With the sale of Wild Heart (Deli Yürek) into Kazakhstan in 2001, Calinos Entertainment was an early player in the now booming Turkish drama export sector. While the company’s catalog does include feature films, Turkish series have remained the key pillar of its international-sales business, which is seeing new traction in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Firat Gulgen, the chairman of Calinos Holding, tells World Screen about the value of having offices in both the U.S. and Istanbul as it looks to further its alliances around the world.
WS: Are classic Turkish dramas, with traditional storylines, still what sells best for Calinos Entertainment?
GULGEN: Classical dramas are still the most sought-after stories—with patriarchal values, love triangles, family drama and unsolvable dilemmas. The conflict between good and evil, younger and older generations and an unshakable foundation of respect for one another, with love usually taking a central place in overthrowing all obstacles and differences in social and moral aspects, are the main elements that constitute a successful Turkish series. Simple stories, in which the viewers can empathize with the characters, are the ones that last.
However, recently we have seen some shifts in audiences’ viewing habits, which have made it difficult to predict the ratings and know whether a certain title will be successful or not, as many are cut short due to low ratings. This has also affected the international sales. For instance, a good cast is usually a factor for presales, but locally, some productions are discontinued despite their successful casts, which results in a decrease in content that [can be] distributed abroad.
WS: In which markets are you finding new opportunities?
GULGEN: Currently the LatAm market is the fastest growing one in terms of demand. On the other hand, I believe that in the near future, we will see a bigger interest for Turkish content in the Far East region, Africa and, starting with Spain, it will spread to Western Europe.
WS: Are you seeing interest in local adaptations of Turkish dramas as well?
GULGEN: A lot of countries have started doing remakes of Turkish dramas. The best Turkish series were made between 2004 and 2010. The series made during that period were not shot in HD, so a good way to sell these stories is by [offering] them as formats for local adaptations. We are in the process of negotiating with a number of countries for some of our titles.
WS: Is co-production becoming an area of interest?
GULGEN: Calinos Entertainment is not a production company but rather an investor and distributor. There are some channels and companies abroad that we are currently in talks with for feature films and TV series; however, the production will be carried out by the producers we work with and we will be in charge of project development, finance and distribution. At present, we are developing projects in Latin America, India and China.
WS: Why has maintaining an office in the U.S. been important for Calinos?
GULGEN: Calinos Entertainment was set up in Santa Monica, California, in 1997. At that time, most of our work was with the CIS countries and Turkey. Given the time difference, it was better to work from this region, so we moved our office to Istanbul. But now, Calinos’s field of operation has reached around 100 countries, from the Far East to Latin America to the Middle East and the Balkans.
As we are planning to invest in co-productions, we decided to reopen our U.S. office and use the advantages it comes with. If our projects go according to plan, we will hopefully see our U.S. office take part in many exciting projects and new investments.
WS: What will you be focusing on for the year ahead?
GULGEN: Our focus for the next couple of years, apart from distribution, will be to create new content with international partners. We are currently working on a budget for the next five years. The methods of content distribution change all the time. When I started this business, we could only sell to free-TV channels; now, 20 years later, we have players like Netflix and Amazon, and their growth is significant. Big telecom companies want to go into this space, offering their clients content on mobile phones. Even if distribution channels change, there is one thing that will never change, and that is the fact that good content is king, and we are going to work on developing first-rate content with our partners.