interview with Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Cocoon was my first film. it was 20 minutes long, in black and white, and it was in competition in Cannes in 1995. Of course, I had to cut it to 14 minutes as they do not accept any short film longer than 15 minutes. Cocoon was about relationships - between my father and my mother - and there was also a child. My intention was to show the differences between childhood and being old. There was also a man and a woman who were living separately and were trying to live together again but couldn't.
I am not very young, I am 39 now and during the shooting of Cocoon I was 36. 1 was afraid to start shooting, since filmmaking involves so much of organisation. This aspect of filmmaking made me very nervous. So my friend and I got together and shot this film ourselves. We took a very light camera and two lights in a station wagon and drove to a small town in the Marmara region. A typical small town, with nothing interesting, which hasn't changed in years. It is just the same as when I was a child. After shooting this short film I realized that using a similar method, I could shoot a feature film.
The Town, based on a short story, Corn Field by my sister Emine Ceylan is about real events from my childhood. I remember the incidents very vividly. I used the story as my starting point but added many things to it, especially in the first part of the film. It depicts a threegeneration-extended family living in a small Turkish town as seen through the children's eyes.
Shooting this film was very relaxing for me; with just two people it can be difficult but very easy too, Working with a big crew is too much trouble and creates tension. Here we could take our time with the script, could take a week shooting one scene. Had we had a big crew, we could not have worked this way, we would have had to be very quick This way I didn't have to rush, and the film took us more than a year to make, In the film there are different seasons and I went back several times to shoot.
All the actors were from the region. My friends, relatives, my mother and father, all acted in the film, with my parents playing the role of the grandparents. Only the children had to be selected, and very carefully too, as it is difficult for them to act. But if they are chosen correctly they make better actors, because they don't wear masks and are very natural We went to several primary schools in the region and took test shots of hundreds of children before selecting the ones we have in the film.
I made the film in black and white as the story is set in the 70s and black and white gives it that old touch. There are other reasons too; I knew the technique of black and white as I was a photographer earlier and worked only in black and white. Handling the lights was also easier. As most films are in color a black and white film stands out and is more noticeable. The major problem was during post-production. The labs in Turkey do not print black and white films, So I had to go to Hungary for that. I wish I could have taken extra shots and edited it a bit more, but there is no black and white film available in Turkey. I had brought the raw stock from New York and didn't want to go again for a few more rolls.
Normally people do not like a black and white film, although artists do, sometimes. I thought if I had shot my film in color I still would not have had a distributor because there are no famous actors in it and the tempo of the film is slow, so it will find its place only in festivals, In festivals it doesn't matter if the film is in black and white or in color since they look at the aesthetic quality of the film, among other things.
I didn't find a distributor but only a theatre which agreed to screen it. I thought it would be screened for a week only and then there would be complete silence in Turkey. But people liked it better than I expected. Because the auditorium was full every day, the theatre owner extended the screenings to three weeks. The film was in the Forum section of the Berlin film festival in 1998 and won the Caligari Prize. After that the Turkish intelligentsia paid more attention to the film. Unfortunately, recognition always comes from the west.
For making this film I had tried to raise money and had approached the Culture Ministry, which didn't give it. Neither did other organisations as it didn't have famous actors and was in black and white. So we had to raise the full amount of US$ 15, 0 00. It is a very lowbudget film. I had only this amount so I put it in the film. Now I think I will make a profit on it since it has won some prizes and also because it was shown in the theatre for three weeks.
I studied electrical engineering at Bosphorus University, but never worked as an engineer. After that I studied cinematography at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul for two years. The course was for four years but after two years I left as I believe filmmaking is learned by watching films and also by practising. In school they are too slow and I was not young so I had to be very quick. I just went into it with my imagination, figuring out what the best way for me was.
We could not shoot with sound because for that we would have needed more people and more equipment. I made the film without sound and dubbed it later in the studio. But as the players were amateurs they co not do the lip sync properly. So we had to use professionals. As a result I don't like the final sound or dialogues very much; in my next film I will try and shoot wit sound.
During the harvesting of corn, the weather is warm, the families go to the fields and eat corn and talk. It is a custom I remember as a child. Everything is real. They talk about the same things every night, they repeat the same stories, and for years they have been meeting like this. Sometimes the talking becomes loud, sometimes soft, sometimes there are confessions, As a child I found this buzzing sound of talking very trust-giving and it made me feel very secure. I wanted to create more of this buzzing sound but because of the dubbing I could not capture the atmosphere too well and some p!ople find this part too long. I wanted children to see the different stages of adulthood, the darkness of it, the complexities of it. They do not understand what adults are talking about at that moment but they soon learn as it registers on their subconscious.
The dialogues are written mostly by my sister; some are by me and some are quotations from Anton Chekhov, not much but they fit very well in the long dialogue scene. I have read a lot of Chekhov and Dostoevsky. Chekhov is always on my mind. I look at the world maybe through his filters. It has been like this for years.
I do not like marginal stories, I also do not like extraordinary stories which happen to ordinary people, I like ordinary stories of ordinary people,
My next film will be set in the same region, with the same players but
maybe in color since post-production in black and white is very difficult.
Hopefully I will avoid the mistakes I made in my earlier films. I am not
a megalomaniac but I do not like too many people around, .waiting and
talking. In the way I work there is a friendly atmosphere, people feel
more comfortable as there are no outsiders, only the families and they
can be themselves. There is no time pressure and we can shoot for as long
as we like, no deadlines, the camera is mine, the lights are mine. It
is not exactly a one-man show, but it is my way of making a film.