Umut Aral, the director behind the brilliant short film 'Crash'
(Credit: Umut Aral)

Far Out Meets: Umut Aral, the director behind the critically acclaimed short film ‘Crash’

At Far Out Magazine we believe in cinema’s ability to heal.

At a time when millions of people remain locked inside amid strict social distancing measures and cinemas around the world continue to keep their doors closed, we want to shine a light on filmmakers on a personal level.

Turning our attention to the work created by independent artists, we have launched our new weekly series ‘The Far Out Film Club’. The project will focus on one filmmaker during each episode and will premiere on both of Far Out Magazine’s Facebook page and YouTube channel every Wednesday.

Offering a platform for filmmakers around the world, promoting their work to millions of cinephiles while also connecting them to other creatives, our second edition of the series welcomes the award-winning director Umut Aral and his brilliant short film Crash.

Aral, a creative with a prolific and feverish desire for the art of cinema, has triumphed new ground in the field and relentlessly pursues multiple mediums to express his vision. Refusing to be tied down to one specific niche, the filmmaker boats a varied body of work on his growing and glittering CV. Working on a varied sample of films, documentaries, commercials, music videos, TV series, Aral as played around with the premise of 360 and hologram technology as he looks to move with the times of a fast-paced industry.

Given his attempt to create art as a director in multiple different areas, I wanted to explore his working focus on a varied approach: “The most common answer to this question is probably creativity,” Aral told me when I asked about important factors of being a film director. “Yes it’s crucial but at the same time, a film director must have problem-solving, leadership, positivity and be open to collaboration qualities.”

He adds: “I’m always after unique stories to tell rather than working on a specific subject or field. I’d love to explore all the genres, tell about different aspects of human psychology and reach wide audiences.”

A passionate cinephile, one who admitted that he is “hungry for new discoveries”, Aral enjoys digging deep into new genres, looking for newer ways to tell the stories. “As an ambitious filmmaker, I’ve always been a big fan of Kubrick, Spielberg, Won Kar Wai, Park Chan Wook, early years of Luc Besson and also Bong Joon Ho, Edgar Wright and Danny Boyle,” he admitted. “All of them explored different styles and genres throughout their filmographies. I think that’s what I like about filmmaking, every time you can tell different stories, sharing the human experience in particular ways. As a storyteller, I prefer to understand the character of the story that I’m telling and inhabiting it, bring it to life in the best way possible. I always admired directors with a specific aesthetic, a particular visual language or thematic consistency but never wanted to be one of them.”

In 2005, Aral released his short film Crash to international acclaimed. The project went on to win thirteen prestigious national and international awards and screened in esteemed film festivals like Locarno International Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, Asiana Short Film Festival, and International Short Film Festival in Drama.

Here, as part of the Far Out Film Club, we are premiering a screening of Aral’s award-winning short Crash which is available through our Facebook and YouTube channels.

See the film and a full conversation with its creator, below.

FO: Given the current circumstances, and the struggles that the film industry is facing, how difficult is it to be an independent director right now?

Aral: “Independent or attached to a studio, I think the pandemic is giving a really hard time for all directors and film crews around the world. Unions are debating for the new normal rules, crews are trying to set social distancing rules in backlots and real locations. Honestly, I think that the independent filmmakers are luckier to be able to get back to film production because they are used to working in smaller crews and limited sources. Mainstream filmmaking companies will struggle a bit longer than the independents.

Similarly, on a personal level as both a film viewer and creator, how important is cinema as a form of release at the moment?

“I’ve always been a genre-lover and was always after telling ‘escapist’ stories. Escapist stories are more important than ever before — especially now. People need to stay at their homes, worried about themselves and their loved ones, their future, they are looking to evade the grey clouds over their heads.

“They all want to forget about the epidemic. Psychologically they tend to look for ‘feel good movies’ rather than thrillers.”

We’re focusing on your project ‘Crash’ could you explain where this idea came from? 

“I was reading a sociological article while preparing a paper for the university. I think I’ve got bored and started daydreaming. Some images started to appear in my mind. First I saw big stairs, then three people crashing into each other while on the stairs.

“It was raining as in a storm and I couldn’t afford the rain in the production stage, so this wasn’t on the final script. Then I’ve started thinking about the backstories of the characters: a pickpocket, an assassin and a con man. After that everything went so quickly till the production.

Detail, if you could, how the scenario of this project was formed, how did you develop your ideas and did the end product match your initial expectations?

“After finishing the script I’ve sent it to some colleagues and some professional filmmakers that I’ve trusted their opinion because I believe in collaboration in filmmaking. Colleagues loved the story and came with helpful comments and revision ideas.

“Unexpectedly, some of the professionals have responded to me and said that it was rubbish and I shouldn’t shoot something like a ‘Guy Ritchie’ wanna-be like story. Looking back in time, I’m so happy that I didn’t listen to them at all. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing this interview anyway.

Did your creative vision change when you began to understand more about your process? 

