This week, the film Argo wrapped up a three-week on-location shoot in Istanbul. The film, which Ben Affleck both stars in and directs, is a drama about the CIA's efforts to rescue six American diplomats in-hiding after they escaped from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran following it's seizure by hostage-takers in 1979. Affleck and the film's production company graciously invited me to join U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone and Istanbul Consul General Scott F. Kilner during their visit to the set on the final day of filming.
Argo is the first major Hollywood production in recent years to film extensively in Istanbul. Over the course of three-weeks, nearly 100 film industry professionals -- everyone from accountants and actors -- relocated to Istanbul to work with dozens of their peers from Turkey's thriving film industry to bring this story to the big screen. According to film producers, nearly 5,000 Turks were employed in various capacities ranging from extras to technical crew either directly or indirectly by the film. In recent years, movie studios have worked to incorporate more international themes into their films in order to remain competitive in overseas markets. The film's producers scouted locations in four countries before settling on Istanbul for this project. As a result of this U.S.-Turkish collaboration, it is hoped that Argo will be a global box office hit.
For most of the overwhelmingly Turkish and American cast and crew, this film project was the first opportunity that most had to work side-by-side with people from the United States or Turkey. Deep personal connections and impressions were forged on each side. During breaks, crew members exchanged contact information and took personal snapshots with their newly found friends. U.S. crew members shared with us how their Turkish colleagues quickly picked up American film industry techniques, whereas it didn't take long for the Americans to develop a few key words of Turkish, such as "oyna" ("rolling"). "Our counterparts on the crew and all the people we've encountered are not only some of the hardest workers we've ever seen, but truly the most gracious hosts," said Chay Carter, the film's executive producer.
In many ways, Argo embodies many of the goals that U.S. and Turkish officials have for the greater U.S.-Turkey trade relationship. In October 2010, the United States and Turkey initiated the "Framework for Strategic Economic and Commercial Cooperation." The framework aims to intensify economic and commercial cooperation across a wide range of areas through improved bilateral trade and investment and increased cooperation where possible in global markets. Turkey boasts the world's fastest growing economy with growth rates reaching 11 percent this year, while the United States remains the world's largest and most affluent consumer market. Until recently, the bilateral U.S.-Turkish trade relationship lagged far behind the robust military alliance our countries share through NATO, but the framework initiative is working to turn that around. Two-way trade between the United States and Turkey for the period January-September 2011 reached nearly $15 billion -- a 45 percent improvement over the same period in 2010. U.S. exports to Turkey are up 53 percent from last year, while Turkish exports to the United States are up 27 percent. It is hoped that these closer trade ties will help improve direct people-to-people relations between Americans and Turks, as our people learn more about each other in the course of pursuing mutual business and economic goals.
"It's been a pleasure and a privilege to work in such a beautiful and hospitable country as Turkey. The people all around Istanbul have been incredibly welcoming and helpful partners. We could not have done this without their cooperation. This movie will be better because of the deeply soulful people of Turkey and we humbly thank them," said Affleck in a written statement provided after our visit.
As seen on the Argo film set, Americans and Turks work well together. When we combine our ambition, creativity and talent, the results are an all-around success.