Why Scot­land would ben­e­fit from a film studio


As far back as 1935 there were calls made for a Scot­tish film studio and in the in­ter­ven­ing years, ev­ery time there has been a burst of film ac­tiv­ity here, the cry goes up yet again.

In re­cent times, ac­tor Sir Sean Con­nery backed by David Mur­ray, then the Rangers Foot­ball Club chair­man, and Sony drew up plans for a £60-90m studio at Her­mis­ton Gait which were ve­toed by Ed­in­burgh city coun­cil in 1997. Then there was the £225m Gle­nea­gles Film Studio com­plex com­pris­ing sound stages, a ho­tel, IMAX cin­ema, golf course, movie mu­seum, drama school, shops, restau­rants and bars mooted in 1999. A few years later in 2002 on the back of the Mel Gib­son block­buster Brave­heart, back­ers, in­clud­ing Dave Ste­wart from the Eury­th­mics and ac­tor James Cosmo, put for­ward a pro­posal for a £20m High­land Studio, com­plete with wooden Brave­heart fort, studio, re­tail out­let and restau­rant in In­ver­ness. De­spite be­ing granted plan­ning per­mis­sion noth­ing hap­pened.

The project may well have been scup­pered by a Scot­tish En­ter­prise (SE) re­port that year con­clud­ing that a na­tional film studio in Scot­land was not vi­able. It’s in­dica­tive of how lit­tle un­der­stand­ing the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment and its agen­cies have of the film in­dus­try that only two years later SE an­nounced that MTP were the pre­ferred party to de­velop a studio at Ersk­ine Bridge. That didn’t hap­pen ei­ther.

So, here we are in 2017 with film pro­duc­tion spend in Scot­land at an all time high – £52.7m in 2015, an in­crease of £30m over the last 10 years – and still Scot­land has no pur­pose-built com­mer­cial film studio. If the money spent on con­sul­tants’ re­ports over the decades had been put into a studio fa­cil­ity in­stead, Scot­land’s film in­dus­try would now be in a dif­fer­ent league.

Pro­duc­tions in Scot­land cur­rently fall into two cat­e­gories: low-im­pact pro­duc­tions, which in­clude com­mer­cials, cor­po­rates, short films and pro­mo­tions; and high-im­pact pro­duc­tions, which are fea­ture films and TV dra­mas. If you

take Ed­in­burgh as an ex­am­ple, the city ben­e­fits on av­er­age by £5m a year from in­com­ing pro­duc­tions, which in­creased to £6.6m in 2015 due to three high-im­pact pro­duc­tions not only film­ing in the cap­i­tal, but bas­ing their pro­duc­tion of­fices there too. It is worth not­ing that while high-im­pact pro­duc­tions only ac­count for 4% of the to­tal num­ber of pro­duc­tions film­ing in Ed­in­burgh, they ac­count for 82% of the to­tal eco­nomic im­pact.

The num­ber of films and tele­vi­sion se­ries shoot­ing in Scot­land re­cently – Out­lander, Trainspot­ting 2, King Arthur: Leg­end of the Sword and Whisky Ga­lore to name but a few – have put Scot­land back on the map, gen­er­at­ing sev­eral se­ri­ous pro­pos­als for pur­pose-built stu­dios.

At­tract­ing t he most col­umn inches, and con­tro­versy over its green belt lo­ca­tion, is the Pent­land Stu­dios pro­posal in Mid­loth­ian. This £200m pri­vately-funded mixed-use de­vel­op­ment, which in­cludes a film and TV studio fa­cil­ity with eight sound stages and a large back lot com­plex, would pro­vide a world class fa­cil­ity at no cost to the pub­lic purse. Over 3,000 sup­port­ers have signed a pe­ti­tion and Film Ed­in­burgh has backed the project.

Although Cre­ative Scot­land has var­i­ous in­cen­tives to sup­port film­ing in Scot­land, the miss­ing link is the studio and the gov­ern­ment’s Film Studio De­liv­ery Group (FSDG), set up in 2013 with the sole pur­pose of de­liv­er­ing a studio, has con­spic­u­ously failed to de­liver.

