When I finished post grad at UCLA, I was already working on film sets in several positions, most often as a script supervisor. However, I decided I wanted to experience the finance and distribution part of the business and so started work at Disney, Buena Vista.
I was working a 2-day shoot as a script supervisor when on the second day I got into a terrible car accident on the highway.
A few teenagers high on drugs or alcohol hit me. I was 26 years old and my life changed after that. Fortunately other than whiplash I wasn’t hurt badly, just some minor bruises, but my car was totaled.
In Los Angeles, without a car, you are pretty much disabled. I couldn’t buy a new car and so I couldn’t work anymore. I had left everything behind to come to L.A.: my career, my boyfriend, good friends and a cat. I started everything from scratch. I was already in shock that I got out of a deadly accident alive. I had no idea who to talk to in order to continue my career. I wanted to be in my own country next to my mother, close to my family.
Then I got a job offer as a script supervisor to work on a big budget period film. I was told the crew was the best of Turkey. But it was completely different than what I’d learned and truly a little chaotic so I decided to go back to the US. Just as I was getting ready to leave for LA, I got offered a job at a distribution company to start their production department in Istanbul. I started as the Head of Production / Local Acquisitions. We doubled our market share and I was very successful at what I was doing, but our company never got into production. We were only acquiring the TV and theatrical rights of the local films.
After a while I realized I wasn’t working towards becoming a filmmaker. I had stories to tell. I wanted to help other stories be told. I founded my own brand and decided to produce my own films. However this time finance was a huge problem, the moment I found someone to finance the owner of the screenplays or the director would try to get rid of me thinking they don’t need me now they have the money. The economical crisis made it even worse. Nonetheless, I won awards, produced a documentary, co-produced and executive produced a few other films, but I was exhausted. After two more directors I had worked hard to raise finance for betrayed me, I decided to help myself as a director and storyteller.
At that time, I received a mass email from Chris Jones about his 50Kisses competition. I don’t know how he got my email or why I read it instead of deleting it like I do with other mass emails but it was the first step toward directing. I loved nearly all the screenplays that won. I wanted to film a few of them but they were in high demand. Then I met Ken Lemm, the writer of ‘That Good Night’. He had a pure heart and was sad nobody had picked his screenplay to direct. The production for his film was difficult to do and overwhelmed other directors. But I picked that one and decided to revise the screenplay. Ken and I worked great together.
I tried my best to shoot the film with almost no budget. It was a period drama and I had no money – a great combination. So I picked locations in nature to get rid of historical buildings. This was just the beginning. The night before the shoot I remember ironing clothes until 5am. Sleeping a few hours waking up and driving to the location. I wanted to shoot it in English but very few people believed I could do it. On top of that it was national holiday week so everybody who wanted to help was out of Istanbul. Perfect. Well I ended up finding two actors. The casting was hard to do since the story was about an old man remembering and looking back on his life. I not only had to find an old man who could speak English (hard to find in Turkey) but also someone who resembles the actress that plays his daughter, the actor who plays him as a young man and also the kid actor who plays his childhood. I had to do the same for his daughter and wife. Did I mention I had no money?
Meanwhile I was watching the films that were already finished and loving them. I thought I had no chance. But still I shot my film in one day and learned editing software to edit. Finally it was finished. I watched the film and realized I had nothing left to add and so I had to send it to Chris to be a part of the project. I went under the blankets and cried. My friend and co-producer Dogan Anapa came to my place and convinced me to submit it. He told me that I had made a good film. I said I will but I don’t want anyone to see it. As the filmmakers we had the option to stream it on the 50 Kisses webpage if our film wasn’t picked. I told Chris that I didn’t want the film to be shared online. He said okay. However, a few days later he wrote to me and said that I made a very good movie and that I should share it with the rest of the filmmakers who were competing. I was so insecure I thought he was joking. But because of his encouragement I agreed to share the film online.
Right after that comments popped up. Our film received the biggest number of comments and highest ranking on the website. People loved it. I was shocked. Then finally the selected films were announced and my film was one of them. My team was very happy. I was wondering who would go to the award ceremony, or if I could go. I did. Chris told me that everybody would win an award for being selected for the feature film. We were invited on stage and took our awards. It was amazing. When the other awards were being presented, I was guessing which film would win which award. I didn’t think once that our film would win one of these awards. It was a sincere atmosphere, very rare to find in our business during an awards ceremony. It was organized well and the theater was amazing too. I was already happy. Then it was the moment when Chris was announcing the “Best Director” award, and he says “This year we decided to give it to a female director…” I tried to remember the female directors of the selected projects. I had a favorite but she wasn’t selected, so just as I was still trying to guess, I heard Chris announcing “Stare Yıldırım from Turkiye.” I was frozen. I hadn’t even prepared a speech in case I won an award. I wasn’t expecting this at all. I even sat at the very back row thinking I wouldn’t need to go down.
It was a very happy moment. It felt like family. In my heart I was sharing the award with all the filmmakers who were there because I loved their work a lot and I could only guess how many challenges they had to go through in order to make their films. I met lovely people that night.
People who didn’t believe in me when I wanted to direct this film in English were shocked when I won the award. I not only shot the film in English, I shot it mostly with non-actors. My lead actor, the old man, was not an actor other than a few gigs as a background artist. I asked my 64-year-old neighbor to play the role of the old man and he didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t have an art director or a makeup person. My main prop was an old radio I found on the way to the set. We were at a taxi station. I remember asking them, “By any chance do you have a radio?” They first answered “No” but then they said, “Well actually we do but it’s an old one,” exactly what I wanted. Miracles happen on sets.
Chris, Judy, David and the rest of the team are angels. They created this event to help filmmakers and they did. When I saw how flawless Chris cut the short films together, I was speechless. I can’t imagine the work he had to go through. The whole team deserves an award as well; Judy, David, Maureen and others that I can’t write here but worked on 50 Kisses.
50 Kisses was my first directing trial since film school and I was scared and insecure. They honored me with this award, which gave me enough courage and fuel for my soul to continue regardless of the harsh realities of film industry and mean people in life. After this award, I realized that I shall continue to make films and tell stories to people.
In April 2017 I shot my first feature film co-produced by TRT the Turkish State Channel. It was completed in December 2017. Last week it was screened in Montana, USA. It was our first festival and I couldn’t attend. However, I realized I still felt the same insecurity. I still felt like I didn’t make a good movie because of the problems I had on set and afterwards. I didn’t have enough time and money for post-production. I knew I could do better but well…the film was sent to this festival in the USA and that was it. It’s January now. Almost a week ago I learned that we won 2 awards from that festival. Best Male Actor and Best Feature Film Honorable mention. We will attend more festivals and I wish I could go to those countries and watch the reactions of the audience while they are watching the film, but it’s not possible. After I heard the news about the festival, I thought of 50 Kisses. I realized if I hadn’t been selected for the project and given an award, maybe I would have given up when I faced the challenges of filmmaking. If I weren’t working on my feature film, I would definitely join Twisted50 as well.
I love you guys, you are superheroes, you are my angels and I hope you never stop doing what you are doing.