by mh musings, Editor, North America TEN
Award-winning screenwriter Nuran Evren Şit has burst on to the global scenes through her highly acclaimed Netflix story Another Self (Zeytin Ağacı in Turkish), starring Tuba Büyüküstün, Seda Bakan, Boncuk Yilmaz and more. Essaying the intertwined stories of three girlfriends, their life choices, and how they reconnect with themselves through the strength of family constellation therapy provided by an introspective, spiritual guide played by Fırat Tanış, Another Self is an alluring interlude that invites us to make peace with our life’s fractures.
Only in her early forties, but already with a prolific work portfolio spanning over 15 years, North America TEN is extremely excited to showcase this brilliant dramatist who is beautiful inside and out. Translating aspects of her own spiritual journey into her work as she travels through her life, Evren is deeply knowledgeable, delightful and authentic in her discourse. She is an inspiration to a legion of narrators across the globe.
Becoming a Multi-talented Storyteller
Evren has been a storyteller for as long as she can remember. From the time she could read and write, she started with little stories, journal entries and poetry. Recently, she discovered a letter written to her by her grandfather from when she was six years old, where he tells her that he imagines her becoming a writer who tells stories to the whole world. To find that it was her calling, and to have the universe align to let her pursue her life’s longing for itself, Evren is ecstatic with the opportunity to be doing what she loves.
The field of film, filmmaking and cinema has been a part of her since she was eight. She read her first script as a child actress for a TV show and the experience drew her in for life. She pursued her undergraduate degree in Cinema & TV from Mimar Sinan University of Fine Arts, thinking she wanted to be a filmmaker. She entered the industry with short films written, directed and produced by her, but that soon led to her first screenwriting job on the dizi Elveda Rumeli, a 83 episode long comedy/drama series that nostalgically reminisces the period that would see the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century through the eyes of an ordinary family living in Macedonia.
She hasn’t looked back since.
Her first film Aşk Tesadüfleri Sever (Love Likes Coincidences), which is available on YouTube, went onto become one of the highest grossing films in Turkey in 2011. From then on, she’s been a part of İntikam (remake of Revenge), Şeref Meselesi (remake of an Italian drama), Vatanım Sensin (Wounded Love, an original work created by her/writing team) and other movies (8 Seconds, Love Likes Coincidences 2). Most recently, she has been the screenwriter for Netflix productions Atiye/ The Gift and Another Self, which has been approved for two more seasons. The highly anticipated return of Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ & Beren Saat in the upcoming Netflix movie Last Call for Istanbul is also penned by her.
She’s currently working on her first dizi project since 2017, the ambitious OGM Pictures production titled Ab-I-Hayat, which will be directed by Hilal Saral. The collaboration between these two female powerhouse of Turkish talent will be aired on StarTV and will be going into production soon.
Perhaps this encapsulates Evren’s identity as a storyteller the best:
“Stories are everywhere; whatever form it comes, if a story is about humanity, human feelings, human conflicts, it inspires me. But the real question I always keep in mind is ‘what inspires the audience?”
The Writing Process
There’s a sophistication in how Evren creates her characters. Their history is understood, their place in the present well established. She pays attention to the contextual details of the story and its characters, and what is produced is an experience for the audience. Evren says, “I love the process because it includes every single feeling as a human being. Writing is where I lose the sense of time and space. This is where I feel free and connected. The process is always full of surprises; sometimes you write stuff even you do not realize that you’ve thought about, or you’ve experienced, or you knew about. The human brain is amazing but the human heart is even more so.
When I intend to access the stories in the air, like a radio receiver, and I wish for telling the stories that the people most care about or are eager to hear, I believe I kind of channel the stories that must be told. Therefore, a flow starts, and I write without a pause. Sometimes I sit on that chair for more than 20 hours, hitting the buttons on my keyboard with a fury. And sometimes I hate what I write and delete all of it. But still, it is a process, and it takes you somewhere as you put your effort and heart into it.”
She says that the difference between screenwriting and a work of literature is that she has to take a very visual approach. The script must be written such that it can be produced, shot, and acted, while providing a strong foundation that stakeholders can execute to. “The technique improves as you do it, but the content comes from your life experience and how you interpret those experiences.”
Finding Her Calling
When in Film school, Evren was convinced she wanted to be a director and shaped her career that way. However, working on sets as an assistant or cast director was far less fulfilling than she had imagined. She found herself working on projects where the story did not speak to her at all. During a filming for a commercial where she was working on a scene with a thousand hooligans screaming in a stadium and throwing coke cans at her, she put the brakes on herself and refused on go on set as an assistant director again. She gave up her one steady source of income to pay her rent and stayed at home, writing. To her, finding meaning in what she produces is paramount and she felt that screenwriting is the only way she can do something significant. It was a big risk she took at age 27, and it was the best decision of her life.
