Ay Yapim’s Kerem Çatay


Kerem Çatay, the CEO of Ay Yapim, tells TV Drama about the latest trends in Turkish drama.

Last November, Ay Yapim became the first Turkish company to score an International Emmy Award when Kara Sevda (Endless Love) nabbed a win in the telenovela category. The company, led by CEO Kerem Çatay, has emerged as one of the busiest and most successful producers in Turkey’s highly competitive drama scene. Working with the likes of Inter Medya, Eccho Rights and others, Ay Yapim productions such as Heart of the City, Insider and Phi have traveled across the globe. New showcases from the company include Stiletto Vendetta, on offer from Eccho Rights, and The Pit, which is being highlighted by Inter Medya.

TV DRAMA: Tell me about the background of Ay Yapim and your journey to becoming one of Turkey’s leading drama producers.
ÇATAY: We launched in 2005. Like almost all Turkish production companies, it’s family run. It’s my father and me. For the last two years we have had another partner, Pelin Diştaş, who used to be the general manager of Kanal D. We mostly do TV drama series. We’ve done some sitcoms as well, but the flagships are always dramas. Making so many TV shows gives us the luxury to make feature films as well. We are excited that we’re going to shoot a new movie based on a famous old Turkish novel called Madonna in a Fur Coat [by Sabahattin Ali]. It was even a best seller in the U.S.

TV DRAMA: And the feature films give you the freedom to tell different kinds of stories?
ÇATAY: For sure. Actually, we have that luxury for TV as well. We are partners in an OTT platform in Turkey called Puhu. We produced our first original digital production, Phi, for Puhu. This March, our second digital production, called Persona, will be launched. It’s 60-minute episodes and edgier content. So we do conventional TV for the mainstream broadcasters, but we are planning to have at least one original OTT series each year with which we can have different ways of storytelling.

TV DRAMA: For the mainstream channels, how are you able to produce these two-hour episodes every week, especially given the volume of series you make?
ÇATAY: It’s like going to the gym! When you go every day you get used to it. [Laughs]. It’s maybe because we’re Turkish; it’s fast-living here. [The two-hour episodes] happened because of competition, the audience and the ad revenues. The ad prices are not so high, so you have to have longer episodes to get the budget you need. And the Turkish audience tends to watch TV up till 12 o’clock. If your episode finishes at 11, the audience is not turning the TV off, they’re moving to another show that is still airing. This makes producers increase the duration of episodes.

TV DRAMA: Do you adjust storylines based on ratings?
ÇATAY: If you produce 13 episodes and then go on air, you don’t have the chance to do that. When we air the third episode, let’s say, we’re in preproduction on the sixth one. So we do have the ability to adjust the storyline. We don’t change the main story; it’s not that you start with a love story and end up with an action series! It’s not changing the genre, but since you have Twitter, fan sites, etc., you do get reactions—what they are asking for, which characters they like, the motivations they hate the most—and you can adjust. It’s always about being fast.

TV DRAMA: Tell us about your process for coming up with ideas. Are you looking for IP to adapt, such as formats, books and movies?
ÇATAY: It’s not just one way of working. In our case, most likely we’ll come up with our own ideas. Every two or three years we do a format. A few years ago we did The O.C. from Warner Bros. under the name Med Cezir. Sometimes it’s an old Turkish movie or novel. We’ve done quite a number of Turkish novels as dramas. There are no boundaries. Ideas can come from anywhere. We’ll spend around eight months developing an idea—how we tell the story, from which characters’ point of view. Sometimes we’re so lucky that it’s quick. Sometimes it takes a while. You change it, try it from another character’s point of view, etc. When you have eight, nine months, you lower the risk because you try each and every version of it. Along the way, time makes it better.

TV DRAMA: What was it like winning the International Emmy for best telenovela last year for Kara Sevda (Endless Love)?
ÇATAY: [Laughs] Surprising! And then interesting! We were nominated with good, powerful telenovelas. They had the legacy to win. It makes us so happy that it was the first time for Turkey to win an International Emmy. Even if we hadn’t won, it was lots of fun. But it’s a nice prize to hold!

TV DRAMA: Turkish shows have sold widely but have become particularly popular in Latin America. Why do you think that is?
ÇATAY: In most of the Latin American countries I’ve been to, the rhythm of the people looks like the rhythm of the Turkish people. Maybe [they] don’t have the same traditions, etc., but the way of living is similar. Patricio Hernández from Mega in Chile was the first one to try Turkish content. He told me that when he first watched one, he noticed that the buildings were similar, the clothing was similar, people’s reactions were similar. So he said, I need to try one. The interesting thing with Turkish storytelling is it works in the Middle East, it works in Latin America, it sometimes works in Northern Europe, and Asia as well. We have a way of storytelling—and it wasn’t on purpose, to be honest—such that someone in Vietnam likes it and someone from Dubai likes it. The way we tell stories, everybody can find something they can connect with. We are focusing more on emotions and family than U.S. or British content does.

TV DRAMA: Are you looking at co-production opportunities outside of Turkey?
ÇATAY: We’re always looking, but it has to be about the story. You need to have a story that makes sense for a co-production. If you write a story just to make a co-production, it’s not going to work. We tried some ideas, like having a love story with a girl from MENA and a boy from Turkey. The story needs to be logical and natural. We haven’t done one yet, but we are always working on it.

TV DRAMA: You work with a lot of different distributors. How do you manage the process of who is going to sell a particular show for you?
ÇATAY: In general we want to have at least one show with each company. Last season we had five shows and all were represented by Eccho Rights. It’s not easy to have five shows. For your health, it’s not good to have five shows! [Laughs] Generally, we work with Eccho Rights and Inter Medya. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to work with other distributors. Turkey has many good distributors. We offer the content, they tell us what they can provide—what countries they’ll reach, etc.

TV DRAMA: Some of your shows have been remade in other countries. Do you offer any input to those producers who are adapting your scripts?
ÇATAY: We are always ready to offer input. You tell them about the story and they tell you about their audience. You need to come to an understanding. In the end, it’s their project. We do give our advice, but if they want to take the chance of changing it, we let them do that. We have a show called The End. It is successful in Spain, it was successful in Holland. A pilot was shot in the U.S. In the U.S. case, they changed the storyline—they focused on the gun trade. They felt it needed to be more in the action genre, which was the preference of that broadcaster’s audience. We said OK. I’m not sure how well it worked. You always learn something from the format adaptations.

TV DRAMA: What are you working on now?
ÇATAY: We have four shows going on. We’re going to end up with five new ones for this season. Phi ended this March. We’ll have a new OTT one. And we are going to shoot three movies this year. Madonna in a Fur Coat is going to be shot in Germany. It will be in two languages. It is something different from what we’re used to doing. And we do have a plan to remake one of our old shows in the U.S. with a partner. It will take some time but we’re working on it.