Ali Mahir Aksu was 18 years old when he traveled from his home country of Turkey to the United States.
In the summer of 2012, Aksu attended Dream Careers’ summer internship program on the entertainment industry. The now fourth-year economics student is launching his dream career with a new title to his name: associate producer.
Aksu is credited as an associate producer on the 2016 movie “Laid in America,” featuring a cast made up almost exclusively of social media personalities, including YouTubers Caspar Lee and KSI. The film follows two high school exchange students on a mission to get laid on their last night in America.
The movie hit number three on the U.K. iTunes Top 100 Movies chart within the first week of its Sept. 26 release, Aksu said, and it remains in the chart at number 74, as of Monday.
Like the characters of the film, Aksu had to learn to navigate American culture in order to feel confident pursuing a career in the entertainment industry after coming to the U.S. as a non-native English speaker.
Though Aksu studied English in Turkey, he had to put extra effort and special attention into working through the language barrier once he came to America, he said. He focused on observing how people effectively express their feelings through English, rather than just on how they pronounce words, he said.
“If you’re an international student, that’s a little bit harder than any other person, because you have to observe first, learn, then adapt, then figure out what you want to do,” Aksu said.
The ability to accurately communicate exactly what you mean is especially important in establishing business relationships in the entertainment industry, Aksu said.
Mary Beth Sales, a public relations expert, was one of the five speakers on the Dream Careers panel Aksu attended and has been Aksu’s entertainment industry mentor ever since, Sales said.
A well-dressed and confident Aksu approached Sales after the panel, she said. Aksu told Sales of his aspirations, and asked her what it would take for him to become a producer.
“In my head I was thinking, ‘Wow, this kid’s got some guts,’” Sales said.
Aksu possessed the creativity, business savvy and genuine passion for the entertainment industry necessary to be a successful producer, despite the language barrier, Sales said.
Max Gottlieb, producer of “Laid in America,” also met Aksu at the Dream Careers panel, Aksu said.
“(Aksu) didn’t speak much English (at the time), but he was quite a surprise,” Gottlieb said. “He knew a lot of marketing techniques and tools that only someone that’s really lived online and is of that age can know.”
Because Aksu is right around the film’s target age, he analyzed the culture of the audience by observing American Instagram posts and the comments and likes on them, Aksu said. He then provided ideas about how to appeal to viewers on social media to incorporate relatable content into the film and its marketing platform, like promotional Instagram posts, including memes, he said.
Aksu relates to the international students in the film, though his experiences may not have been as wild, he said. Like the characters, Aksu remained confident and did not let the cultural differences be an obstacle to achieving his goals, he said.
“If something didn’t go my way, I just thought, ‘Oh, this is just one of the barriers we have. It’s fine,’” Aksu said.
Aksu wants to bolster the link between the Los Angeles-based entertainment industry and the rest of the international world, he said. He hopes to inspire young people living outside of the U.S. through his own successes, and increase the accessibility of the Hollywood dream to international students, he said. Aksu also wants to be a mentor for international students in the future, like Sales was for him, he said.
“Even with language barrier, if you really want something to happen, if you really believe, it happens,” Aksu said. “I think 1 percent of extra effort makes 100 percent difference.