You moved to the States, you announced your portfolio with a website at a time that internet was brand new, and in a short time you received an offer that would make your dreams come true and that a graphic designer always dreams of. You agreed to design posters for Hollywood movies and your life changed to a great extent. Then, far away from Turkey, in Los Angeles, you fell in love with and married a Turk - your wife Simla. Your time in America until now is like a dream that nobody wants to be over. Is everything as perfect as it seems or did you face serious problems in the process?
It certainly is not perfect. Only the highlights of the story are seen when you look from the outside. Naturally it is a long run. The important point is the effort you put to pass the tests that are presented to you. I ran after many jobs in New York for three years to establish a portfolio that involved the things I did in the States, before Hollywood came to me with the offer. You step forward, eliminating numerous people as a result of the products of these three years. America is a heavily natural selectionist environment like the beans of Mendel. I think the most critical principles are working hard and not doing any job just for the sake of doing it.
I can honestly claim that I still cannot see any designer who works as much as I do. Even the people who work for me in my office tell me so.
I guess this is a characteristic feature. We work especially hard on the design variety to present to the clients.
Returning to the struggle part of your question, I have to say this: Especially the corporate life in America is not easy to hold on to. I grew up with European education and a modern family manner as a person from Ankara. I tell the wrongs that I see clearly and instantly. Even my wife stares at me in surprise. (“I cannot belive you just said that!‿) This characteristic still gives me headaches in the corporate life of the States. The concept of being political should not clash with being honest.
My assistant Elif was surprised when last week I told a director that his movie included way too much violence and death scenes. However, she thinks so too. I think the main reason that Hollywood makes big mistakes is this. Nobody dares to speak the truth.
What kind of a difference did you observe between the work atmosphere in the States and in Turkey?
It has been more than 10 years since I came to the USA. In this sense I am more familiar with the work atmosphere in America. Recently, I established an advertising agency in Turkey for one year and I closed it down a few months ago. I think this experience itself will be the right answer to your question.
I find the processing of design and advertisement markets in Turkey quite wrong. In none of the advertising agencies, there is a fee for creativity or design. This is disastrous. The whole system consists of the secret decisions that the agencies take on media commissions and the productions.
Naturally, this system brings along huge misunderstandings. The concept of competition in Turkey strolls in the wrong places because of this. Every employer opens a contest for every job. Loyalty and trust is out of the question.
I closed my Turkey agency with a great disappointment and I opened it with such good intentions. But there is still some work that comes to LA from Turkey. Lately; I have been doing the re-branding of Cola Turka. The designs of the cans and the logo change the whole appearance. There are interesting offers from the music industry, album designs. Celebrity web sites, Tursak’s corporate identity, Antalya film festival etc.
What guidelines do you follow in the process of designing a poster? To what extent do the directors get involved in this process?
It depends on the director. Right now I am working on Ridley Scott’s “A Good Year‿ which will open in November. Everything revolves around Ridley. We present everything to Ridley although Russel Scott plays the lead. On the other hand, another project that we work on is “A Night at the Museum‿ which stars Ben Stiller. In this movie, the director has no say contrary to the previous one. Ben Stiller is the decider. So, it depends on the project.
The Turkish movie sector started to reach the desired quality of poster design with Emrah Yücel. The classy and powerful stand of your posters raised the bar a lot and finally the fact that the poster is the clothing of the movies is now appreciated in Turkey. How do you evaluate this situation that seems so promising from the outside?What kind of a difference do you see between designing a poster for a Hollywood movie and a Turkish movie?
Thank you for your kind words. I will be really glad if what I am doing is perceived this way. Years ago in a flight between Istanbul and NY, I had the chance to chat with Sakıp Sabanci and show him my portfolio book. He was really interested in my work and at the end of our long talk he said, “You are a tree that was grown and nourished in this soil, it is such a shame that you spread your fruit to other soils.‿ This dialogue affected me a lot. Still these words come to my mind when I evaluate what I am doing. But the things that you said with this perspective relieved me. (By the way the comments of Sabanci in Peter Seller’s “Being There‿ are amazing.)
Returning to your question. I think the most important difference is that the movie still belongs to the director in Turkey. In the States, the movie belongs to the producer. The producer hires the director for the production. With us, direction is still on the side of art.
You once said that when you present your posters to the client, the ones with the highest possibility to become popular are chosen instead of your favorites. You gave the right to decide to the public in Vizontele Tuuba which is one of the most followed movies in Turkey. Are you satisfied with the final result? Do you think it would be better if the designer would say the final word, or do you think that interventions are necessary as well?
