October 13, 2021

Onur Tukel on Writing and Directing Scenes From An Empty Church

Onur Tukel is an actor, screenwriter, producer, director, musician, painter, graphic novelist, and children’s book author. His previous films include Catfight, starring Sandra Oh and Anne Heache, Applesauce, and Black Magic for White Boys. His most recent film is Scenes From an Empty Church, starring Kevin Corrigan and Thomas Jay Ryan, Max Casella, and Paul Reiser.

What you will learn:

  • ​​The hustle required to be an indie filmmaker, and the uncertainty that comes with the job, even with numerous successful projects under his belt. How he is able to incorporate taboo or controversial themes in his films and still find funding. Why he prefers New York over L.A., despite potentially missing out on career and film opportunities in L.A.. [0:00-15:21]
  • What it was like growing up in North Carolina as the son of Turkish immigrants, making movies with friends and eventually creating his first independent film, House of Pancakes, at age 24. The faith he had in his 2001 film Ding-a-ling-Less, and the harsh lessons learned about the film world when it was shelved. Onur discusses his eclectic filmography and the challenge of finding audiences for all of his work. [15:21-28:49]
  • Talking shop, Onur reveals his camera preferences and style of filming. What it was like to film Scenes From an Empty Church with quarantine restrictions, what inspired him to make a pandemic-centered movie in the middle of pandemic, and why the film was a conscious shift from his previous style of work. [28:49-48:07]
  • Onur reveals plans for his next film project, an absurdist horror/comedy, and touches on the deeper aspects of why he is compelled to express himself creatively. How he is able to be so prolific creatively in times of darkness, when other creatives tend to shut down and experience writer’s block. How invaluable having a creative partner (or benevolent competitor) can be, and how sadness can serve as fuel for art. [48:07-1:00:16]
  • How his personal views and perspectives are reflected in his work. How Onur worked to make Scenes From an Empty Church a film that anyone, regardless of religious belief, can enjoy and find common ground with the collective trauma caused by the pandemic. How Onur weaved themes of the soul and the afterlife into the film. [1:00:16-1:16:27]
  • Onur gets candid about his writing process, his struggles, and the creative tools he has gathered over the years. His perspective on the importance of geographic location as it relates to success in the film industry. Onur also provides creative advice for aspiring filmmakers. [1:16:27-1:31:42]
  • The story behind Onur’s infamous appearances on Doug Benson’s podcast, what led him to being kicked off of that podcast (twice), and the lessons he learned from those experiences. [1:31:42-1:40:09]


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