Maya Korn (film producer) and Can Türedi (film director) are two graduates from Columbia University’s highly regarded MFA in Film course. They’re due to shoot their very first feature film, The Archer, at the end of 2019. Here we discuss why they got into the film industry, the importance of accepting your mistakes, perseverance, and their plans for the future.
FF: What age were you when you decided that you were going to be involved in filmmaking?
CT: Six years ago, when was 22 years old; I was a business student then and finishing up on business studies. In the last year I had this revelation… I had a course on video production and I did just one video; from then on, I knew that I kind of wanted to do this more than business.
FF: So it wasn’t a dream you’d harboured from a young age?
CT: Well, before this time I’d always been kind of obsessed with watching movies but it never occurred to me that I could make them for some reason. I was always thinking I’d do something business related because of my father’s job as a businessman. Also we don’t have any artists in the family; art is never the topic.
MK: For me… I was one of those people that wanted to be involved in filmmaking for a really long time. I think I had that revelation around 12 or 13 years old. I was watching movies and award shows and decided I wanted to be a film producer like Harvey Weinstein – not a good comparison now of course. At around 18 that changed and I decided I wanted to be a director.’ I took a Summer class in filmmaking at London Film School and realised I didn’t feel confident directing but organising the logistics of the shoots I was involved in. Then, during my Undergrad, I fell into interning in advertising at M&C Saatchi and adjusted my goals to being a film marketeer. It was another five years of interning/assisting in a million different film office departments, including Weinstein (marketing, sales, distribution, talent agency & publicity) and producing immersive events through my company One of Us, Whitechapel LTD that led me back to my pre-teen goal of being a producer.
FF: You met each other at Columbia University’s MFA in Film program. What were the main things about filmmaking that you learned there?
CT: Yeah, we learned the basics of how to shoot a movie in the directing classes and, in screenwriting classes, the basics of how to create a narrative structure etc. I think every film school can teach this kind of thing but what I really learned was to be open to being criticised by someone else. To put your work out there. You come to class every week and you have 8 – 10 people just like throwing things at you! In the beginning, I think, for many people, it was difficult to receive criticism and then learn from others but film school teaches you not to take it personally and, you know, that it’s ultimately going to make your work better. I think that’s the thing that’s most difficult to learn because I think many people just come up with an idea and share that with other people, and after any criticism they abandon it and may never get another idea. Film school helps you recognise that there isn’t a perfect idea. You just have to work on it.
MK: I think I was really anxious about how a set is put together because I’m not very technical. Producing for theatre, for example, was really organic. I didn’t know what roles should be on set, what equipment, when people should be fed etc. Prior to Columbia I did a Film Theory MA at Kings College London so my critical faculties were in check but not my practical. Columbia gave me all that and more; the emphasis on story and script structure was invaluable. You’re also encouraged to find your voice and what stories you want to tell, I honed my passion for horror films, producing B movies and elevated genre pieces (aka horror movies that have a political message). Columbia also has this amazing community of alumni all over the world who are a great resource if you want to make work in different countries.
FF: Tell me a little about what your film, The Archer, will be about (due to start shooting end of 2019)?
CT: I’m writing my thesis screenplay for Columbia. I was writing another thesis about spirituality and how people in corporate life are affected and move onto spirituality and how that change happens. Anyway, I was taking martial arts classes in Los Angeles and I met this guy who turned out to be not a martial arts teacher but a manipulative person. And from that I was feeling like I’ve been pulled into something like, I don’t know, like possibly a cult. At least that’s what I suspected. I’d brought my girlfriend into the martial arts classes too… We could not uncover what he was about, but we had this definite suspicion. We searched online about him to find some clues about him that he might be, kind of, related to some religious group, or something like that…
I stopped the martial arts classes but the topic was so intense so I changed my thesis to this. I kinda want to write about this because it happened in a way that, you go there to do something else, but he’s actually got some other plan for you… and I was kind of like getting drawn into the plan without realising and so I wanted to make a movie about it. I’m really curious about the subject of cults recently because I’m realising that so many people are drawn into this kind of thing. Like people in the spiritual community seeking for some answers in life; people who are in existential crisis with their jobs. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes without knowing.
I saw similar patterns with people who go to these groups unknowingly and those who go intentionally and, I think, this was very interesting to me, to research about why people get into cults and how this affects them. I think the process of a couple who are affected and, kind of, like, being under mind control.
