Today, we embark on an extraordinary journey, venturing beyond the silver screen, to delve deep into the soul of Sena Tunali, a celebrated film producer, director, and actress.
This interview is not merely a glimpse into the world of cinema, but an exploration of the heart and mind of the individual behind the lens. It is a rare opportunity to understand the essence of storytelling from a profoundly personal perspective, discovering the inspirations, challenges, and dreams that fuel the creative genius of Sena Tunali.
Join us as we unravel the layers of Sena’s remarkable life and career, uncovering the artistry and passion that drive her to bring stories to life, and offering a unique perspective on what it means to be both a filmmaker and an extraordinary human being.
1. Sena, you’ve had a diverse career, from being a concert pianist to becoming a film producer, director, and actress. Could you tell us about the transition from music to film and what inspired you to take that leap?
I started playing piano when I was a little kid. My mom and dad bought me a piano. Happiest day of my life 😀 Ever since I can’t stop playing it. Whatever I heard, I immediately played it on the piano. I have so many compositions as well. Then my family decided to put me into conservatory/Academy entrance exams. I was one of the 3 candidates who got accepted into the Academy and ranked 1st among them. By the way, there were more than 3000 attendees to that exam. You can imagine how hard it would be.
The Academy guided me to become a professional concert Pianist. However, when I was in the music academy, I always attended the school plays and loved to act in some of them. So, acting was always in my life and I always felt very affectionate towards it.
While I was giving concerts throughout the world, one of the members of the New York Film Academy saw me playing in Greece. He invited me to be a student at the New York Film Academy and learn about acting in front of the camera and all. I got so happy and answered “yes”. Music, Film, Theater, Art, all of them are amazing ways of telling stories. For a long time, I spent most of my time telling stories with piano music in concerts around the world. However, I always had filmmaking and Theater in my heart. Somehow, I felt half only with music to tell a story. I needed other forms of art making to feel full at my heart. The art of Filmmaking fascinated me the most because it contains all forms of art in it.
2. What was the most challenging moment in your career as a filmmaker and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging experience was shooting one of my projects named Zumrut. It is based on a true story. It’s about my own family members and the film is a message to find my mother’s side biological parents, especially my grandmother. Family turmoil. Lots of Lies. Everything’s falling apart. People are scared to tell the truth. There were other people who tried to misguide. It was very challenging. Very hard. Whatever the truth we discovered/found, I added it to my screenplay. It was heavily emotional. Sometimes devastating and overwhelming. It’s like a doctor who can easily do an operation on someone else, but when it’s his/her own family members, it’s always the most challenging. That was the case for me. You can shoot fiction stories more easily than your own family story, for sure.
Now, the movie is in the Editing stage.
I can also say shooting a Period Piece genre was very challenging. We, as the whole film crew, had to be very careful about the conditions, costumes, make-up, Production design, the technological era, culture, peoples’ situations, psychology, language, social norms, and all. You can’t send an email to a person in another country like in today’s technology. Telegraphs were out there or sending letters.
And by the way, almost all of my scripts are like my diaries. I always put pieces of my life into all my scripts.
3. In addition to acting and directing, you’ve also written scripts for your films. Can you share your creative process when it comes to scriptwriting, and what themes or stories most inspire you?
I am writing a lot. I love writing. It makes me feel refreshed and clears my mind every time I write. I love true stories and period-piece drama projects a lot. The energy of the true stories is so real and powerful that it’s impossible not to get influenced by them. I can easily envision all the characters I write in all my screenplays. There is the protagonist. There is the antagonist. I can see everything like I am watching a movie while I am writing. I can even see the camera angles and the blockings while I am writing the script.
4. You mentioned being allergic to alcohol, which is quite unique in the entertainment industry. How has this affected your social interactions and experiences in an industry where social events often involve alcohol?
Well, that’s so unfortunate… but things happen in life 😀 And You will most likely see me hanging out or chatting with people with a Cranberry juice or Grape juice on my hand, cuz they look like red vine at some point. So I pretend!!! that I am drinking lol and it works most of the time 😀 No need to explain anything. Only the bartender knows the truth and promises me to keep it a secret 😀 Saves the day!!!
