STARRY EYED

Turkey 2013 | TOURISM | FOCUS: FILM & TV

Whether by exporting TV shows as a form of soft power or through raising awareness of the country as a location for Hollywood films, Turkey is boosting its fame on the silver screen.

With the announcement that internationally renowned television series Muhteşem Yüzyıl, an Ottoman-ere period drama, would be aired on Chinese television, the Turkish TV industry achieved yet another success in the global market. It is nearly the 70th Turkish television series to have been sold abroad since 2001. Translated as The Magnificent Century in English, the series has already established popularity in the Balkans and Russia. It also became the first Turkish TV series to be sold to Italy, making it available in 43 countries for 200 million people worldwide. The show takes place in the 16th century and recounts the love shared between Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and Roxelana, a member of his harem who later became known as Hürrem Sultan.

A combined total of 65 programs—many of them soap operas or historical dramas—raked in over $50 million for the industry over the past decade. Although popular worldwide, Turkey's largest market for TV exports is the Middle East. High advertising costs and the culture of slow-paced programming have supported the industry as it expands abroad, with production quality notably higher than what is available on the local market in many of the countries Turkish series are popular in. For Turkey's actors and actresses, this also brings fame. Beren Saat is one of Turkey's best-known actresses in the Arab world, and starred in Aşk-ı Memnu (Forbidden Love), a love story that was sold to 46 countries. Her male co-star in the show, Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, also starred in Gümüş (Silver), known as Noor in the Middle East, a show set in Istanbul that challenges cultural traditions. He has quickly become a heartthrob in the region, even likened to Brad Pitt.

On the back of a series of successful shows, the sector displayed remarkable growth over the past five years; annual income from soap opera exports reached $90 million in 2012, up from $1 million in 2007. Many of the most popular Turkish series are produced in Istanbul, with directors choosing to present the city as a picturesque blend of modernity and history. With Istanbul and its many attractions now part of regular programming across the region, it is no surprise that the number of tourists from the Middle East in particular has increased five fold over the past seven years.

Noting the success of production with Turkey as a backdrop, international film studios have looked to Turkey as an increasingly desirable filming location. For example, film crews chose a combination of Istanbul and Adana for the opening sequence of the most recent installment of the James Bond series, Skyfall, and the country acted as a double for Iran during the filming of Academy Award-winning Argo in 2012. Although Turkish landscapes have also been used for films set in Bosnia, Serbia, Paris, and Iraq, filmmakers have yet to tap into the wealth of ancient and archeological sites across the country, many of which are unspoiled by tourism, including 5,000 miles of coastline and the Sea of Marmara.

However, Alex Sutherland, Founder of AZ Celtic Films, assured TBY that Turkey has much more to offer than its stunning good looks. “Other than the amazing variety of locations, people are willing to listen to new ideas," he said, adding “Turks are very business-minded, and they see the potential of filmmaking here and supporting foreign projects, knowing that Turkey as a whole will also benefit from the success and exposure." Indeed, the true benefactor of increased activity in the international filmmaking arena is Turkey itself—in 2012, approximately five foreign-produced films injected over $10 million into the local economy. In addition, filming operations provided approximately 15,000 jobs in the same year.

In response to this potential, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is actively working to attract production companies to shoot foreign films in Turkey. “Our main aim is to ensure that Turkey becomes a set for foreign films, thereby enhancing Turkey's brand value internationally," Ömer Çelik, Minister of Culture and Tourism, explained.

Clearly, Turkey has all the ingredients for a successful international production industry: intriguing heritage, solid and modern infrastructure, a 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 neighboring countries already have in place, but if these things happen, then expect a production feeding frenzy at this beautiful border between Europe and Asia.