In 2006, she got her break with a 30 minute short film called The Telephone, which is inspired by a story of a writer named Anar from Azerbaijan. The film gained wide spread recognition including cash rewards and helped her gain credibility as a screenwriter. This opened the door to becoming a staff writer for a dizi, and eventually she got her big break with the film Aşk Tesadüfleri Sever in 2011, her first feature screenplay. She says, “That’s a movie I still adore and is known by almost everyone in Turkey. I wrote that script putting all my heart in it and my own personal experiences throughout my life till 30 years old. And when it became a success, that was the first time I could call myself a Screenwriter.”
“I am lucky that I can do my job from anywhere, anytime. And when it’s done, ready for the audience to watch, that’s the hugest excitement. And if it’s loved by the audience, that’s the greatest honor. So, I love screenwriting and it’s much more than a job to me. It is my life, it’s where I belong as long as I can do it in my own way in a decent and joyful manner.”
A very self-aware person who has traveled extensively across the world since she was young, inner change is constant. “Each experience in life has a meaning, no matter if it’s clear or not. For the past 10 years, I have focused more on the journey, as an experience on Earth. I try to stop judging what doesn’t fit me and let go of what doesn’t serve me anymore, including places, people, habits, or patterns. I’ve left İstanbul when I felt it was not a good place for me anymore. I’ve lived in a small beach town in South of Turkey for a while, which gave me a chance to be in the nature and meet new people.
I’ve been more into Yoga, Sufism, Anatolian Culture and Myths. I took courses in scuba diving, mythology, Tarot, Reiki, Greek Gods and Goddesses Archetypes, all of which opened new doors to me. I travel as much as I can and all those travels expand my perception, and therefore my imagination and joy in life.
I moved to The Netherlands to be able to live with my husband, who is a huge support for me. We love traveling together or just sitting on the couch and talk for hours; watch something and talk about it. Talk about my craft. His support and love for the last 3 years – since we’ve met – is where I charge myself the most.
I have started to teach screenwriting. All these experiences help me expand my vision as a human, and therefore as a writer. When I was in my 20’s, I wanted to be a filmmaker as someone who was more amazed by the title of ‘filmmaker’. Now when I’m in my 40’s, I want to be a person who writes stories that connect people, that speak to their hearts, “channel” what needs to be talked about. All my effort for over 20 years in the business now serve me to write what I truly believe in, which is a great chance.”
Life’s simple pleasures are accentuated for Evren. She appreciates the art of living, indulging in meaningful dialogue with friends, strangers, her stepsons; connecting with nature when she can; watching good films, turning to good books, poetry, music. She feels there’s a story in everything. “I am mostly inspired by people around me and the places I’ve been to. I have a lot of friends, very close ones, and the ones that I rarely see but feel connected to. I pay attention to them, to their experiences, conversations. I never know when and where they’d pop up in my writing, but sooner or later they will. Every single person I met on this planet could give something to my characters.”
When digital platforms started productions in Turkey, it provided an opportunity for Evren to take her craft to the next level. She mentions the moment she reached her epiphany about how she could go beyond the borders of Turkey and write for a global audience. “In August 2018, I was in Italy, Napoli waiting for a train. I was just watching people from different nations, coming and going and passing. I felt very aligned with the universe. That’s when I realized that I must write stories for all of them. I texted my producer Onur Güvenatam just saying that “I want to work with Netflix; I want to make a project from Anatolia that will go Global.” And he answered one word: “finally!” That’s how I pitched Atiye, The Gift to Netflix. I expressed my inspiration from an unpublished book, about a young woman who discovers she has a mystical bond with the oldest temple on earth in Göbeklitepe Turkey. That was it. One sentence and they were interested. That was the right time, right attitude, and right amount of experience for me to do it.”
Similarly, a few years later, inspiration struck for Another Self, the 2022 Netflix series that took the global ratings by storm for a non-English production. It held a place in the Top 10 for weeks, racking up millions of views. Isolated from friends and family during the pandemic soon after she lost her father, while she navigated a new relationship in The Netherlands with her now husband, it was a time of great flux in her life. The need to write and channel the changes, making peace with her past and how to change her perspective gave birth to the story of three female best friends who go on a journey to understand their lives. They do so through family constellation therapy that uncovers generational trauma that manifests in their present lives in various ways.
A student and practitioner of this unique form of therapy herself, Evren says, “The writing process was not hard, because I was telling a story I know about, and I was comfortable with it. The hard part was to try to explain the show to execs, producers, network and even the actors. Of course, they had a lot of questions. Family Constellations in a drama was a unique concept and it is such a hard subject to explain. Tuba Büyüküstün was the first one to read the script even before the platform and the director. She said “yes” after a 30 min. chat with me via zoom. When she said yes, it was a huge relief and force for me to feel that I was on the right path.”
