CLOSE-UP: CAMPAIGN SCREEN - TURKEY. Turkey is ready to become the hottest spot for film makers on a tight budget

Turkey offers service to put east European spots in the shade, Rachel Nouchi says.

If you were to put aside the threat of a scud missile landing in the middle of your film set, Turkey has true potential to become a leading location for shooting ads.

It's dirt cheap and it brims with breathtaking settings begging to be immortalised on celluloid. It also boasts a highly professional domestic film industry with vast film studios, the size and scale of Pinewood, as well as post-production suites that wouldn't look out of place in Hollywood.

So what are UK directors waiting for and why isn't Turkey already at the top of the list with South Africa, Eastern Europe and Argentina as a thriving locations destination?

Well, it goes without saying that the security threat posed by the war with Iraq has cast a fairly bleak shadow over its beautiful facade. The Foreign Office currently advises against non-essential travel to south-eastern Turkey, although Istanbul and surrounding territories are deemed safe.

Although used by Hollywood's location scouts over the years, with blockbusters from Armageddon, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Tomorrow Never Dies all shot in Istanbul, it's mostly a parochial film industry with a trickle of international shoots filtering through each year. The fear of impending crisis has always been around the corner, threatening to banish international business and make production crews think twice before packing their bags.

This, however, didn't stop Anabelle Manwaring, the European creative director of Leo Burnett, from shooting the latest Max Factor campaign in Istanbul earlier this year and indeed her past three commercials for the brand. Drawing on her experience of shooting in the world's top locations, Manwaring believes that Istanbul will one day catch on as the in-vogue place to film. "Personally, it's already the top destination on my list in Europe," she says.

For her latest Max Factor shoot, two elaborate sets were constructed in one of Istanbul's film studios on the outskirts of the city to fulfill her brief. This required the reconstruction of the film sets for Chicago and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Manwaring, who brought out her own cameras and lighting, praised the commitment and flexibility of the local crew. "They could handle anything and were prepared to put in those extra hours to keep us happy," she says. "I've shot all over Eastern Europe and some countries really feel rough and ready compared with the polished service you get here."

Chips Hardy, a creative director, at Bates UK, also rates Istanbul's location credentials. When Hardy shot a commercial for the chewing gum brand Oxygen in Istanbul, his local production crew managed to find the ideal bridge on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, build a model of it in an Istanbul film studio and blow it up at 4am. His crew also shot in a university square in central Istanbul and roads were closed with the minimum of fuss.

Like most locations, there is a small pool of talented crew staff, but unlike destinations including South Africa, those top people are always available to international directors. "My wardrobe assistant, for example, was a top Turkish Harpers & Queen editor, but she was on set, sorting our commercial out," Hardy says.

Production service companies brag that anything's possible from a studio production to a location shoot whether it be a coastal scene, lake, mountain, ancient site or European city setting. But it's also the dramatically low production costs that drive blue-chip clients to Turkey at the moment.

And it's not only the production costs that are low. Entertaining clients, whether it be a boat trip down the Bosphorus or a four-course meal in one of Istanbul's hip new restaurants, can literally be the same price as half a pint and a few peanuts in the UK.

According to Complete Works, a production facilities company with offices in both Istanbul and London, taking your production out to Istanbul would reduce costs by 20 per cent to 30 per cent compared with a destination such as Prague.

Cultural idiosyncrasies and the fact that Turkey is 90 per cent Muslim does have its drawbacks.

Special permits to film in certain areas, such as around mosques, may be required, for example. The Bartle Bogle Hegarty producer Julie Methold was quickly made aware of this during a Lynx shoot in Istanbul.

Owing to religious sensitivities, the production had to move its two chosen locations in the city more than once. Not only was the crew approached by local mafia gangs, who attempted to bribe the local Turkish producer, but the star of the ad, a model wearing a cocktail dress, was warned against leaving her dressing room before changing her attire. "Our options became limited, so the crew ended up carving up half the set and taking it back to finish filming in London," Methold recalls.

Fear of political and economic instability has definitely hampered Istanbul's potential as a location city. But according to Esen Yesilirmak, the managing director of Complete Works, the drawbacks are few and far between. "The main reason that it's not a major hub is because people just have never thought of coming to Turkey. They see us as a summer holiday destination, not somewhere with a thriving metropolis and lively film industry. Prague may be flavour of the month, but it's getting more expensive and clients love getting something new and exciting for their money," she argues.

Shrinking budgets and increased pressure from clients to find something new and different should improve Turkey's chances as a popular shoot destination. However, perceived political instability combined with the strength of what's on offer in Prague, Buenos Aires and Cape Town mean that Turkey's day in the commercial sun is still a few years off.

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