“Once you find a good collaboration it’s best to never let it go”

Esra Saydam and Nisan Dag co-wrote and co-directed Across the Sea. They met and trained in the US but they returned to their home country of Turkey to make this, their first feature. They talk about the hurdles they had to overcome and how they got started.

esra and nisan at raindance

(Esra) Living away from Turkey for many years, our goal was to conquer the US and feed our passion for filmmaking. That was the best place for us, for our career and our passion but at the same time it also meant we had to leave behind our loved ones. At that moment the grief, the pain, was so much that we both felt like we had to do something about it. I came up with the story for the film and shared it with Nisan

When you come to Turkey everybody has these prejudices. We didn’t have any funds but our perception was ‘we are going to do this next summer, that’s our plan’ and as we kept saying it we started to get funds.

In Turkey they separate the cinema in 2 ways; festival movie and the blockbuster, there is nothing in the middle. We were accepted as a festival movie (even though we would challenge that idea); we tried to do the British and American style indie movie. It was ok to be a minority as women; they would still give us funds, but I think the biggest challenge is when you want to do a blockbuster. I don’t see any blockbusters directed by a woman in Turkey.

There was a study at Sundance about women directors and producers, women can produce blockbusters and first features, they are allowed to direct indies but when it is a blockbuster it is like a red alarm. For some reason it is much easier for them to give the job to a male director who hasn’t done any features but who has directed commercials, he is seen as reliable. When it comes to finance women are not seen as reliable and that really bothers me.

It’s funny as soon as you start to talk about women you actually kind of accept that we are different. When I watch a romantic movie or something that deals with a woman, that has a male director, I think ‘it’s not like that from my personal experience’. I wish I could direct a movie like that where I feel like I can give some kind of perspective that is missed and overlooked

I still feel connected to the New York indie scene and I feel like I want to make films with theatrical value and strong stories. Ideally I would love to direct and/or produce films that are artistically well crafted that show some kind of original vision whether mine or someone else’s and then make it appeal to a wider audience.

I have been writing for a politically challenging project, since we moved back to Turkey politics is always in the air. There is a huge polarisation going on and it’s really making me sad and it’s a way for me to explore this.

Trust your guts and instincts but make sure you are surrounded by the right people; you cannot do everything by yourself.

esra and nisan awards image

(Nisan) It is a very personal story so I think that is why we had to write it ourselves. Co-writing is amazing because I feel like writing is such an incredibly difficult task. The great thing about co-writing is you challenge each other to make it better.

This production happened fairly quickly, everyone was telling us ‘you shouldn’t rush to make this film, you should wait’ and we got a lot of that. I think being two of us whenever one of us was feeling doubtful, was feeling weaker, the other supported them and said ‘no we know what we’re doing we should just go for it’. We had a lot of discouragement in Turkey; we were new in the industry, people didn’t trust us but we had each other and we were good team mates so we were like ‘we can do this’.

I think we convinced ourselves first and then when we did that we believed it and then people we approached felt it and they had to believe in it as well.

I think in the indie world it’s almost an advantage to be a woman because there are special grants for women filmmakers, so I think we might even have had the advantage when applying for grants.

Personally I don’t feel specifically ‘I’m a woman filmmaker and I should make movies about women’. I want to make movies about outsiders, and maybe some women feel like they are outsiders because they are women so they can connect to my movies in that sense. That excites me and I feel that then that covers a larger group of people because I want to also be able to touch everyone so I don’t want to limit the scale of my audience.

I want to keep making films; my dream is to become a universal filmmaker. I don’t want to say I want to be in Turkey or New York I just want to be wherever the project requires. The kinds of films I want to make are films that come from a certain culture but that appeal to a larger group of people. In Turkey this strict distinction between festival and commercial films means there is no grey area at all and I believe that it’s very difficult but possible so hopefully I can do that miraculous in-between film, that’s the goal.

We are both working on separate scripts and ideas but we will always support each other,once you find a good collaboration it’s best to never let it go; so one way or the other we want to be involved in each other’s films.

Save some of your energy for the production phase so that you can be more alert and active on set. Don’t kill yourself; give yourself a little bit of a break before you start filming so you can be your best during filming.

This article appeared on Raindance.

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