Evren’s wisdom, inner alignment and unique form of storytelling shines through when she says, “At any point in time, it is your perspective as a writer that makes the story unique. That kind of inspiration only comes from your true self, your own life experience, if you do not want to be a copy of someone else. You do not need to experience that certain thing yourself but how would you interpret that experience, matters. The viewers are very smart and they know when you try to fool them. I trust my inner circle of friends and family, and I trust my producers. When I have positive feedback from them, I know I am on the right path.”
The audience is eagerly awaiting her next movie project Last Call for Istanbul, which reunites beloved dizi couple Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ and Beren Saat. The movie is set in New York, which is a location requirement set by Onur Güvenatam, the producer and the head of OGM Pictures. When asked what she is excited about with this movie, Evren says, “Writing a movie for such good actors who have immense chemistry and acting skills is already enough to be excited. I worked with Beren in İntikam and in Atiye; so I can imagine her fluently when I write a line for her. And Kıvanç is an actor I admire a lot and it is the first time that we are working together. After the 5th draft, we started having conversations on the script and the characters, collaborating with both actors. That was very exciting and their input was amazing. I am very honored that I wrote the script that convinced them to act together again after all these years. Gönenç is a director that I worked with before and the energy and skills he brought to the context is exceptional. I hope that the audience will enjoy the movie as much as I do.”
Successful Stories, Different Platforms
Two of the most successful series for Evren are the recent Another Self for Netflix and the 2016-2018 dizi Vatanim Sensin on Kanal D where she served as screenwriter for the first season. While the former is still getting new viewers with two new seasons confirmed, the latter won Evren the 2017 Golden Butterfly Award for Best Screenwriter. We were curious about the comparative creative process and Evren’s sense of engagement with her characters.
For Another Self, Evren says of the characters, “I wrote about women I know – my friends, me; they represent a lot of women in Turkey and it’s not their fault they are not seen as much on screen. I do not watch public TV for a long time but I know that women are victimized a lot in the stories. Netflix gave me this liberty of women talking about orgasm, their sexualities, women who do not chase men but have other issues to talk about. I could delve into transcending traumas, I could discuss the conflict between the science and therapeutic approaches based on the human soul. All those were new concepts as a drama subject in Turkey. Because it was on a universal platform, I could craft the story with less fear of being misunderstood.”
In building the story, Evren worked hard on the harmony of the characters and the chemistry of their personalities that strengthen their bond. She built characters who complete each other and yet shine in their differences. Instead of resonating deeply with any one character, Evren says, “I think the bond among the three friends and how they treat each other is the core of our story because that’s what I believe is real and makes everything more believable in the show. So, what I resonate with the most is the unconditional friendship of the 3 women rather than the characters.”
There are real-life anecdotes that have blended into what we saw on screen. For example, the death of Ada’s mother Belgin is a true moment from Evren’s own life, from when she lost her father. She mentions a few others. “One interesting detail is Ada’s parents’ story; that they meet in a cafe named Ada (it’s hard to figure out but you can see the name of the cafe on the door), and that’s why they named their daughter Ada because they used to meet there. That’s my parents’ real-life story. My name Evren means the universe and that was the name of the patisserie they used to meet at in Ankara. Zaman was the name of my best friend’s grandfather. He comes from Iran and what they’ve been through is a part of the character’s family story. And “why not coconut” is a real-life anecdote cause it’s what we use a lot in our girls’ group, invented by Burcu (Alptekin), our director, many years ago.”
With such depth and authenticity baked into the narrative we saw on screen, there is no wonder the story resonated so well with millions across the globe. Netflix enabled a liberty in the type of story a Turkish woman could tell, and yet it incorporated a lot of the regional Anatolian culture and familial peculiarities that define the women as they are today. A modern tale for modern times carrying generations worth of truth.
Vatanım Sensin is the sweeping saga of Ottoman Commander Cevdet, his family, their love stories and enemies, set against the tumultuous time of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. With attention to historical integrity and in preparation for 14 months before the series went on screen, the core story and the first episode was written by Necati Şahin before Evren became the lead writer. Succumbing to the intense challenges of the dizi world, Evren parted ways with the project at the end of 31 (of 59) episodes but not before she had snagged the Best Screenwriter award for her contribution.
Even though she is skeptical about the local awards circuits these days, when recounting her experience with the project, Evren says, “Vatanım Sensin was a very special project to me, that I put my heart and soul into. It was the result of great teamwork. When Necati Şahin had to part from the series after the 13th episode, Ali Aydın, Nergis Otluoğlu and I was trying to write 85 pages each week, within a very stressful timeline and without having a life at all. I remember a night when I had just sent the script and I had a call from production saying that there is no way that they can shoot it on time, and I must change everything. I was already sleepless for 36 hours and they needed the new script in 6 hours. That was the night I decided that I had to quit because there was no way I could remain healthy while producing meaningful work.
