Cem Yilmaz can rightly be called the father of the Turkish blockbuster, although he would probably laugh at such a title. Yilmaz laughs a lot, and more importantly, he knows how to make other people laugh. As an actor and scriptwriter, he has been the talent behind a string of comedy hits that have brought new audiences to Turkish cinema and pumped bigger budgets into higher quality productions.
“Turkish audiences want to laugh,” says Yilmaz, whose five hit comedies have attracted a total audience of more than 20 million since 1998. “Although I wouldn’t want to see only comedy in the cinema,” Yilmaz adds. “We need good quality dramas as well in Turkish film. That means bigger budgets and higher production values. Our audiences have grown up watching television and they expect a higher technical level than the previous generation.”
Yilmaz, 34, started out as a cartoonist for the magazine Lemon, but discovered he had a talent for standup comedy and he became a sensation in Istanbul’s clubs and cafes in the 1990s. He still performs regularly. His film career began when fan and director-producer Omer Vargi persuaded him to star in the 1998 hit comedy “Everything’s Going to Be Alright” which he also scripted.
But it was “Vizontele,” the comedy hit he starred in with Yilmaz Erdogan, that ushered in a new era in Turkish cinema. Pic scored a record-breaking 3.6 million admissions at the box office in 2001. By 2004, the sci-fi spoof “G.O.R.A.,” which Yilmaz both scripted and starred in, not only set a new record by earning $30 million worldwide but also set a record for the highest-budgeted Turkish pic, at $5 million.
Yilmaz recently made his debut as a director with “The Magician,” a tragicomedy about a smalltime magician on a road trip through Turkey that he also scripted and stars in.
While the film attracted 3.5 million admissions and was one of the biggest hits of the year, some were disappointed that the film did not stick to the Yilmaz formula of nonstop gags. But critics were pleased to see that the comedian could also act.
“I tried to mix drama and humor,” Yilmaz says. “Critics always want to dismiss comedy. I want to improve the quality of film, because there is plenty of room for growth.”