“I carry the amateur spirit with me, all the time”Director Erol Ozlevi, emphasizing that his work speaks to emotions says, “I still carry the amateur spirit with me all the time just like I did when I first started doing this job.” Director Erol Ozlevi after various successful feature films is now marking his name in television industry with various television series. Ozlevi offers valuable lessons and messages for those who wish to pursue a career in this industry.
Who is Erol Ozlevi? Let’s get to know you, first.
A family man following the path of Torah and a visionary who does his job with great passion. If I were a football player, I would run a lot. If I were an astronaut, I would live in space. If I were a building contractor, I would not mix sand with lime.
In the past, members of our community usually preferred making a career in commerce, law, medicine or engineering. Today, we see many different professions. You have chosen to pursue a career in film industry. Why this industry?
I chose this industry because I’m addicted to the emotions movies convey to viewers.
Since I was a young boy, I dreamt of becoming a part of the film industry. I loved watching movies. At every occasion, I would watch a movie and live in the imaginary world I dreamt of. After I graduated from high school, I tried studying Fine Arts. Then I realized that film industry was the industry that would make me happy. As you can imagine, film industry is the perfect world to build everything you ever dream of. It is an industry where you can be anything you want, live anyway you like, and feel almost all emotions within a limited period of time. It is the only industry I want to work in.
After you graduated from college and came back to Turkey how and where did you start working? You are today an acclaimed director in our country. The television series and movies you direct do make an impact. How did you achieve this?
The films I directed in USA contributed significantly to my show reel. Right after I returned to Turkey, before I could even settle down, I started shooting commercials. I worked in advertising sector for a long time. I was working with various multinational brands. One day, Boyut Film’s producer Mahsun Kirmizigul (a famous Turkish singer/ movie director/producer) gave me a call. He had seen my show reel and he got intrigued. He said he wanted to work with me at a new movie project. Hence my first feature film… “Romantic Comedy 2”. It was an exciting project. The movie was a huge success in the box office with over 1.5 million viewers.
After that, I got an offer from Erler Film’s producer Turker Inanoglu for a period drama. This film had more artistic aspects than my previous one. Its genre was drama and was very different from my first film which was a romantic comedy. The film ‘Exile’ was about a painful immigration story of a group of minorities. When I completed this film, Turker Inanoglu believed that I could be perfect at directing television series. He asked me to be a part of a television series which he thought would be a great hit. I gladly accepted. With this, I entered TV industry. “Kucuk Aga” starring Zeki Alasya, Sarp Levendoglu, Birce Akalay and Emir Berke Zincidi received record ratings with its first episode. We were very surprised. No one was expecting such an extraordinary success, except for Turker Inanoglu, of course. We had high ratings and the series ranked first for a very long time. Especially when “Kurt Seyit and Sura” starring Kivanc Tatlitug started airing at the same time slot as our series and we maintained our leadership, it was a surprise for the whole industry. It was a surprise for me, too. I was expecting it would have higher ratings than our series. The reaction from the viewers was very different. For three consecutive seasons the viewers were loyal to Kucuk Aga.
Afterwards, we started a new project with Surec Film for the summer season. Its name was “Its Name is Happiness”. When this series was ranked first in ratings, too, I got really used to the industry and the industry also got used to me. After this project, I directed my third feature film, “If He Comes Back He’s Yours” with Taff Productions. It was a romantic comedy starring Murat Boz, Irem Sak and Yasemin Kay Allen. Scripts written by scriptwriters with an advertising background have a distinct structure. It was a project where all of us had fun doing. Indeed, I owe all of this to advertising sector. Therefore, whenever I have free time, I continue shooting commercials. Shooting commercials ensures that a director continually refreshes himself.
While reviewing your resume, I’ve come across great references from the people you’ve worked with. Since you are highly appreciated, it means you have strong communications skills and you’re good at what you are doing. What can you say about that?
Think of a party. Everyone in the party is frowning. It’s the director who can decide to change the music, the ambiance. Therefore, every critic and comment coming from the people I work with including set workers, crew members and actors is important for me. Our job is a collective effort and the movies we make is being watched and criticized by millions of people. Since our work speaks to emotions, the energy and the feelings of the film we have created with team spirit reflect directly onto the audience. Creating a great team spirit starts with the director’s management philosophy at the set. When I gain my team’s love, respect and trust, I always carry with me the amateur spirit I had when I first started this job. This spirit inevitably excites people who are a part of the project.
Not long ago, your daughter was born. Mazal Tov. Now you have a new role in life: father. Can you spare enough time for your home life? How is Erol Ozlevi as a father and as a husband?
Thank you. In fact, she is our second child. Two and a half years ago, our son was born. Being a father is the most intense feeling I’ve ever experienced. I’ve always loved children. But the love you have for your own child is totally different. I used to hear about it, but now I understand it perfectly. Our children are our everything. During shootings, I feel as if I’m not making enough time for my family. Except for Shabbat. I spend Shabbat with my wife and my children. As to how I am as a husband, you should ask my wife. I hope she’s happy with me.
Turkish film industry has come a long way in the recent years. There are great feature films and television series. How do you see the industry? When compared to other countries, how is Turkey doing?
Turkey ranks second in television series export. This is a key driver in the industry’s development. Therefore, every year tens of new television series are premiered. Exporting Turkish television series plays a significant role in the industry’s growth. Today, we have access to various high end technical equipment. Also, today many of the demands which the producers refused to meet due to costs can be met. This allows for high quality shootings. Television series that are shot with high quality techniques are easier to market abroad. Especially Latin America and Middle East countries show great interest in Turkish television series. I hope the same happens for the Turkish film industry. In Europe especially, Turkish film industry has gained a certain level of prestige in the recent years. Thanks to Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s success, Turkish feature films are now evaluated with more interest by the Cannes jurors. However, the success of the Turkish feature films abroad, does not mean they will be successful in Turkey. Turkish audience is not very much intrigued by Turkish films that have been successful, abroad. Therefore, only certain commercial movie projects with foreseeable box office success are being approved by the producers. Turkish films that are screened in multiple movie theaters are usually comedies or cliché love stories. Unfortunately, the sentence “It is a very good story, but our viewers won’t buy tickets to see it” is a very common response from the producers. Thus, when we compare with other countries’ film industry, Turkish film industry still has disadvantages when it comes to original screenplays.
What are your suggestions for young people who are at the verge of choosing a profession?
They must love what they do, therefore I suggest that they choose a profession which they will love. In-depth reading and research about the profession, learning the profession’s history, success and failure stories will help them a lot for self-improvement and building on experience. If they maintain the passion they had at the beginning of their career throughout their whole career, they will be considered among the leaders in their line of work. It is important to enjoy from work and be patient in this career journey.
What do you do besides your life at work and home? Do you have any hobbies or interests?
I read a lot and I do sports. Whenever I find the chance, I sail. I have great interest in seamanship. The world at sea is way different than the world at land. When I sail, I reset myself. Also, in my spare time, I study Torah.