WHERE FANTASY MEETS REALITY: An Interview With Tanay Genco Ulgen

I'm not a gamer. Point in fact, I haven't been a gamer in a LONG time and I probably would be if I had the time and conveniences as other gamers do. That said, when I was a gamer, I never played Final Fantasy in any of its iterations and have only heard of the films therein.

Interestingly enough, neither has fight choreographer and filmmaker Tanay Genco Ulgen, although it didn't stop him from contributing to one of Sony's forthcoming major feature film releases tying into the game franchise, Nozue Takeshi's Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. I learned of this in a Facebook post a few months ago and so I found myself at an opportune moment to interview yet another aspiring film professional in the course of my own work in covering independent action as well.

Much to my own delight, it just so happens that Ulgen shares membership with German film and action cinema group, Reel Deal Action, the team responsible for pretty much anything you see beyond this link. Bare this in mind while I will also add that he's pretty modest about his work which I think is humbling about him, although to me, it simply goes without saying. Having watched martial arts movies for most of my life while in constant and curious search to see talent flourish where it exists, Ulgen's work is a 'reel' qualifier. Pun SO intended!

It's the kind of work worth admiring and supporting if you love martial arts and action films. So, clearly whatever happens in this department, Ulgen has his craft increasingly down packed while he continues to press onward and make the most out of what he can do to make the things we all love and enjoy.

For this, it's also the kind of work that has a story of its own, and I wasn't going to turn down a chance to share Ulgen's. He and his team do have a few other things happening as we speak and surely enough, he teases it well in our latest interview.

Film Combat Syndicate: Thanks so much for joining me for an interview Tanay! How has the year been for you thusfar?
Tanay Genco Ulgen: Thank you Lee for having me! 
So far it's been great, I finally had time to complete post-production on my cop drama short from last year '187' which is currently circulating festivals, and my most recent shortfilm in Canada, Repercussion, is online. I was also fortunate enough to coordinate/choreograph the Vancouver mocap shoot for the new Final Fantasy feature, Kingsglaive.
So all in all it's been pretty busy so far.
FCSyndicate: Well that sounds exciting and I am look forward to it! Tell us about how you got into filmmaking and stuntwork.
TGU: Long story - I was born in Istanbul, Turkey but grew up all over the place. I was fortunate enough to watch classic kung fu films in the cinemas with my dad and brother, since they still used to show those films in theatres in the early 80s, in Europe. I grew up watching  Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Shaw Brothers films, etc. 
Then in high school I decided to buy a video camera and started filming stuff. We used to film fight scenes from our favorite films with some friends and act it out. Needless to say these will never be seen. 
Anyways, after graduating from high school I got very serious about filmmaking and started learning everything I can. There was no internet back then, no Chinatowns where I lived, so I used to order all these VHS tapes from different sellers in England, States and Hong Kong.  Then I moved to Japan and also spent a year in HK. I was lucky to meet some of the HK film industry people there and of course watched a ton of movies.  After that  I moved to Canada and began studying film production at a university. In 2003 I graduated and moved to Vancouver and began meeting stunt people in the local industry. I started filming fight scenes with them and basically that is how it all started.  I was very fortunate to meet and film with some amazing local talent from Vancouver.  
FCSyndicate:  How did you get involved with Reel Deal Action?