We had an amazing team work there with Ali, Nergis, Necati, and later on Nilgün Öneş also joined us, creating new stories for the episodes. I could only finish the 31 episodes with their huge contributions but what I remember most is the stress and the tension of the project.”
When asked if the story concluded on what she had originally envisioned, Evren says, “I did not watch a single episode after I quit the series but I heard what happened in the finale. With all the respect to my colleagues, I’d write a different finale. I’d see them being the nice old couple of the Turkish Republic and still loving each other when they are in their 80’s. That was my dream since the first episode.”
As mentioned earlier, Evren is finally coming back on the dizi scene with Ab-I-Hayat, an OGM Pictures production for StarTV. She’s excited about the project and these days she is only driven by audience appreciation. She is excited to write stories that excite her audiences, always aware of the need to create relevant stories that can ultimately support the profitability of all the stakeholders in bringing the production to life. It remains to be seen if her experience with this dizi will leave a richer footprint in her memory.
Female Storytellers, Turkish Style
Many of the North American viewers of Turkish drama are educated female professionals, ranging from their 20s to their 80s. Our long time research reveals women who love the female centric narratives in Turkish drama. They find that the female characters are deeply and realistically written, often following an empowering path in their lives. Having studied cinema, we were curious about Evren’s articulation on what makes Turkish drama resonate so deeply across borders and why so many female filmmakers, screenwriters, talent agents have found such a strong place for themselves in the industry even though the country is perceived to be socially conservative.
Evren says, “The female centric stories are not a coincidence. Anatolia is older than 400,000 years and mostly led by women throughout ancient times. Anatolian culture cherishes women a lot. Even the name “Anadolu” comes from the word Mother (Ana means the Mother). The goddess Artemis, Kybele and many other Goddesses are all Anatolian archetypes, the symbols for abundance and creation. But, somehow, this heritage was forgotten and for centuries the women were oppressed, until the Republic.
Atatürk gave women the right to vote, and women could be elected in 1934, long before many other countries. Since the Republic was formed, women have regained very important positions in work and social life in Turkey. And these ancient and yet progressive forms of feminism lend to the female characters we write about, with or without conscious thought. As female writers we need to cherish this legacy.”
“With regards to Turkish drama reaching out to the world today, we should thank Yeşilçam. The authors of the Turkish cinema, the masters, they built a universal language of storytelling beginning from 40’s-50’s. The Yeşilçam movies in 60’s and 70’s form the golden age of Turkish drama. If you pay attention to the movies of that time, the story structure, the relationship they had with the audience, the acting, directing skills and more, we still cannot reach the impact they reached even though we now have more technology. If we have to find a universal acknowledgement for the success of the industry, we need to thank the creators of that time. We should thank Lutfi O. Akad, Metin Erksan, Memduh Ün, Atıf Yılmaz, Halit Refiğ, Duygu Sağıroğlu, İlhan Arakon, Bülent Oran, Safa Önal and many more. Most of them were my teachers and I am honored to be their student.”
As for the place of women in the entertainment industry, Evren says, “I would not define Turkey as a conservative country; I’d better define it as a country who’s been reflecting itself as being more conservative for the last 20 years. This is still the country that Atatürk and his supporters built, and women were always acknowledged, respected and encouraged to be free about who they are and what they want to achieve. Coupled with the Anatolian heritage I mention earlier, this is where we come from. Temporary images should not define the whole country and its history.
Women are creative, elegant, softer, think through their heart, have more tendency to have empathy, have more patience, are better communicators – all the skills this business needs to come together. Power struggles only harm the creative process and I think with their collaborating nature women can show their powerful sides more in this business comparing to other businesses. This doesn’t mean that women need to rule. The feminine and the masculine should walk together side by side, supporting and learning from each other. I believe that when we have this balance in every scale of life, we will have less problems on Earth.”
With her profound insights, knowledge and practical approach to the work she does, Evren is a trailblazer in her field and continues to forge new paths with her stories. And it doesn’t end here for Evren. Once she is done with all her current TV projects for Netflix and public TV, she will start work on her first novel, which she hopes will be published in many languages. Maybe, someday, she will direct an adaptation of the story and continue to showcase all the ways she is meant to move mountains as a female storyteller whose work speaks to the world. Just as her grandfather had imagined.
Article copyright (c) North America TEN & mh musings/ @entrespire, twitter
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Maheen!! You did an amazing job with this interview. The first photo of Ms. Evren so captures her essence. This woman has never had such an in-depth review personally and professionally. I love that you have featured female writers and directors. Thanks for this thoughtful piece!