5. You took acting classes from Hollywood professionals at the New York Film Academy and received Meisner acting technique training. How did these experiences shape your approach to acting, and what valuable lessons did you learn?
I do believe in method acting. And it is a powerful tool to use for some challenging scenes. But there are some moments when you don’t have time to think about the techniques. Because if you think, you are out of character. Sometimes, I prefer not to use any techniques, and leave it to my heart and emotions completely. And it works perfectly.
6. As someone who has excelled in both music and film, do you find any common threads between these two art forms that continue to inspire your work?
Of course, these two art forms are so intertwined. A Film without music accompanying it would be like a car without a motor. The common threads for music and film would be: that they both empower human creativity and imagination. The music I hear or compose can inspire me to create a screenplay and then a film.
You can listen to music and after a minute or two, you will find yourself thinking about your memories or good old stories or bad old stories of your life that the music directs you. So, it’s some type of a film in your head that you are watching accompanied by that music in real life. The human brain has stories and images, and they all unfold irresistibly with music. I think our real lives are film and music already.
Out of subject: I even have music that raises my energy level. Such a positive music that I listen to. There is music that helps me concentrate on my work. There is music that is my lucky music. Before I go to my business meeting, I listen to it and it brings me luck 😀 So I have music in every part of my life. For example, I am living my life, and my eyes see it like a film, and music in my head accompanies it. So, I can easily say, that human nature is an art of itself.
7. You’re currently working on a feature film inspired by a true story titled “Zumrut.” Can you share some insights into the project and what drew you to this particular story?
Well, even from my childhood, almost everybody around us kept saying those people do not belong to you. They cannot be your family members. Those were the words we used to hear for many years. The truth was always there, right in front of us, but we blindly kept on living with lies. Everything started out with a small curiosity. And the responses to our curiosities were rather rude and untrue. When you discover something, you irresistibly dive deep into it. And this fuel brought us to the Ruse, Bulgaria. We did an incredible amount of research. We came across hesitating people. We came across people who got scared to say anything. And there were people who got death threats. Only one of them opened up and told everything to us. But the biggest problem we were faced was: OK, we found the truth, but now what? Where is the biological family, then? Right at that moment, I decided to make this story a feature-length movie. We came to a point where it is impossible to find who the biological parents are with all that paperwork on our hands. So, making it a movie would be our message. If they are alive, they will either watch it on TV or cinema, recognize the story, and contact us. This was the main goal of the project that drew me to create this movie and its story.
8. Researching your family’s history for “Zumrut” seems to have been a deeply personal journey. How did this process of delving into your own roots affect your understanding of yourself and your family’s history?
It’s interesting. I always believe half of us are our mom, and the other half is our dad. You know your dad’s side, but missing the other side of the family feels so imbalanced. You feel incomplete. And seeing your mother feeling completely lost also makes you even more desperate. You make DNA tests, and the results tell different stories than what you have heard for many years. It was so challenging, as you can imagine. We have so many Greek, Italian, British, and Irish relatives and family members that we never had a chance to know before. Those were all taken away from us. My understanding of the concept of family changed a lot. You feel bound to your family members. You even feel them. You feel good among them. You have a sense of belonging while you are with them. However, the family who raised my mother never had a family warmth while we spent time together. There was always this cold feeling. It is hard to explain, but very cold. It’s like you are talking to someone you come across on the street. It’s definitely not family. It’s not even a foster family feeling because there are incredibly good-hearted foster families. Cold and bad is all I can say in terms of what I have experienced for many years. Mom and Dad sometimes went on a vacation and left me with them. They took care of me, yes, but there was always a price for it. Dad was paying them to take care of me. I don’t think any grandmother or grandfather asks for a payment to take care of their grandchild, right? One time, my mother forgot to make the payment…. I am leaving it to your imagination. I still have the traumas…
9. Another one of your film projects, “Love in Italy,” has won awards at prestigious film festivals. “Love in Italy” features characters Denise and Marco, who come from vastly different backgrounds. What challenges did you find most interesting in developing their characters, and how do they reflect the themes of love and unity in your story?