TGU: Back in 2010 I was working in Turkey as a fight choreographer and shot an action scene with a couple of Turkish stunt guys. It got a lot of attention locally and when I shared it online, I got messages from people all over the world. One of those people was Can Aydin. We began chatting about the type of films we liked and so on, and of course found out that a lot of our influences were similar when it comes to fight choreography.  We kept corresponding online and in 2011 I went to Berlin to meet their group. At the time they were called Movie-Do, and they were 5 guys with amazing skills and a complete understanding of film action. I shot a test video with them, and we got along great. Unfortunately there were some internal issues in the group at the time and they decided to separate and form a new group. They asked me to join and that is how we formed Reel Deal Action. Later on Mike Moeller joined us as he was a long time friend of everybody, and we have worked on tv shows, movies, shorts, ever since.
FCSyndicate: I'm curious about what it is that initially draws you to the martial arts genre. Do you have a training background of your own? And if so, what were those experiences like for you?
TGU: Yes I do have a background in traditional martial arts. I started training in Shotokan Karate when I was 11 years old, then switched to Aikido, then to Kickboxing. I also had some training in Wing Chun. Due to some health issues I haven't been able to train for many, many years now, and my focus has always been behind the camera. I've never intended to be a performer of any sort. The goal was always to be a filmmaker and not a martial arts champion.  So those early training days were just a foundation for me and not very influential in my choreography. 
Having a background in martial arts helps most with training actors, which is a big part of the job. Naturally it helps to study many different styles, but at the end of the day it comes down to the vision of the director and the characters in the story. As you are aware most action films do not make specific references to any style, it is almost always about what works best for the scene. 
I’ve always enjoyed real martial arts but film and reality are two very different things and they don’t always need to go hand in hand. As Don Wilson once said, ‘It’s all cosmetic for film’. 
Tanay Genco Ulgen and Aristote Luis on the set of PLAN B
FCSyndicate: Cosmetic is an interesting way to put it! Of the martial arts styles you mentioned practicing, was there any one style you were more comfortable with?
TGU: Definitely Kickboxing. I like the fact that it is very straight forward and practical. It is a great style to train for film, because it covers a lot of basic punching and kicking techniques. Whenever we train actors, unless there is a specific style mentioned in the script, we begin with basic Kickboxing techniques just to get the body used to moving, ducking, punching etc. Then comes the more complicated exercises and combinations. 
FCSyndicate: Is prior martial arts experience a pre-requisite for casting when it comes to your own projects?
TGU: It depends on the characters and the story. If the project is fight-heavy then yes, they need to have a good understanding of the techniques. That level of muscle memory is very difficult to achieve in a short amount of time. But I also know people with no official martial arts background, they're simply self-taught and they can do all the moves. Again, it's a visual media, not a sports competition. It's all about 'selling' the fight. 
If it’s a dramatic piece with little action then we can always use stunt doubles. Generally I’m more interested in talent, dedication, discipline, good work ethics etc. These are qualities that mean so much more than martial arts experience or tricking skills.  People can always be trained to look better, and we use a lot of ‘movie magic’ in post.  
Tanay Genco Ulgen with the cast of ULTIMATE JUSTICE
FCSyndicate: And a chunk of that magic is executed in your speciality which is cinematography. Tell us about some of the things you learned in how to film action, as opposed to how not to. What are some pet peeves you share here?
TGU: People talk about different styles of filming action, the American way, Hong Kong way, Korean way etc. But film like any art is subjective and people are different. I grew up on both Asian and Western cinema, and I think they were both very useful in my understanding of what to do and what not to do. I like to mix things up a little, Asian and Western influences. I like to rely on the choreography and the skills of the performers, and choose clean angles where you can see what’s happening. There is always a bit of speeding up in post. I don’t prefer to use effects too much by zooming in/out, digitally enhancing the moves, adding shake effects, etc. 
When I do fight scenes with Reel Deal, we usually do HK style. It is what comes natural to the guys and what they grew up on. It is their strength, so we capitalize on that. 
When I do scenes with local Vancouver stunt people, they always want to try HK style as well, since it is not something they get to try on  bigger shows. In the professional world, things are very different. Whenever I work on bigger shows, the more common requests are ‘Bourne’ style, or “Raid style’, or ‘300 style’ etc. So we try to do that, it’s their show.  It’s all in relation to the rest of the movie. A fight scene has to go with the bigger picture. So we will prepare previz videos based on the director’s vision, and on the day they will film/edit it anyway they choose to.   
At the end of the day it’s all about catching that frequency that excites and pleases the audience.  There really is no ‘one’ way to do that.
FCSyndicate: I allege this was the same approach you and the Reel Deal gang took in filming your team's first-ever feature film, Plan B? Tell us about the process and preparing for that movie. I understand it's the first of its kind to have been filmed in Berlin.

