Not so long ago, when the digital era had just begun and the great recession was just a twinkle in some banker’s eye, British directors started to travel. We left our cosy highly protected home markets and flew to whatever part of the world was on offer. They say time flies when you’re having fun, well, I’ve been working in foreign markets for ten years now - but that doesn’t mean they can’t still shock me...
As artistic types, us directors like to think that foreign markets aren’t an issue, film is universal. Creativity doesn’t bow to geography, it knows no boundaries – and anyway, a good storyboard can get you out of even the biggest mess. But when you land in Istanbul these views are put straight to the test.
Like when a car remorselessly ploughs into the back of your taxi at 60mph. If this were to happen in England it would be a talking point for at least a couple of days. Here it seemed par for the course – would you like a drink with your whiplash sir?
Back home we wouldn’t cross a velvet rope in a cinema unless there was a fire and we had the permission of the designated member of staff. Here we had taxi drivers gleefully darting into slip roads, evading our productions ‘improvised’ road blocks and overtaking our tracking vehicles with inches to spare.
This might have had something to do with our traffic stopping equipment. Namely a local production assistant frantically waving an orange lightsaber, seemingly bought from a nearby toy store, with the apparent hope that ‘the force’ would warn the oncoming drivers there was a five ton tracking vehicle ahead and they should probably slow down.
Perhaps sensing this chaos, our monstrous crane started to take its own directions as if it had been developed by Cyberdyne Systems. Particularly ominous if you’re aboard and travelling at 50mph. Luckily my French colleague and good friend, the director of photography, was on hand with some sound advice: ‘when I say jump, jump...’
We were losing days to bad weather, schedules were being discarded and I was starting to think a storyboard is only ever used by creative directors to help remind them of just how stupid your PPM promises really were. Shoot days were becoming shoot nights and overtime was just a good joke whilst you downed your 17th espresso. But there was a beacon of light...
The Arri Alexa. The most incredible piece of digital kit to hit the market in years. I saw the future – and the future is pixels. This could be the one that finally sees the end of film.
If work takes you to Istanbul then my advice would be this: leave your watch at the airport. Time is elastic here. When you don’t know if you’ll be stuck in traffic for two hours or five, it almost becomes irrelevant. Perhaps that’s why every watch you buy at the local Bazaar breaks after 48 hours. It dutifully ticks by until it realises no one is paying a blind bit of notice. In a final fit of pique it gives up.
I began to do the same, time was dead to me. The Turkish have a saying: Insha’Allah, translation: ’If God’s Willing’. Are you picking me up at 9 tomorrow? Insha’Allah. Can we still film here? Insha’Allah. And this is very much the case. When you’re filming in Istanbul the usual practices go out the window, you’re in God’s hands.
And it was at the wrong end of another gruelling 20-hour stint in the hands of God that I finally made my peace with Istanbul. As the sun rose over the Bospherous and the call to prayer awoke the city, everything suddenly looked beautiful. I realised, even through my frazzled ‘lost in translation’ state that Istanbul was an incredible city, it's people friendlier than some Europeans, and locations beyond your wildest dreams. I’d also forgotten what a good night’s sleep was, my back would probably never recover and I’d nearly been decapitated by a crane. But I’d bonded with the Arri Alexa and we’d got the job done. What’s more, it was looking good. Would I ever return? Insha’Allah