BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — Working with one of Turkey’s most eminent helmer/scribes, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, does not necessarily mean working with much of a budget.
But, as cinematographer Gokhan Tiryaki put it at a conference on his filmmaking with Ceylan at Poland’s Camerimage fest, the director “works in the subliminal space.” Known for his explorations of existential themes, brooding static shots and glacial pans, the Palme d’Or-winning Ceylan makes it seem to Tiryaki when working on any other set that “nobody is doing anything.”
It’s not always easy working for an established art photographer, writer and actor, Tiryaki admits. And the prep process takes months, filled with long deliberation about color temperature, the atmosphere that the Anatolian landscape must emanate, the script — crafted with Ceylan’s wife, Ebru — and which performers can render it best.
After that, the D.P. treks to the rural setting with Ceylan and the two of them run through the dialogue together in front of cameras, making tests. “That’s very funny,” says the diffident Tiryaki.
During the shoot for “Winter Sleep,” the gorgeously filmed story of a former film star now in his sunset and caught in a moral dilemma, the pair decided that the depopulated mountain country should take on a cold, snow-blown look. Making use of available light whenever possible, now and then resorting to day-for-night created in post to render a liminal moonlit effect, Tiryaki describes long but unhurried work days in which the team jointly explored the boundaries of characters, dialogue and light.
“He usually has an idea what kind of picture he wants,” the cinematographer says, but Ceylan remains open to new possibilities in staging, performance and script. “He has no fixed idea about anything.”
Although every line of the script is carefully constructed, as in Ceylan’s previous arthouse noir hit, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” actors are encouraged to improvise new lines if they feel the urge. Now and then, the director will accept one of these changes, Tiryaki says.
The strategy is not based on any insecurity about the written dialogue, the cinematographer says. “He just wants to be sure nothing better comes up.”
Unlike many cinematographers, Tiryaki is happy to rework the footage extensively in post. “You cook the meal in post. If you try to cook the meal on set, you can’t change it in post.”
Ceylan wants his cameraman deeply involved in sound too, bringing the footage to a new dimension. That may mean the lonely echo of a distant dog barking or the breathing of horses in a wintry field.
“I see working with him as a school.”