Tanay Genco Ulgen with Cha-Lee Yoon and Can Aydin on the set of PLAN B
TGU: It is definitely the first German film of its kind. The idea was to create a fun, action-filled feature that has a retro feel to it that allows the boys to do their stuff. We had an amazing DP by the name of Tomas Erhart, who totally supported us and was a joy to work with. Our directors Ufuk and Michael gave us the freedom to film the action our way, which is a rarity these days. But it was still a very tough shoot. 
Can had this idea of the boys playing as themselves, since it would bring a more natural feel to their performances and would be easier to shoot. I was actually coordinating a couple of TV shows in Turkey at the moment and could not be there for the pre-production. I flew to Berlin a couple of days before the first day of filming. Our first scene was an action sequence and I don’t recommend doing that [laughs]. I think a film crew really warms up after a few days and to begin day one with a big fight scene was definitely challenging for them.  But we made it happen and the end result is great. I can’t say much about the film since it’s not out yet but trust me, if you’re a fan of martial arts cinema, you’ll really enjoy the fights. We approached it with a lot of care and the boys performed great. It’s still a low budget feature and we had limitations of course, but I think it’s a very entertaining, fun movie. Plus, who doesn’t want to see our action sister Heidi Moneymaker fight the boys?
FCSyndicate: That's a question I'm hard pressed to believe anyone could answer! Tell us, what's the biggest moment you've had in your career thusfar? Any favorite memories up to now?
TGU: To be honest I am far from being where I’d like to be professionally, so I don’t think I’ve had any huge moments yet. I am just happy to be working. It may seem trivial to people but I just enjoy creating fight scenes and any time I’m on set is a good day for me. Working with Dolph was a great feeling, anytime I meet someone who’s been a part of the movies I grew up watching is a special day. I’ve met Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Chin Kar Lok, Moon Lee etc. Legends who’ve changed our lives. But professionally I’d love to work with so many people still. Fingers crossed.
FCSyndicate: You said you also coordinated some action for the upcoming Final Fantasy movie, Kingsglaive. How did you become apart of that project?

TGU: I believe they’ve been working on this project for a long time. A few different segments were worked on around the world, and I got contacted to coordinate a sequence for the Vancouver segment. Can’t give away too much about the scene itself, but I basically met up with the local director of the Mocap (Motion Capture) segment, and the Japanese director was also giving us directions from Tokyo, over Skype. It was a really cool experience and the stunt team did great. We came up with some fight sequences and some Parkour style action. Then the director would tell us his opinion over Skype and we would go on from there. All in all we were honored to be part of such a popular franchise. We had a great time, and can’t wait to see the end result.
FCSyndicate: Have you played any of the Final Fantasy games before this?
TGU: No, I've seen the animated feature from 2001 and that was all.
FCSyndicate: Last I heard from Can was a few months ago when he and I chatted and he mentioned Reel Deal was filming another feature, and he actually gave it a minor boost on social media. Is there any info you guys can share about it?
TGU: Right. All I can say is the team is currently in pre-production in Toronto, Canada. Shooting will begin in July, and it will be more of a serious action film, more straight forward than 'Plan B'. Can't say much more than that I'm afraid :)
FCSyndicate: Understood. Before we complete this interview, do you have any final thoughts you would like to share? Any advice for aspiring film professionals like yourself?

The people of Reel Deal Action (Source: Facebook)
TGU: I’d like to say thank you Lee for the support. As for aspiring filmmakers, I would say shoot as much and often as you can. You get better every time and this is the only way to create a circle of connections in the industry, and have a reliable group of people to help you. It really is about who you know, and how good you’re at your craft. With all the reference material available to us these days, it is easier to learn and improve our skills and make our projects better. Keep creating, and learn as much as possible along the way. And always be nice to people, that helps.
Stay tuned for more news on Reel Deal Action and their upcoming plans!


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