What is your idea of a good short film?

A short film gives you an idea about the director’s qualities; it is a journey by which you can prophesize about him. It is a short but powerful journey. It is the ability to tell a story, through whatever means necessary. It is what distinguishes him from all the others. It is his awareness. It is also how he directs the actors. The way he uses the camera, his painting skill, his perception of the world, all of this comes through in a short film, all gets revealed. This is why a short film is a valuable indicator, somewhat like litmus paper.

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