Well, there was nothing challenging for the Love in Italy project and the Denise and Marco character creation. Everything started with this question: Does true love still exist in the present time? This led me to write, Love in Italy. Love in Italy is a fictional story inspired by a family that I got the chance to meet while I was in Tuscany, Italy. It was such an inspirational place. I met with old twin-flame lovers who married and lived happily ever after for 60 years. After many interviews with other lovers, the Tuscan family convinced me that true love still exists. The Tuscan family’s fight for true love and their reunification against all the odds. It was so inspiring. Sometimes, they both lost hope, but somehow, their destiny brought them back together unexpectedly. In my story, the connection between the lovers was so powerful that they couldn’t breathe without each other and eventually came together again. Love as a whole is so inspiring that’s helpful for me to write the fictional characters of Love in Italy.
10. “Love in Italy” explores the theme of true love. Can you share your personal views on love and what do you hope audiences will take away from “Love in Italy,” both in terms of its romantic narrative and the deeper themes it explores about love and connection in today’s world?
I lost hope and questioned the existence of love for a long time. But I started traveling and met with so many people. We had conversations about true love (once in a lifetime: type of love) and ordinary love (the love that can happen many times in one’s life). The once-in-a-lifetime type of Love is God’s gift as many people say. And it’s one that there is nothing that can replace it. And many lovers also say that this type of love never comes again. This kind of unity and being as one must be the most beautiful feeling one can experience. And you never forget it. Isn’t it interesting? I am still praying though 😀 I never come across with such a powerful feeling/connection yet. Who knows maybe he will come into my life at the very unexpected moment.
However, ordinary love happens many times. You can feel affectionate towards attractive ladies/gentlemen. It is not an unforgettable holy one. One of my interviewees said true love is so holy that some people pray for it for the rest of their lives. But, it is God’s decision to award someone with such a lover or not.
But I believe every human being comes across their true lover once in a lifetime. God, gives this award to all human beings. You either realize it and be with them. Or you get separated but will reunite again later in life. Like twin-flame lovers. It is unbelievably sad that, as human beings, we are away from love in any way these days. We do carry the feelings inside but, somehow, get lost in the necessities of life. Scarce of Money, famine, Pandemics, illnesses, job search, high inflation rates, and increasing prices: make us (human beings) forget about love. Our minds are fully booked with all those day-to-day needs, and we stay lonely away from our loved ones most of the time. Never forget that we are emotional creatures, and scientifically proven that hugging our loved ones, discharges serotonin hormones, and we become happy. I always see cinema as a reflection of people and society. So, cinema is absent of love because we are absent of love in our lives. Some loveless people are harming the world, destroying forests, killing animals, and bringing more lovelessness to the world and to the collective mind of the world. However, the whole world and the life in it are created with love. We should make more movies about love and make us all remember that love still exists against all the odds. Most psychological problems occur due to lovelessness. When you search and go down deep to the main reason, you find love is missing. We are out of happiness because we are missing love in our lives.
11. Sena, it’s been an absolute delight to dive into your world of creativity and passion. We can’t wait to witness your future endeavors on the big screen and the stage. Before we conclude, could you please share an advice and some words with aspiring filmmakers and artists?
I attended to New York Film Academy over in Los Angeles. Such a great school. Great hands-on experience. So happy that I was part of it and learned a lot directly from the Hollywood professionals. I educated myself as well. I read many books about filmmaking. I also worked a lot on film sets. In more than 40 short films, I acted in it plus, many film sets I worked in different positions. First, I started as a Production Assistant then moved upwards towards “Above the Line” jobs, including directing and producing. In the art of filmmaking, hands-on experience is the most precious of all is all I can say to the young filmmakers. Hands-on experience plus reading books or educating yourself for anything about filmmaking helps a lot. Learning never stops.
Thank you, Sena, for sharing your remarkable journey and insights into the world of filmmaking and the arts.
Zumrut Official Trailer
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