SxSW 2021 Interview – THE CRIMINALS director Serhat Karasslan

In a small Turkish town, a young couple is trying to rent a room in a hotel to spend a romantic evening but they are rejected from all hotels because they do not have a marriage certificate. They find a way to get a room, but the situation gets out of control. Screening in the Narrative Shorts Competition at SxSW Online 2021, we talk with THE CRIMINALS director Serhat Karasslan.

Welcome to SxSW and congratulations! Is this your first SxSW experience?

Yes, it’s my first time and unfortunately it’s virtual. I would love to attend SxSW in person. 

How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send THE CRIMINALS into the festival?

I don’t remember the first time I heard about SxSW but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard of it. SxSW was one of the festivals we really wanted THE CRIMINALS included. It’s great to be part of this festival now. 

Tell me about the idea behind your project and getting it made!

THE CRIMINALS is based on a true story. But the real story is quite simple compared to the film. I didn’t want to just tell the story as it was. The idea stuck in my mind for years, matured over time, and when the mix of genres was involved, I became much more excited to tell this story. Making a movie in a hotel also excited me. Because of the location I always found hotel rooms very cinematographic. Hotel rooms provoke curiosity as well as the imagination I think.

Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?

Abbas Kiarostami, Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Bong Joon-Ho, Asghar Farhadi, Andrey Zvyagintsev are the first names that come to mind. It’s not easy to know precisely where inspiration comes from exactly. I think mostly from personal experiences, observations and stories I have been told. Literature, painting and photographs as well. 

How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? 

We used an Alexa Mini Camera along with Cooke lenses. The story takes place in Turkey and the film is in Turkish. But It’s a French production. Because of the context, we couldn’t get any support from Turkey. Turkish state fund refused our submission. Film financed by French film center. It was not a short film that could be made without budget or with very small budget. We needed to find the right locations and texture for create the atmosphere. Since we couldn’t find what we were looking for in real locations, we built most of it in the studio.

When we were looking for locations in Istanbul and other cities, some hotels owner refused directly our request because of they were thinking that we were going to shoot an erotic or porn film. So, after a few experiences with some hotels, we hide that there is a make love scene in the script. Another difficulty was finding actors. Some actors were very interested in the project but when they read the script they found some excuses and refused the project. Some of them said that they don’t have any problem to act in make love scenes but for their career it will be complicated and if they act in a make love scene they will probably not find a job in the TV world anymore. Some actors negotiated with me how much we were going to show their buddies or how I’m going to shoot and make love scenes. I had to explain to too many actors how I’m going to shoot and make love scenes. The actors wanted to be convinced by me but I didn’t want to push anyone to accept these roles. I wanted it will be their own decision freely. 

Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is your project going next?

I had a virtual festival experience recently. There is a chance to watch more movies during the festival and the films have the opportunity to reach an even larger audience. I hope our film will be seen by more audiences. Next for The Criminals, there are some festivals in Europe and America the film will be screened. 

What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?

Maybe there can be more sections and subgenres in film festivals. After the festival during the year festivals can replay films in virtual screenings. 

If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?

I think we shouldn’t compare our journey with some successful profiles and just keep making the films. It’s a long and hard journey, we have to be ready for failures as well. Find people excited about your ideas and then you’ll find together a way to tell your stories.

And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?

Jim Jarmusch’s COFFEE AND CIGARETTES short film series. I love the sense of humor, interesting and extraordinary characters in those films.

This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to!

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