March started with a dark cloud over Scotland’s film and television industries, following the news that Glasgow had lost out to Cardiff for the creation of Pinewood Studios – a massive blow to the industry and to Scotland’s potential to compete against other countries in this lucrative market. However, it hasn’t taken long for that cloud to dissipate with a number of positive announcements and film releases in the past few weeks, including this week’s news that Creative Scotland are set to increase the maximum funding available for major film and TV productions by 60%. Following an eventful month of highs and lows, we explore the current state of the country’s film and TV industry.
In the weeks since the Pinewood news broke, it appears that fervent talks have been taking place behind the scenes in an attempt to right such a loss. It was only 24 days later, when Scottish Enterprise, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government presented the findings of an independent report by EKOS Consultants detailing a clear and present opportunity for a successful studio.
The report recommends testing the market for private interest, whilst at the same time developing the business case for public sector investment in a Foundation Studio. A Foundation Studio is less ambitious than some of the other proposed options in terms of scale. But it would be low risk and quick to progress, with speed of the essence, if Scotland is to create a foothold in the market.
Similar proposals have existed and fallen through before. But there’s a feeling of optimism this time, as everyone seems to, collaboratively, be on the same page.
So why does Scotland need studio space?
There is a current scarcity of studio space in the UK and Europe, with the UK’s new studios, e.g. Belfast’s Titanic Studios and Cardiff’s Roath Lock, performing very well. Productions bring great economic value to the regions in which they film, eg productions filmed in Glasgow in 2013 brought in just under £20 million value to the city (Glasgow Film Office stats). There is a skilled work-base to draw upon – around 4,000 people are employed in the industry. Scotland has the locations – stunning scenery and cities with architecture ranging from neo-gothic to futuristic utopia, or dystopia, depending on what you’re filming. And long hours of daylight in the summer are attractive to producer looking to get the most out of short shoots.
Due to such strengths, Scotland already attracts a good number of visiting film and TV productions; however, we lack the technical means to bring them here for their full shoot.
A great example being that the pilot episode for the most popular TV show in the world right now, Game of Thrones, was shot in Scotland, but the series is shot on location in Northern Ireland, making use of the Titanic Studios.
Just last week, Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy were in Stonehaven shooting scenes for Frankenstein at Dunnottar Castle. At the same time, the director of Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore, announced that Edinburgh would provide key locations for his new film, The Correspondence. Productions shoot on location in Scotland but few hang around.
The exception to the rule is US TV show, Outlander, which is currently shooting on location across Perthshire and Fife, as well as within the industrial estate near Cumbernauld, Wardpark, which has undergone a conversion to become a studio space.
As well as high calibre productions currently being shot in Scotland, there are also two ‘Scottish’ films currently showing in cinemas – the Hollywood film, Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien preying on Scotsmen, and Starred Up, by Glasgow’s Sigma Films.
Creative Scotland’s Film Sector Review (BOP Consulting – January 2014), identified three types of film that can lay a claim to being ‘Scottish’.
‘Indigenous’ productions, drawn largely on Scottish funding, talent, source material and locations to tell stories of Scottish life, such as Starred Up, and other recent successes, Shell and For Those in Peril.
Productions which draw on Scottish material and locations for their story but use international funding and talent to realise it. Examples include, Under the Skin, The Railway Man and Braveheart. Films made in or depicting Scotland help boost tourism, hence why, VisitScotland built its biggest promotional campaign to date around the release of the animated Disney feature film, Brave. Furthermore, Doune Castle in Perthshire has seen a massive upsurge in American tourists, after it was announced that scenes from Outlander were filmed there – and this is before the first episode has even aired!
The third type of film is shot (at least in part) in Scotland, but does not present itself as Scottish. Two recent examples being, Hollywood blockbusters’ World War Z, where Glasgow doubled as Philadelphia, and Cloud Atlas, where Glasgow doubled as San Francisco.
Each bring great value, whether through nurturing, employing and showcasing local talent, promoting Scotland on the international stage, bolstering hospitality sectors or driving tourism.
It won’t be the case that all films and TV shows filmed here will depict Scotland in a positive light. Scotland has as rich and contrasting an environment, as it does identity. And we should embrace our contradictions, as Edinburgh did last year, with the release of two opposing visions of its city in Filth and Sunshine on Leith.
As it states on Creative Scotland’s Locations site: “Scotland’s offering doesn’t end at castles, lochs and glens. Some of Scotland’s most celebrated productions can tend toward the grittier end of the scale.” This is accompanied by their ‘Think You Know Scotland’ gallery of images, which celebrates the more unusual and unexpected locations in Scotland.
Looking towards Scotland’s largest city specifically, Glasgow is one of only three UK cities, alongside London and Liverpool, to feature in the World Film Locations book series. The Glasgow edition takes a look at 38 productions that have filmed in Glasgow, with essays exploring interpretations of the city, and what films reveal about the city’s culture and character.
There is much to be learnt from the homegrown and global productions that film in and/or depict Scotland. And the good news is that there are numerous out now, coming soon, or in production for us to see.
And there should be many more coming our way, if Scotland does this time succeed in opening a dedicated film and TV studio, taking a thriving industry to the next level.
Photograph by John Ott