Record-breaking screenwriter still going strong
ISTANBUL – Anadolu AgencyIt would not come as a shock if one of the world’s most prolific screenwriters was found to be working for Hollywood or India’s gargantuan Bollywood film industry. But the truth is a bit more surprising and closer to home.
One of the most productive film writers in the world is an award-winning veteran of Turkey’s popular “Yeşilçam” movie factory.
Turkish screenwriter and director Safa Önal, 85, has been working in the country’s movie industry for more than 60 years, even breaking a Guinness World Record in 2004 for having almost 400 scripts filmed.
“I never had such an intention or pretension [to break a Guinness record]. There is Hollywood and Bollywood. How could you compete with [them]?” Önal said.
The veteran screenwriter has two upcoming projects: one is a TV drama series which will cast prominent actor Kadir Inanir and the other is a feature film based on a short story by famous Turkish writer and poet Sait Faik Abasiyanık.
The film will be shot on Burgazada Island, one of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara near Istanbul, where Abasıyanık spent most of his life.
Önal’s first script was 1953’s “Kanlı Para” (“Bloody Money”) directed by Orhan M. Arıburnu and starring famous Turkish actor Ayhan Işık.
The film was an adaptation of one of Önal’s stories and told the tale of a group of people trying to uncover treasure left from the ancient Byzantium era.
He found fame during the Yeşilçam years, a golden age for Turkish cinema between the 1950s and 1970s when the country’s film industry produced around 250 to 350 movies each year, ranging from comedies to dramas to thrillers.
Yeşilçam was named after a street in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district where many actors, directors and crewmembers were based.
Önal was the screenwriter on cult Turkish films such as 1968’s “Vesikalı Yarim” (“My Prostitute Love”), 1966’s “Ah Güzel Istanbul” (“O Beautiful Istanbul”) and 1992’s “Tatar Ramazan.”
All of them are considered to be classic movies, as they used authentic cinema language compared to their rivals of the time.
Turkish film critic Mehmet Acar said the main reason behind Önal’s success was “his strong literary knowledge.”
“Just by looking at his films, such as ‘Vesikalı Yarim’ and ‘Ah Güzel Istanbul,’ it is clear to see his passion for literature,” Acar said.
This love for language and literature is clear. Önal was friends with many of Turkey’s well-known intellectuals, writers and poets throughout his life,
“My Turkish has to be very wealthy,” he said, adding, “Turkish is so important because it has taken vocabulary from Arabic and Persian and added them into its grammar. It is a unique language in the world.”
Önal generally worked with the then-unknown actors of the time, such as the sultan of Turkish cinema, Türkan Şoray, and İnanir.
Many of these names became stars after taking parts in Onal’s movies. Although a number of illnesses have resulted in some walking difficulties for Önal, he remains enthusiastic about cinema.
“Around six-to-eight of my films are shown on TV every day,” he said. “There are even TV channels that show only Yeşilçam movies.”
More than 10 years after his Guinness record, Önal believes there is nobody else in the world who achieved the same productivity as himself writing scripts. “Today I have 420 film scripts,” Önal said.