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ZEYNEP ATAKAN: “My mind is filled with the dreams of new works”

Zeynep Atakan, who describes herself as a producer who focuses on the director rather than the script, is the name behind some of the most prominent films in Turkish cinema such as Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Winter Sleep, and The Wild Pear Tree. She shares with young and prospective producers her professional and international experience at her production company Yapımlab founded in 2010.



Being asked about your biggest weakness is one of the most common and dreaded questions in a job interview. And everybody has the perfect answer: “I’m a perfectionist!” What would you think if someone gave you that answer?


It really doesn’t mean much when someone says they’re a perfectionist because you don’t know the measure. It just sounds like someone with high goals. It could also be a “competitive psychology” embedded in the fast-paced times we live in. To me, people who are aware of their shortcomings are more effective.


Would you call yourself a perfectionist in your professional life?


It’s hard to define what’s perfect. Perfect for what or whom? We have a mirror in nature, where there’s a time and a balance for everything. Each detail in this balance is well-defined, and we can only control certain things. On the other hand, we cannot control anything in nature, which means one’s definition of perfection is limited with what s/he can control. In this regard, I’d describe myself as someone who’s trying to do what she can within her limited sphere of control.


Do you agree that aiming for greatness leads to motivation while aiming for perfection causes demoralisation? Do you think one can create a perfect work or an experience?


It’s definitely not possible and shouldn’t be. I believe that people are a unity of their weaknesses and strengths.



“FIRST AND FOREMOST, I’M INTERESTED IN THE ARTISTIC ASPECT OF THE DIRECTOR AND WHAT S/HE DOES. THE STORY IS IMPORTANT BUT, FOR ME, HOW YOU TELL A STORY IS MORE IMPORTANT.”


There’s no doubt that being a producer requires creativity. How do you begin a journey to realise a script, i.e. an imagined scene? Are there any essential elements of that process?


From beginning to end, producing is a process of design and strategy. The first step of the journey is to build a healthy relationship with the director and the script and to sign an agreement. Then, you determine the principles, requirements, and strategies of the project from its conception to presentation to the audience.


What are your biggest challenges in producing a film and how do you deal with them?


Challenges vary but, for me, the most tiresome part is to create a team and to put together the contracts. Especially in Turkey, the contract culture is pretty weak so people tend to get very emotional about it.


Planning is doubtless a vital part of production; however, each new project has its own coincidences, which are arguably the things that make it special. How do you feel about coincidences? Do you refrain from risks, or go with the flow?


If you don’t like taking risks, you can’t make films. I find coincidences meaningful but never leave it to chance. Like I said, the natural flow of life is perfect. No matter what you do, you cannot control it. The most important thing is that every coincidence in life teaches you something. So, I always see it as a positive thing.


Each film production, especially in Turkey, creates its own miracle. The fate of a project is shaped by many factors from a producer who falls in love with the idea or the script, to an actor who really wants to be a part of it. What do you think is the secret to a good film? Which of the films you’ve produced so far have come close to perfection?


I don’t believe in the concept of perfection so I don’t describe any work as perfect. Looking back at my portfolio and filmography, I see that I’ve realised many things within my limitations but it doesn’t mean that they’re perfect.


You’re one of the few producers in Turkey who continue to work on “director’s cinema” instead of producing projects for television or digital platforms. How do you decide to produce a script and how much does your personal taste affect this decision?


I’m a producer who focuses on the director rather than the script. First and foremost, I’m interested in the artistic aspect of the director and what s/he does. Then I read the script. The story is important but, for me, how you tell a story is more important.


You participate in many projects to encourage the youth towards cinema. Why do you think new filmmakers, especially in Turkey, find it impossible to make a movie nowadays?


To my young colleagues in filmmaking, I suggest taking it slow and one step at a time. They should focus on the process instead of the result and engage in proper process management for a good outcome. Process includes everything. I also think they should nurture their minds through culture and arts.


How do you feel when you watch a film of your production with the audience for the first time?


It’s a very exciting time for me when I feel motivated for a new film.


As we’re preparing to bid this year farewell, what are your future plans?


In 2022, I’m producing a new film by Tamara Kotevska, the co-director of Honeyland. I’ve become a co-producer during the post-production of the film Hilal, Feza ve Diğer Gezegenler by Kutluğ Ataman, and I’m planning the release and festival processes. This year, there will be the 6th Sabancı Foundation Short Film Contest so I’m preparing for that along with a year-long event schedule. I’m also creating various projects to introduce the youth to history in collaboration with Hisart Museum of History and Art. There’s also Yapımlab; I have my classes and dear students there. I’m trying to introduce their projects into the industry. And my mind is filled with endless planning of new projects and dreams. I feel lucky.

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