An Interview With Dicle Ozcer
Dicle Ozcer is an award winning director / writer based in Los Angeles, California. Her latest comedy short Big Break (2020) has been awarded Best Comedy by Top Shorts Film Festival, Florence Film Awards and Indie Short Fest. Dicle Ozcer herself has been awarded Best First Time Director by Top Shorts and Independent Shorts Awards. Big Break has been accepted to many other film festivals such as Women’s Comedy Film Festival in Atlanta, Portland Comedy Film Festival, London Worldwide Comedy Festival and Dumbo Film Festival in NYC.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I’ve wanted to be a performer since I was a little girl. I grew up going to the theatre with my mom every weekend and decided that I wanted to be an actor at the age of eight. I packed my dreams in a suitcase and moved to Los Angeles to attend AMDA College and Conservatory of Performing Arts’ Acting program. During my time in acting school, I took a directing class that opened up a new world for me. I discovered the fulfillment of having a vision and seeing it come to life with collaboration. Upon graduating, I submitted an original play I wrote to The Santa Monica Theatre, a dark comedy called The Jump. My play was picked to be performed at the theatre and I got a chance to direct something I wrote in a professional setting for the first time. The Jump turned out to be a big success, it sold out for all the performances and got renewed for a second run at the theatre. I then got a chance to direct Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the same theatre and became a company member.
As a working actor, I was tired to see the lack of developed female characters. Surely we’re getting more progressive everyday but seeing hundreds of casting calls searching for the same one dimensional woman that only serves as a love interest was disappointing. I wanted to be the change I want to see in this industry and decided to write my own characters and tell my own stories rather than waiting for someone to give me an opportunity. As much as theatre was my home, I wanted to reach a broader audience and use the countless tools cinema would give me to tell my stories. I wanted to make films. I attended New York Film Academy’s Filmmaking program and graduated last year with my master’s degree.
When did you make your first film and what was it like to work on your first film project?
My first professional film project was about three years ago. Even with months of planning and preparing beforehand; once the production starts, you need to be on your A game because there are a lot of elements that can go wrong on the day of the shoot. You have to be in the right headspace and be willing to take these punches to the chin and move forward. I was lucky enough to have an extremely talented crew and friends that supported me at every step of the way. We were able to overcome any last minute problems with teamwork and good spirits. I find the excitement and stress I feel at the start of any production is addicting. That’s how I know this is the right path for me. Because along with that stress and my mind running through hundreds of tasks and questions per minute, my passion made me feel invincible, like I could overcome anything life throws in my face and make this film.
On-set experience is vital to this industry. You can plan everything to a T and have a strict timeline and feel comfortable with a shooting schedule but once it starts, you need to be able to adapt to any situation and be flexible without sacrificing your vision. If your vision is clear and you have a good team that believes in you, anything is possible. The obstacles you face are important because you learn from your mistakes, you learn from adapting and being able to find a solution during your limited time of shooting. Especially with indie films that do not have big studios backing them, time is money and every second counts. Each film I made, I got better at solving problems. I knew what to expect and I was more prepared for possible issues that may arise. I still feel the burning excitement on my chest at any production, it is very similar to the feeling of performing in front of a live audience: the tingles in your fingertips that make you happy.
What kind of films inspired you as a director?
I get inspired by highly stylized films. The type of films that are so detailed, have a lot of symbolism and everything in the frame is planned to a T. A couple of good examples would be pretty much all the works of Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Stanley Kubrick. I like the feeling of entering a world that is not quite like our own and is very cinematic. I was very inspired by the film Mr. Nobody by Jaco Van Dormael because it jumps in between a lot of timelines with different styles in each of them. It’s the type of movie that you notice new things every time you watch it, and it makes you want to watch them over and over again. For my film Big Break, I took a lot of my inspiration from Wild Tales by Damián Szifron. Wild Tales is a compilation of six short films and in each of them, the characters pick the absolute craziest, chaotic way to deal with their conflict and it is a continuous build up until the end. I wanted to take this feeling of a build up and marry it with the dry, satirical humor of Hail Caesar! by Coen brothers.
What genre of filmmaking are you trying to create in your work?
With every film I make, I try to give the audience a ‘slice of life’ story with a touch of craziness. In the last couple of years, I discovered that comedy is my strong suit. I want to create smart comedies that are character-driven but still tugs at your heart-strings. I love writing witty dialogue and prefer deadpan and dark comedies to more physical comedies.
Please name three of your most favorite directors?
My three favorite directors are Tim Burton, Wes Anderson and Coen brothers. They each have a unique, distinguished style and have directed films that deeply impacted me as an audience member and a filmmaker.
Wes Anderson’s style is so detailed and eccentric that his movies are always a feast for the eyes. His limited color palettes create a contained world, the symmetrical shots, stylized acting and always a very character-driven story with an all star cast. I find it hard to not enjoy his films because they truly are works of art, he’s one the most distinguished auteurs of our generation.
Tim Burton has been my all time favorite director because of his gothic, dark style. His mark is so significant in every movie he’s made and as a dark fantasy fan, I always find myself drawn to the worlds he creates with the impeccable music by Danny Elfman.
Coen brothers are a wild card because their movies jump between a lot of different genres but I know for a fact that if it’s a Coen brothers movie; it’s going to be compelling, really well made and a bit weird. I really enjoy their dark comedies and they always achieve to create something that is controversial and entertaining.
What were some of the challenges of making an independent film for you?
