Esther Turan works her own magic behind the scenes. As a director, producer, and founder of Moviebar Productions, she’s experienced pretty much every aspect of moviemaking in Hollywood. I got the chance to talk with Esther about what inspired her love of film & television, how she got her foot in the door, her documentary series, BP Underground and so much more! Keep reading to see what she had to say.
I grew up in the theatre and film world. My dad is a playwright and my aunt is an actress. She was almost in every Hungarian movie in the 60s and 70s. I guess my family background made me feel that there is nothing else but this world and I was never really interested in any other business but showbiz. As a teenager, I turned towards acting but then I realized I’d rather be creating my own stuff. I went to film school and majored in TV directing.
Was there a specific moment and/or person in your life that made you realize that working behind the camera was what you wanted to do for a profession?
As a freshman in film school, one of our professors asked us who wants to be a trainee in an American film shoot that took place in Budapest. I was excited about the opportunity and volunteered. I remember the first shooting day when I showed up on set. I was 21 years old and I was serving coffee to Sir Ben Kingsley, Patrick Dempsey, and Julie Delpy. I fell in love with the atmosphere that I found on the set. I didn’t know what I exactly wanted to be, but I knew this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I guess I understood that I am a part of a team that creates magic. My life was changed forever.
One of the hardest parts of working in Hollywood, in any capacity, seems to be getting your foot in the door. How did you get your start?
When I got to Hollywood not too long ago, I was already an established European film producer but this didn’t mean that all the doors were open for me.
I was very focused on my vision to bring a new alternative, to bridge the gap between American and European filmmakers. I’ve had quite a few connections in Hollywood through my previous work experience that I leveraged to expand my network and new opportunities. I have chosen carefully the projects I wanted to dedicate my time to and relied heavily on people whom I trusted.
You started your company, Moviebar Productions, with Viktoria Trepper. How did that come about?
I was freshly out of film school and decided to become a producer. At that time, I had no knowledge in actual producing and/or line producing. Sometimes I ask myself, “How did I have the courage to open a production company at that young age with no producing experience?” The answer is I wanted my own voice and I wanted to create something different. The next step was to partner with someone who understood more of the actual production aspects of filmmaking. I turned to one of the best production managers, whom I knew because she hired me often as an assistant director or casting director. Those were the things that I did during film school, parallel to my studies. So I approached Viki and she was willing to join forces. I chose a business partner that complements my capabilities. I am more the artsy one and she is more practical and into execution, both very important for a successful film production.
It’s unfortunate that success like yours as a female director and producer in Hollywood is an anomaly. What are some of the biggest challenges and obstacles you’ve had to face in your path to success simply because of your gender?
Women, in general, have to work harder to achieve the same level of respect as men. It’s true for directing, filmmaking and most professions. I was always confident in my abilities but learned throughout my career that there is no easy way to success. When I started directing 3 years ago, I partnered with another female director, Anna Koltay. Together we created a unique voice to the stories we wanted to tell. I think that for a woman to be successful she needs to play on female strengths: for example, the ability to create better teamwork than men. Men tend to be more soloists and women are much better as a team, and so I partnered with another woman when I established my production company and I did the same when I started directing. The topics we covered in our documentaries were also heavily controlled by men. At first, people were a bit reluctant to cooperate and didn’t take us seriously. But our persistence led to documentaries that touched many people and were well accepted by the audience and media. Nowadays, people line up for the very anticipated third part of our documentary series.
What’s your advice to any women looking to get their foot in the door in Hollywood, whether it be as a director, a writer or a producer?
Don’t be afraid to dream, try to find your own voice and don’t be here for the posse but be here if you have a saying, a message. And by the way, that’s not only for Hollywood but goes out everywhere to every female filmmaker. To succeed is a lot of hard work. No one is going to knock on your door. You have to work, work, and work, and grab every opportunity. Also, make sure you have a strategy. Make sure you create a real value to others. Get your foot in the door with your unique proposition and once you are in, expand your presence. Many people present themselves as both director/producer/actor/writer altogether. Even if you are talented in all, nobody will take you seriously if you present yourself like that. Focus on your message of what you can bring to the table and then let them find out what else you can do, once inside.
I also wanted to ask you about your documentary series, BP Underground. What attracted you to exploring the underground youth subcultures in Hungary?
I am the kind of person who always challenges herself. I feel that producing isn’t satisfying anymore since I want my voice to be heard. I guess I’ve reached a certain age where I’ve become a bit nostalgic. I also deal a lot with the issue of what shaped me in life and what influences made me who I am. I needed to realize that, among other things, the city of Budapest and being serious as a youngster about music and subcultures had huge impacts on my personality. I come from a place and time which is on the border of East and West, and the regime changed when I was a child. Those were historical times and I grew up in it. So it’s kind of a combination for me of time-traveling and homage and simply portraying subcultures, which, in my eyes and my co-director’s eyes, are just the coolest things, and they always stay with you in a way.
The first installment explored hardcore punk while the most recent one looked at hip-hop. What was the biggest lesson you learned from doing the first installment that you were able to apply to the second one?
With my co-director, we needed to form and establish something from scratch. So during the first episode, we did a lot of experiments. In the second one, we already knew what should be different and also what should be similar. A major challenge was to bring my own voice into the mix. Obviously, I had a lot of discussions with other people about the project. Each one of them had their own perspective on what is the “right” path. I realized that at the end of the day there is no right path but my own path if I want to really own the end result. Anna and I also needed to listen to each other and compromise sometimes to create something that belongs to both of us.
What is the next subculture you’re hoping to focus on and what do you hope to learn about it?
It’s actually going to be two topics. One is going to be rock and metal which is one of the closest topics and subcultures to my heart since I was this melancholic, ear-pierced, Dr. Marten-boots-wearing rock chick and probably still am deep in my heart. The other subculture is the electronic music field. Both are such huge topics, and we’re portraying how they were established in Budapest Hungary in the ’90s when everyone wanted to be “Western” but nothing was the dream in America.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something you nerd out about?
I am a real nerd when it comes to music. I think I should play trivia sometimes, and I could seriously earn some money with it. I have quite a wide-knowledge about certain musical genres. I can also be pretty nerdy about movies and film theory.