Vizontele Tuuba was the idea of Yılmaz Erdoğan. He was happy with all the alternatives and he said that he was comfortable to make the public vote. This is a first in the sector. I find it wrong to leave all the say to the designer because I know a lot of designers who were amazed and blinded by their own work. I rather prefer a discussion between a 3-4 people group who worked hard on the movie and the designer on new ideas. You should always be open to novelty and other ideas. However, this does not mean that everyone must like a poster. I think 3 or 4 people who are selected properly would do the job.
In Turkey, a graphic designer is expected to do everything. He/she should be able to prepare a web site simultaneously as he designs a poster, or he should take photographs while he does an animation. Without a doubt this situation lowers the energy of the designer and damages his creativity. On the other hand, we see that in the States there is specialization and almost everyone does his job in a proper manner. What kind of a specialization process should be followed in the area of visual art education?
Taking photographs while making animation is of course an extreme example. But I simultaneously worked on the poster for “Kingdom of Heaven‿ while designing the web site for Mel Gibson. Maybe this should be defined like: producing visual solutions for a product to be marketed. I first look at the definition of the question as a designer. I define it in my head and I place the visual solutions in this guideline. I hire the right photographer if I need a photograph. I choose the web site programmer and the project manager.
I think the marketing strategies are the reason for this specialization, not the inadequacy of the designers. It means that you are playing for a very special market when you launch yourself as a firm that designs corporate identity only in the field of nutrition. A photographer who goes into the market claiming that he only takes photographs of cars naturally gets all those jobs. Nobody wants to go to someone else and risk the project.
I am not a fan of specialization in the area of education. I am in the counseling board of Santa Monica Art Collage and we discuss these issues with other members and teachers a lot. The solution is for the student to come to a conclusion by himself. We shall expose everything.
You established a visual communication agency named Iconisus with your partner Stephan Lapp. You chose to create an institutional identity instead of perpetuating your personal projects. You stepped into the risky zone by starting to work with a partner. How did you come together with Lapp? Can you tell us about the current situation of Iconisus and the future projects?
Every businessman who established a business in America and who plays with the huge and competitive markets, know that America is a very conservative and a traditional market. In such a market, as a foreigner you always need an American to work with.
In most of the business dinners the clients are interested in my European past and my approaches but in the end they want to talk about Dodgers and baseball. They feel safer with someone who shares their past. This is a very humane reaction.
On the other hand, our partnership does not only rely on this reason. He is a conservative and traditionally a good designer. He constitutes a good balance for the job not to be over-designed. I am happy about our partnership in Iconisus. I hope that it will carry on for long years with this corporate establishment. I also have anoter company named Imeanit Films and Design. This is as big as Iconisus. Stephan is not included in this formation.
You are the son of an acclaimed director and a gifted script writer. Maybe the reason for cinema to surprise you in such a way to jump into your life is this. We know that you have a movie project as well as your poster designs and your commercial works. Can you tell us about this issue?
I have such a project. But I would like to talk about it after I finish it. I do not like disappointments.
What kind of a portrait do you see when you compare Hollywood and European film genres? Which of the two are you most influenced by regarding intimacy of expression and visual value?
Of course I am influenced by European cinema. I find Hollywood too commercial although I work for it. On the other hand, the most important things that I admire in Hollywood are the size of the projects and the power of the people who create them. For instance, Ridley Scott. He can do any project with whomever he wishes. And he can enter any studio that he pleases. I admire this strength that developed in time.
My favourites are European and recently Latin American cinema. Especially French and British cinema from Europe, and Brazilian and Argentinean cinema from Latin America.
Our theme for the 4th issue of Bak Magazine is “2050‿. How do you see the future of humanity and visual arts? What, in your opinion, will constitute the agenda of the world in 2050?
I thought whether I will be alive then when you asked the question. 2050 is not that important to me but 2019 is of the upmost importance.
When I was a young design student in Ankara, “Blade Runner‿ was one of the milestone movies that influenced me. Blade Runner opens in 2019, Los Angeles. I live in LA right now and I am excited that I will be here in 2019.
The idea of being in LA in 2019 was very far when I watched the movie in Ankara.
Returning to the question, I don’t know about the future of humanity but I have an idea about visual arts. I am sure that it will keep its past and present significance. The medium will change for sure, but the designed visual will always be on the front.
"In most of the business dinners the clients are interested in my European past and my approaches but in the end, they want to talk about Dodgers and baseball."
- Emrah Yücel / Bak 04