It definitely requires a lot of hard work, time and patience. You have to have a solution for the hundreds of problems you will have and you don’t have a big studio to fall back on, so everything will come out of your pocket. Other than having to finance the film myself and trying to cut costs without sacrificing my vision, the biggest challenge was being the director and producer at the same time. Though it’s not impossible, there is a lot of work load when you are the sole producer. For the pre-production stage, it’s a stressful job but I like to be in control of every detail that goes into my movie so as long as I have enough time to plan and schedule everything, I don’t mind. During production however, it’s a completely different game. The director should be focused on the actors and the next shot, not what’s happening with catering or locations. Being the director takes all of your energy and mental space, if you divide yourself you will lose quality on both aspects. Luckily, I had another filmmaker friend jump on board as a production manager on our shooting days and it definitely helped relieve some stress and allowed me the head clarity to focus on the performance.
What was it like for you to move to Los Angeles and pursue a career in the film industry?
Moving to Los Angeles from Turkey was definitely a big change in my life. It was a challenge to adapt to a different country with a different culture but I made great friends that supported me throughout this journey. More importantly, I was over the moon about taking this big step towards achieving my dreams. I found myself in this creative bubble with people who share the same interests and dreams, it really feeds your soul when you’re with like-minded people that speak your artistic language.
Do you recommend film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school?
I definitely recommend going to a film school! I attended New York Film Academy’s MFA Filmmaking program in Los Angeles and I learned so much. I had amazing teachers that were still working in the industry and the school had a hands-on teaching environment that allowed us to put into practice everything we were taught right away. We got to shoot at the Universal Studios backlot, spent most of our time working in productions and getting first-hand experience being in different crew positions. You also make great friendships and valuable connections while letting your creativity flow in this artistic bubble. Going to film school was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I learned and experienced so much that I was ready to be in a professional set and not feel out of place.
How challenging is it to distribute indie films and find an audience for short films?
Film festivals are a good place to start. Although there are not a lot of commonly used platforms like streaming services for short films, you can still have your work online and even create a web series without being tied to a channel. I follow a couple of web series that just release their new videos on YouTube or Vimeo but if you don’t have a big network and you’re trying to reach out to more people, festivals are great. It allows you to make connections with other filmmakers and it may open doors for you since big festivals have a lot of people from the industry as their audience. There are industry professionals who are looking for unique, new material and festivals are one of the platforms they use to hunt for them.
'Big Break' is about a struggling actress trying to break into the film industry in Los Angeles . What was the inspiration behind the making of this film and the themes involved?
I moved to Los Angeles to attend acting school. I’ve loved performing from a young age and felt like the stage was the best place I could express myself. It’s no secret that this is a hard industry to break into, you have to deal with hundreds and hundreds of rejections and it’s hard to keep your head up high and stay motivated. It’s so easy to doubt your talent and yourself and wonder if you’re even cut out for this. I watched a lot of my acting school friends slowly turn into different paths or give up on performing. You have to be extremely vulnerable and have a tough skin at the same time. I feel like we usually get exposed to the success, the end result and not what it takes to get there. There are people who take shortcuts to make a name for themselves but for a lot of actors that are grinding in LA, that’s not the case. It is emotionally and physically draining and it’s definitely not easy. I wanted to show the side of this industry where you have to juggle the power dynamics and politics of this business while treading very carefully. I also wanted to shine a light on the occasional misogyny that all women in the film industry have to deal with on a daily basis. During the audition phase, it was moving to hear how much the actresses could relate to the protagonist Deena, and how the ending was funny yet truthful. This is why I consider Big Break as a “hyper-realistic satire” about our world.
How can cinema improve the world and make it a better place?
Cinema affects how we view the world around us and it deeply influences and shapes our culture. It can also be a source of knowledge and history as it shows us a slice of life from other cultures and time periods. Cinema has the power to inspire and heal. It can teach lessons about social issues we deal with everyday through symbolism in a fantasy or a superhero film just like it can be used to manipulate and change people’s outlook on life as some dictators have in the past.
Any form of art is something that is born from human emotions so it carries the power to make a change. I have learned many life lessons from the films I’ve seen, saw a piece of myself on the screen that made me question my decisions, woken up to a different point of view that challenged me and what I believed in. That is priceless. Cinema helped me grow and I’m certain it had a deep effect on others as well, it’s our primary source of entertainment. It is your therapist, your doctor, your lover, your friend and your teacher.
Representation of minorities is one of the most important details that shouldn’t be overlooked. You learn through identifying with the characters and if you’re not represented, it only adds to your alienation from the society. In the last forty years, we’ve come a long way in terms of ‘inclusion’ but it’s not fast enough. The rise of indie cinema happened because big studios shied away from making movies that tackled political and/or social issues because that would make them “pick a side” and put them in danger of being boycotted. Isn’t this a form of censorship? Shying away from a movie that tackles a social issue because you’re scared of having your sales go down?
I think if people could be better risk takers and delve into these issues with the power of cinema, we can keep changing for the better.
Why do you make films?
Cinema shaped who I am today. It taught me so much about life, about relationships and understanding human behavior. Cinema took me to lands that don’t exist, helped me peek into a life I’ve never known and pulled me out of a dark hole by showing me I’m not alone. It is such a powerful, beautiful art form and I love every second of creating these visual stories. There are so many tools you can use, so many stories you can tell, it is so freeing to be able to express yourself and connect with other people through your art. I want to be able to write characters that people will see a part of themselves in. I want to inspire, teach, entertain. It is like therapy to me. I take great satisfaction in every step of filmmaking. Every step that brings me closer to the finished product, seeing it come together from words on pages to the screen - it is incredible. The collaboration, the teamwork that goes into making films is magical. Being on set, surrounded by giant lights as everyone around you rushing to do their part feels surreal. After being a part of many productions; the feeling, the excitement stays the same. Cinema is where I feel at home.