MK: So right now it’s supposed to be shot in December. We’re just trying to get our last bit of finance in place for production. I went to Fantasia Film Festival which is one of the bigger horror film festivals and had a slew of meetings. Then I’m poised to go to TIFF and do the same. We had some leads on talent for the antagonist which is EXCITING!
FF: Maya, what does a film producer actually do and why did you decide to become one?
MK: That’s actually quite a hard question to answer! I think if you’re the type of person who’s a ‘people person’ and into logistics producing kind of finds you. It doesn’t have to be film, it could be a wedding, a house renovation… I saw a quote from Mary Ann Mino, in an interview with Christine Vachon for Believer Mag that said:
“What a producer actually does: Functions as the train’s engine. Puts together the whole package. Keeps the fire burning.”
We keep the film moving, from the germ of an idea, to developing the script, to getting finance, organising the shoot, post, festival circuit and distribution. It’s a lot but I love it and that’s the reason the Oscar is handed to us!
FF: Can, you have a background in documentary filmmaking. Do you see your career heading into narrative filmmaking now or will you return to that genre?
CT: I think I would love to do both, at the same time. Personally, I would say, for my projects, I would do narrative but I would love to produce more documentary pieces on the side because I’m always getting ideas about making documentaries. It’s always a fun thing to do because it’s just a totally different process; I kind of still use stuff from that process in my narrative filmmaking. I write a scene with dialogue but when I go to set and set up the actors, I always search for the documentary aspect, like, the documentation of their performance; I kinda like using that to get something improvised out of them. Documentary is always more surprising. That approach kinda helps with narrative filmmaking, so they kind of go hand in hand. It’s the same with documentaries: you take a couple of people talking and you can add drama, through editing and sound.
FF: Can, which film directors inspire you?
CT: For this specific project – because I think every project I look to specific directors – I’m looking at Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, such as The Master (2012) and There Will Be Blood (2007), which is just one of my favourite movies. He tells similar stories: the individual searching for meaning and purpose in their life. He’s probably my favourite American director. The Master (2012) has a similar dynamic to The Archer, in a different setting, in relation to cults and some similarities to the main characters.
FF: Maya, which film producers inspire you?
MK: The first person that comes into my head is Christine Vachon. I love her work. She’s made my all-time favourite movies: Kids (1995), Party Monster (2003), Boys Don’t Cry (1999) and more. Her films are queer, feminist and have something to say. They’ve had a huge influence on my taste, the projects I make and how I make them. I’ve read her book Shooting to Kill so many times (it’s basically under my pillow) and learnt a lot about being scrappy and entrepreneurial.
FF: What’s the best advice you’ve received in your film careers to date?
CT: I think the best advice would be learning from mistakes and not being afraid of making more mistakes. That’s like the best advice that I would give to myself through my study experience and that I got from other people. When you go on a set, I think you should know that something’s going to go wrong, or something’s gonna collapse! When you’re not afraid of making mistakes, you learn more, and then you’re able to move on and approach the next project with a bit more confidence.
MK: I think for me it’s just perseverance. Like I said, I’d wanted to be in film since I was 12 years old and now I’m 30 and making my first feature with Can. I was at my Dad’s 70th birthday recently and someone really excitedly congratulated me with the words “wow you’re really doing it” and I guess I really am. Our industry is really really hard, and poorly paid for a long time. A lot of people quit. If you love it, you will figure it out [laughs].
FF: What are your plans for the future, beyond shooting The Archer?
CT: I’ve been working on another story that takes place in my hometown. I grew up in Coastal Turkey, south west coast, a very small town. It’s a kind of a mild fantasy movie about a father who lures his daughter to this ship and they live in this ship near the island. There’s another character who’s been raised by dogs. It’s closely related to family and the psyche of the main characters. It’s a dark drama.
MK: I’ve got a few plans… Just before the Archer I’m shooting a short film, Sebasutian Sarinana’s Major Arcana, logline: “3 grieving daughters discover the power of sisterho od when they reanimate their mother from the dead.” Then I had lunch with a friend the other day, and she told me she managed to get talent (Nicholas Cage) attached to her first feature as a writer/ producer and would like me in the line producing office in some capacity so that’s pretty cool. Finally, I have another feature with another Columbia student in really early development – just the concept phase right now. It’s a semi-autobiographical film, looking at the experiences of a first generation Moroccan immigrant in Virginia with a ghost component. I think we’ll aim to shoot year after next 2/3rds in Virginia and 1/3rd in Morocco.