Hakan Ünal

Thank you Hakan for taking the time to answer all of our questions. We are grateful for everything you have shared with us. At Oxford Script Awards we are wishing you a huge success with your next projects. Keep up the amazing work!

Hello Hakan, can you tell us about your background and how you got started in screenwriting?
My path into screenwriting began with watching the films. I started to analyze a film with every single detail. I totally believe that if you are good enough, watching and visualizing a film is the best way to learn how to build a film in your mind. When I discovered it, I started to write screenplays. I did a master’s degree in screenplay writing in Toronto. After I sent my screenplays to the emerging international film festivals, I experienced that all of them were selected and won awards that gave me the strength and confidence of what I was doing. There is no one way to get into screenwriting, but there are three essential steps…
1. Educate yourself – there are plenty of books and videos to help you; read lots of screenplays from Oscar, Bafta, Berlin, Cannes, Venice-winning movies and watch lots of films;
2. Write every day and finish three scripts a year;
3. Broaden your mind and enrich your life with travel, reading, studying, learning, meeting new people.
These are the things that will feed your imagination.
What's your writing process like? How do you go about creating characters and developing a story?

I don’t start with structure, for me that comes later. I don’t decide what the core of the story is before I start to write. I write to figure out what the story is. I prefer the story takes me to the deepest holes of it to fight me, to push me, to discover things inside. I like to wrestle with my stories without knowing that I may fail or not. I just let it go. I am creating my own characters by letting them connect with me. Faces are so crucial for the story of mine. While I am walking on the street, I like to see the faces of the people that I don’t know and try to decipher their dilemmas. When I go back home, I have many faces in my mind. One of them starts to occupy my thoughts for a couple days and I begin to talk to that face that is the first connection of my character who is about to be born. I deeply like to inhabit my characters.

Can you talk about a recent project you've worked on and the challenges you faced while writing it?

Recently, I’ve been working on my debut film project, Leyla. This is obviously very different from the projects I’ve done so far. The biggest challenge I have faced in this project is that I am going to experience a trans woman character for the first time and I don’t know much about her. In this regard, I intend to overcome this challenge by sincerely embracing the character which drags me to a depth that I do not know, and by doing a detailed research to get to know him.

What do you think is the most important element of a great screenplay?

Writing a great screenplay is a kind of a great journey that starts with a great character. I think finding your character is the key factor to unlock the doors of your screenplay.

How do you feel about the current state of the film industry and the role of screenwriters in it?

The Film industry, in particular, has had a fairly steady rise over the last three decades in the number of movies produced in Turkey. It’s expected for this upward trend to continue rising in the coming years. Similar stories are true for TV studios, whether prime time or cable. Furthermore, technology and streaming networks, like Netflix, have changed the craft of screenwriting, offering more opportunities to aspiring screenwriters. Not to mention many independent, religious, industrial, and educational markets that are also eager to produce new content. From this alone, it’s safe to say there’s plenty of demand out there for screenplays and, thus, screenwriters. This means the challenge isn’t finding a job but rather landing one. It can be hard to break into screenwriting at first, especially if you’re unsure what type of content is currently in demand. Nonetheless, with enough persistence, commitment, and a marketable screenplay, you’re likely to get a foot in the door somewhere.

How do you approach writing for different genres and audiences?

Genres pretty much define anything from the type of writer you are to the way your characters speak. You’ve a message to write, and genre determines the way in which your message is delivered. After all, what you do with genre is create a niche which ultimately determines your audience; you’ve got your Western buffs, your Tarantino fanatics, your drama queens, the J-horror aficionados and your rom-com devotees. But whether you’re a nor intellectual who likes to sip warm wine and compare Kafka’s Village Schoolmaster to Haneke’s White Ribbon, everyone’s tastes fit into a specific genre. As a scriptwriter, when you begin to break down genres like this, you’ll see that it goes a long way in terms of it defining your characters and settings. You’re obviously going to need dusty towns for a Western or a futuristic spaceship for a dystopian. And let’s face it, a sociopath with a tangent for spilling blood isn’t going to be popping up in the Love Actually sequel anytime soon… and with good reason. We choose different genres because we like to fit films into boxes. We like to be amused, or horrified, or ultimately saddened. It’s how we categorize entertainment, and how we cope with the emotions they inspire.

How do you handle feedback and criticism?

When someone criticizes my work, I will listen carefully to what they have to say, I will be polite and thank them for their comments, and I will then evaluate what their intentions are and how I can use their feedback to improve.

Can you talk about any upcoming projects or collaborations you're excited about?

‘Leyla’ is my first feature film project that I have been working on for over a year and is still in the script development stage. This means a new and unknown journey for me. During this journey, first of all, it will be to choose the most suitable and right people for the scenario and work with them. The right people will move this project to the right center. Actually, when I write a script, I also believe that the content of the script finds the right people for it. It’s kind of like a chemical attraction. If a product takes on a certain spirit and body, it can take the right steps and walk on its own.

How do you see the role of screenwriting evolving in the future?

Predicting the future for any industry is difficult. Such predictions are often based on current trends, impending technology, and most of all, hope — hope for change, streamlining, and evolution. Screenwriting itself hasn’t changed too much in the last one hundred years. A concept is conjured. A script is written and serves as a blueprint for production. Filmmakers, casts, and crews take the script and bring it to life.

What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters?

You have to learn the craft. Screenwriters think that it’s a magical thing, that if you have the talent, therefore you make it happen. But talent without craft is nothing.