Turkish sitcom Jet Sosyete (High Society), viewed and beloved by millions in Turkey, will be coming back to TV with a "Corona Special" episode.
Just like all business sectors, TV has also taken a compulsory interval to its activities due to novel coronavirus outbreak, but this does not stop the show's writer and lead actress Gulse Birsel from shooting an online episode, and meeting with viewers once again.
Birsel is one of the most beloved comedians in Turkey, and as the scenarist of the show, she invited all her co-stars to shoot an episode.
They shared this experience with Anadolu Agency.
Anadolu Agency: Where did the idea come from?
BIRSEL: We were shooting our last episode in the set, but just before completing it, coronavirus outbreak arrived at Turkey. We stopped all shooting and went home. Then I thought: "Sitcom format is in fact talking heads, one after another. Can we not turn the remaining part of this episode into something like a video call?" Then I changed the script and sent it to all actors. They all shot their parts and sent them back to me. After a montage, it turned out to be great. Later I thought of shooting a whole "Jet Sosyete Corona" episode.
Q: What motivates you in these difficult days?
BIRSEL: We are in a tragic time and there are lots of problems, but there is also quite a bit of comedy material. We see this in social media as well. People need hope, fun, and morale right now. "Jet Sosyete Corona" is in fact written to share all this with the public. Some actors already sent their shot pieces, I think the whole thing will turn out to be great.
Q: Was it hard, writing a script in this format?
BIRSEL: I learned a lot while writing this. It does not involve action, movement, use of physical talent, or even walking. There is only one angle, so you have to work on characters, dialogue, conflicts, and emotions. The lines should be very short, so that it doesn't bore the viewer. And all actors have to be their own hairdressers, cameramen, and directors.
I send the scripts as I write them. This episode will be something like a compilation of short sketches. It will summarize what we all go through in the days of corona. I hope we can be a source of morale for our people.
Q: How do you manage the technical process?
BIRSEL: We created an online pool which everyone sends their clips to, and can view those sent by others. If one sketch includes four actors, they watch one another's clips before, so that they would be in harmony. Our stage direction also watches these and sometimes asks for changes. We still work as a team, only online. With our homes as background, we try and do the lighting with our phones, and record lines with voice recorders. And I guess it will turn out to be good.
Q: How did you create the set in your homes?
BIRSEL: All our 11 characters in the show live in different places. So I asked all our actors to take photos from each corner of their homes. We needed a villa with a garden, and it turns out some actors live in apartments with gardens, we used that as background when needed. For that reason we were able to make our scenes quite persuasive. Coincidentally, two actors' bathrooms are nearly alike, so we also used that in the script. It's a very anxious but also fun experience to write this.
Q: Do you think your initiative will inspire other producers?
BIRSEL: I hope not! I hope this outbreak ends soon so we can shoot our shows in routine. Our format as a sitcom is a bit more suitable for online shooting. But one thing is certain, what matters is the story and performance. They are our strongest weapons, which means theatre lies at the foundation of all this.
Our corona episode will not be as high quality, but our viewers will certainly have fun. We will see if it will be the same. We also put some flashbacks from previous episodes shot in a set, so it will not be that much different, I hope.
I believe the [U.S.] show "Modern Family" did something similar a few years ago, and shot an ad episode for a phone company. Other than that, this will be a first.
CENGIZ BOZKURT (actor): This is a unique experience. When Gulse proposed doing this, I thought, such a practical solution could only come from our country. We are very proud to have done this. We decorated our homes in line with characters we live together. I think it will be a great episode.
HASIBE EREN (actress): We haven't shot my scenes yet, but still I am very excited. We got out of our home routine, and went back to our work with limited means. I have a set in my house now. I will prepare my scenes too, and then shoot them. I hope our viewers will also share our excitement. I believe people will find a lot from their experiences in this corona episode.
BIRSEL: Turkey is a country that can adapt to difficult situations quickly, for that reason, it is no surprise this idea came from us.
If we needed action, and outdoor space, we probably wouldn't be able to do this. Being a sitcom made our jobs easier.
Two actors live very close, and they have been at home for three weeks, both are quite healthy. They asked if they can meet and shoot a scene together. We may allow this in the next days, of course, while also preserving social distance.
CENGIZ BOZKURT: My family was very helpful, they even helped me shoot some scenes, and also helped with the decor. I even prepared the fake beard that I need to wear while shooting for my character.
BIRSEL: We can only shoot two to three pages, which is less than half of what we usually shoot. And it is very tiring as well, because you do every single thing yourself.
My character is a bit crazy, she dances and sings very loudly, and I did this scene repeatedly, so I am very ashamed of my neighbors, I hope they can forgive me.
Jet Sosyete Corona special episode will be on Star TV in Turkey on April 8.
* Writing by Firdevs Bulut in Ankara.