Onur Güvenatam, Head of OGM Pictures, on Working With U.S. Streamers

Turkish producer Onur Güvenatam founded OGM Pictures in 2019, and has since shepherded a steady stream of hit series and movies such as drama “The Red Room,” the widely-sold “Golden Boy” and “One Way for Tomorrow,” the first Netflix original film out of Turkey. 

For Netflix, OGM has also made Turkish original film “Paper Lives” and the series “The Gift.” Güvenatam is at Mipcom with new shows “Stickman” (Çöp Adam), “Miracle of Love” (Yüz Yıllık Mucize), and “Broken Destiny,” (Toprak ile Fidan) being sold by his recently launched in-house sales company OGM Universe.

He spoke to Variety about the secret to OGM’s success, and vented frustrations about the business model imposed by U.S. streamers.

“Golden Boy” was the most-watched television drama last year in Turkey and has been sold to over 100 countries. Why does it connect so well with audiences?

It’s about two young sisters affected by marriage. Young generations all over the world can relate to these characters because either someone has told them about this situation or they’ve seen other women affected by it. That is one of the biggest reasons for its success. It surprised everyone in the market. The difference between our shows and the others is that, from the outset, our motto is: how can we get through to the audience? What will be the best show for different targets, like the male, or family, or female demographic? How can we touch people’s emotions around the world? What are we saying to human beings about their relations, about their emotions? And how can we make it better? All the shows, all the characters are designed according to these criteria.

Besides linear TV hits, OGM has also made popular products for Netflix. What are the pros and cons of working with local TV broadcasters versus U.S. streamers?

There are advantages and disadvantages. When you are making something for the streamers, there is no risk. But on the TV side there is a huge risk, because if a series doesn’t do well they can axe it. The streamers pay you all the money upfront and it doesn’t make any difference if it is successful or not. On the other hand, with something like “Golden Boy,” you can have a huge upside if it’s an international hit. You take a risk but you can reap very big rewards. I am always telling the streamers: “I want to take this risk. I don’t want to get the same money if the show is successful or not. I want to hold a stake in my show.” In my opinion, streamers should not operate with the U.S. studio model in Turkey because it also lowers the level of our creative adrenaline. If you have no risk, it’s a just a business transaction: who gives a shit if it’s not a huge success? Nothing changes. Even if it is a hit, all you get is a 15-minute call in which they tell you the numbers are great. Nothing else.

From a creative standpoint, it’s been said that streamers in Turkey are pushing boundaries with more edgy shows. Aren’t the streamers the ones that allow you to do that?

In my opinion, as a Turkish content creator, if you look at the ratings, we are used to conservative shows. We are always trying to create within that conservative mindset and this also adds to the show’s potential. When you are making shows for the streamers, yes, you do feel like you can be more edgy, more controversial. And when it was forbidden we thought that this was very appealing, but when the streamers said, “OK, do whatever you want,” we found out that, no, our talent is creating conservative stuff. We are much better at creating those types of stories.

Talk to me about transposing “Shtisel” and its world of an ultra-Orthodox community in Israel into a Turkish series.

I have really big respect for people who have very strong religious beliefs and whose lifestyles are affected by that. When I watched “Shtisel” and “Unorthodox” for the first time, I thought that they also reflect the lifestyle of other people. I liked their world, their small compact society and, to be honest, I liked their happiness. I get a great feeling of happiness when I watch those shows, “Shtisel” in particular. Their world is uncomplicated, compact. It’s very simple, the rules are very clear. People know what to do, when and how. I discovered that I missed that because times change, people change, technology is becoming bigger and bigger, social media is crazy. So when we made “Ömer” we did the same thing. It’s set in the present, but it seems like it’s set in the past: no smart phones, the love is real, everything is so clear. With all the other TV shows you are watching everything else, but with “Ömer” you are watching more direct emotions, the ones that we missed because of modernity. 

How has “Ömer” done on Star TV in Turkey?

It’s done very well. And Eccho Rights is also selling the Turkish version of “Shtisel” all over the world.

Speaking of Eccho, you’ve now launched your own sales company. Why?

When I first launched OGM Pictures, we had a deal with Eccho for the first five shows. We’ve done those, and so now we are launching our own sales company, OGM Universe. I’ve been planning it for the past year and a half. The main reason for this is that any outside distribution company is selling packages, putting OGM titles together with other shows and sometimes saying, “If you want, say, ‘Golden Boy.’ you also have to buy this less appealing title.” I don’t want to put buyers in that position.

So will you only be selling your own product?

We want to only sell quality product. My name has to be on it. But I can do a co-pro. It can be anything, but it has to be approved by us. 

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