“As a filmmaker, you have adapt to constant changes and be flexible in creative thinking. You have to adapt yourself to your budget, to the actors’ availabilities, to working hours, even to the sun’s position. While writing the script, you envision and imagine without any boundaries but once on the prep and the set you face your limits.

“This is where you are challenged to change your creative vision, but one should not take it as a negative aspect: More challenge means more creativity. For example, while shooting Crash I didn’t have a huge budget for the extras for the train station scene. They were around 30 people I think including friends and family members. But we had a huge chase scene to shoot and it was supposed to be 500-metre travelling shot. So I’ve decided to use the same extras by changing their outfit in different locations for different takes. Nobody noticed it while watching the film.”

Did you encounter any unexpected difficulties in its creation?

“Another funny behind the scenes story: We were shooting the most important scene of the film. Three men crash into each other on the stairs of a big train station. A bag full of money flies and opens in mid-air. Then the extras on the stairs run to catch the flying bills. That was the idea. But the problem was we were an independent team and we didn’t have the budget to lock down the train station. So the moment that we threw the bag into the air and open it, the public—passer by’s on the street started to run to catch the bills. It was all fake bills but they didn’t know it. It was like mayhem. We ended up having a great scene but were tired like hell on that day.

We’ve reached a point in cinema, much like that of the music industry, when the phrase “we’ve seen it all before” becomes a topical debate.

“How do you stay original? How do you find ways to produce something unique in a market that has so many creatives? Or is being unique even that important?

“Like said in the Ecclesiastes: ‘There is no new thing under the sun’. The definition of the original is changed. This is the era of the remakes. Now you can take the original footages, edit them and create a new original out of it. There is an unstoppable urge and hunger for creating videos through new media through Youtube, Vimeo, etc. I think this is shaping the future. The debate of ‘’we’ve seen it all before” is losing its meaning. Think of theatre, for example, people are watching the re-staging of Shakespeare’s, Brecht’s, Moliere’s plays for years. Who can say ‘I’ve seen it before’ while watching a wonderful adaptation of Hamlet? The stories don’t have to be original but the interpretation should. It should be fresh, new, never-seen-before. This is the reality of this era.”

Do you think those influences are prevalent in your work?

“The camera is like a music instrument. Before you make your own compositions you have to practice some master’s work. While on prep, I always dig into the films from my favourite directors, to see how did they deal with a certain type of scenes or actions. What do I like in that particular scene and how I can interpret this technique to my film? So if you look deep into my work I’m sure that you can see some inspiration or some prevalence from the directors that I’ve mentioned.”

Moving on to the subject of independent cinema, I’m keen to know your thoughts on its current standing. How important is independent film today, what does it mean to you?

“I was in a Master Class with Alejandro González Iñárritu last year in Sarajevo Film Festival. Iñárritu mentioned that the beginning of the new millennium was a great chance for independent filmmakers because big studios were looking at mid-level budget stories then. This is how he managed to produce 21 Grams and Babel with big studios.

“Now the big studios are after big franchises, comic book adaptations, big-budget action movies mostly. So it’s not a good era for independent filmmakers to sell their stories and ideas to studios. Film festivals are losing their power. Even award-winning film cannot find the right distribution channels. Despite this depressing situation, the digital revolution and the streaming platforms are there to save the independents. The platforms are more open to new ideas, more distinctive and local stories. I think there is a huge opportunity for independent filmmakers in these platforms. Award-winning and acclaimed directors already started working with these platforms.

Short films are often closely affiliated with independent film and filmmakers, do you think the landscape of this medium has changed over time?

“Short films are great if you want to learn the craft of filmmaking. Lots of legendary filmmakers have started their careers through short films. I don’t think that has changed over time. Of course, now that we have viral videos, interactive videos, web series and other new formats. But short films will stay the way they are and continue to be a ground for learners, independent filmmakers and ambitious storytellers.

I look at streaming services and the impact companies such as Netflix are enjoying in the world of mainstream cinema, do you think this platform could provide an alternative route for independent filmmakers and shorts?

“I’ve been working with Netflix for three years now, I did four seasons of Netflix Originals The Protector and prepping the new series If Only. I think it’s a great platform for independent filmmakers, storytellers and upcoming actors or actresses. Streaming platforms create a chance for us to tell our stories to the whole world, being discovered. This wasn’t possible ten years ago.

“As independent filmmakers, we’ve been distributing our films, trying so hard to be selected by the film festivals, to reach international audiences. Now we can reach millions through Netflix and other streaming platforms. I think this created a huge opportunity for low and mid-level budget filmmakers. I’m really happy to be a part of this digital revolution in filmmaking industry.

Finally, do you have any ideas in terms of which sphere of cinema you may be exploring next?

“I’m still working on a fantasy-flavoured dramedy about time travel for Netflix. It will be available on the platform by 2021. Also developing some other concept for series and feature films in different genres. Moved to London recently from Istanbul, looking forward to telling great stories here.”

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