Three years on, the gov­ern­ment has still not made a de­ci­sion on whether to give Pent­land the green light de­spite re­ceiv­ing a plan­ning re­port be­fore Christ­mas. It’s un­likely a de­ci­sion will be made be­fore the May elec­tions, prompt­ing fears that the in­vestors be­hind the de­vel­op­ment will lose in­ter­est and go else­where. It is im­per­a­tive that the gov­ern­ment sup­port this project so that Scot­land can cap­i­talise on the short­age of studio space in the UK, the huge in­ter­est in Scot­land as a lo­ca­tion, and the surge in de­mand for high-qual­ity tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion. There is also scope to tap into Scot­land’s fast-grow­ing, vi­brant games in­dus­try.

In the mean­time, the lack of studio, or build space, is the main rea­son many high-im­pact pro­duc­tions don’t base them­selves in Ed­in­burgh. In 2015 the cap­i­tal lost 17 high value pro­duc­tions be­cause of this. If all 17 pro­duc­tions had filmed for one day each, the to­tal eco­nomic im­pact would have been £344,000 per day.

The UK’s lu­cra­tive tax credit for film at­tracted £1.47bn in pro­duc­tion money to the UK in 2014, but only £40m – 3% of the to­tal – made its way to Scot­land be­cause we don’t have any studio fa­cil­i­ties. Last year was a bumper year for film in Britain with 90% of the £726m spend com­ing from Amer­i­can pro­duc­tions. Given the

‘£ 1.47bn was spent on film pro­duc­tion in the UK in 2014, but only 3% made its way to Scot­land’

cur­rent ex­change rates the Amer­i­cans get a lot of bang for their buck in the UK. Scot­land’s fig­ures for this year are not yet pub­lished, but at least a third or more of the £52.7m fig­ure for 2015 is ac­counted for by Out­lander.

A wasted op­por­tu­nity

This is why the Pent­land scheme, or one like it, is ur­gently needed. Scot­land does have var­i­ous ‘spa­ces’ that have been pressed into use due to the lack of any other fa­cil­i­ties. Ward Park in Cum­ber­nauld, for in­stance, where Sony’s Out­lander is shot, was orig­i­nally a shed. It was an­nounced re­cently that £4m of pub­lic money, com­pris­ing a £1.5m Scot­tish En­ter­prise grant and loan of £2.5m, will go to­wards the ex­pan­sion of its fa­cil­i­ties to in­clude six sound stages, pro­duc­tion of­fices, an­cil­lary spa­ces and a back lot. The owner of an Ayr­shire fa­cil­ity where the tele­vi­sion se­ries The Loch was shot, is also in a po­si­tion to in­vest for the long-term by ex­pand­ing and mak­ing per­ma­nent its studio of­fer­ing.

Although all the Lon­don stu­dios are cur­rently full, Scot­land is los­ing out, pri­mar­ily to North­ern Ire­land – Game of Thrones went to the Ti­tanic Stu­dios. In­deed whilst Wales has 51,000 sq ft of pur­pose-built studio space and North­ern Ire­land has 42,000 sq ft, Scot­land has a mea­gre 5,800 sq ft.

One pro­ducer shoot­ing a four-part TV se­ries in Spain could have shot the studio re­quire­ments in Scot­land or Wales, but chose Wales be­cause there is an ad­di­tional 8% in­cen­tive for shoot­ing there and us­ing the lo­cal pool of tal­ent and re­sources. If Scot­land was to match or bet­ter that in­cen­tive, it could at­tract even more pro­duc­tions as well as pro­vide more work for the tal­ent pool which has the po­ten­tial to ex­pand sig­nif­i­cantly if a studio was built.

Along with the jobs and film spend, the spinoffs for the tourism in­dus­try could be huge. Re­search con­firms that film tourists spend more than non-film tourists, and that 40% of vis­i­tors to the UK want to visit lo­ca­tions they’ve seen on screen. Tak­ing just one film, Out­lander, the foot­fall at Doune Cas­tle, where it is shot, in­creased by 47% in the first six months of the year, with as­so­ci­ated mer­chan­dise fly­ing off vis­i­tor cen­tre shelves.

Even movie mogul David Put­tnam, who was luke­warm on a studio in 2002, has re­cently ex­pressed dis­may at the low level of growth in the Scot­tish screen in­dus­try com­pared with the rest of the UK. He now be­lieves that ‘if we build it they will come’.

Given that oil and gas is no longer the cash cow it once was in Scot­land, there is an op­por­tu­nity here for the Scot­tish econ­omy to ben­e­fit from the lu­cra­tive film studio in­dus­try, but the gov­ern­ment needs to act now.

Above: Whisky Ga­lore is just one of the ma­jor films to have been made in Scot­land re­cently – but there could be so many more if we had a film studio.

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