Lights, Camera, Action

Kaitlin Dryburgh

By all accounts Scotland’s film industry is on the up, and 2024 is predicted to be a booming year for initiating even more success. A new strategy from Screen Scotland is aiming to shape our film industry into a £1 billion entity, boosting jobs and investment. While new developments expands our studio real estate ready to attract some big hitters in the industry. It seems that despite challenges Scotland does play host to industry specialist able to use home as a base instead of having to relocate further south for a stable living. Yet all of this is set to happen when Scotland’s arts sector is battling with continuous cuts and under-funding, perhaps a pivotal time for our blossoming film sector. Will it become a champion of the arts or will it play the commercial sell-out looking to be a cheaper alternative to the Hollywood backdrop?

Currently the high-end TV and film industries is valued at around £627 million in Scotland, between 2019 and 2021 the industry saw a 38% increase in employment and 39% increase in economic impact according to Screen Scotland. The profile of Scotland to both produce art and to be a suitable place for filming has grown in recent years. Huge blockbuster movies such as Marvel’s Avenger’s Endgame chose to film epic fight scenes along the Royal Mile, Waverly station, and a small East Lothian fighting village. Fast and the Furious franchise gave us a high-speed car chase along the streets of the Old Town (mind you there’s so many fast and furious movies they’ve probably ran out of new places to film). Glasgow boasts similarities to the architecture of old-time New York and as such has become a favourite for location scouts who take advantage of its lower costs in comparison to the real New York. As such the city has played host to a zombie outbreak in Brad Pitt’s World War Z and a moon-landing parade in the latest Indian Jones movie, and was transformed into Gotham City for the gritty 2022 Batman movie, as well as the Batgirl movie which will never see the light of day.

Big streamers such as Apple have taken advantage of the increasing number of film studios sprouting up around the country. Amazon’s The Rig was exclusively filmed at Edinburgh’s FirstStage Studio, and Apple’s Tetris and The Buccaneers took advantage of an array of architecture all over Scotland that allows for locations to double as Russia, Japan and English stately homes. BBC’s Good Omens and Peaky Blinders have also looked to Scotland for filming locations.

A new film complex has recently been announced in Stirling which has utilised a grant from the Government to revitalise the area. The new studio is predicted to create over 4,000 jobs in the next 25 years with the hopes of attracting streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon to use the studio. Other film studios in Scotland have proved a success and it is thought this new one will take advantage of the current boom.

However, it is important that Scotland prioritises home-grown talent. We play host to a plethora of skilled individuals within the film industry and it is hoped that with more filming taking place in Scotland this will allow Scottish creatives to set up home in Scotland and not feel the pressure to move down south, which has been the norm up until now. Boosting the film and arts sector will allow many to grow their craft and businesses here. Isabel Davis Executive Director of Screen Scotland states that Scotland already trains large numbers of skilled production professionals such as lighting, stage and production technicians. But the boom in studios and production facilities means there is a growing wealth of readily available technical expertise who now have the opportunity of staying in Scotland and putting down roots and able to make a stable income in their chosen field without re-location or extensive travel.

Screen Scotland recently revealed their new six-year plan to increase the scale of the industry in Scotland, engage further with audiences and help home-grown crew and talent to stay and live in Scotland, as well as talent and crew from further places. All this they hope will help to create a £1 billion industry in Scotland.

The landscape is changing, and the film industry is increasingly moving away from Hollywood and America. British film is benefiting greatly from this transformation and becoming a huge player in the game. Last month the UK Government announced new tax breaks for independent movies where the main talent is from the UK, which was welcomed gladly by the film industry. To an extent Scotland has taken advantage of becoming a go-to filming location, many believe further infrastructure could be set in place to make it even more lucrative. Joe Russo an American director who delivered the highest grossing movie at the time Avengers Endgame has links with Scotland and thinks it offers so much to film producers both big and small.

Locals have also had to evaluate how they want to engage with the film industry. Trying to get a piece of the action the likes of Screen Moray is a new venture which aims to attract filmmakers to the area with a database of potential filming locations. The founder Marc Hindley believes that Moray offers a ‘miniature Scotland’, thus making it a potential as a Scottish filming hub. Surrounding areas such as Aberdeenshire and the Highlands have also set up databases in order to attract filming and make it easy to scout locations.

Yet what do we actually want that £1 billion industry to look like? Although we’re seeing some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry come to Scotland it’s hard not to be cynical when it comes to our priorities. We’re rolling out the red carpet for the likes of Netflix yet many arts organisations are on the cutting block because they’re under funded and undervalued. Yes we do have home-grown talent but without a doubt that will be diminished or remain stagnant if we don’t fund our own creative industries. Do we want to be known as country which can create and facilitate art or one who makes it easy for large conglomerates to fleet in and out and commercialise everything. 

Screen Scotland have relayed plans to get more talent living in Scotland, which was part of the defunct Bute House Agreement, this was to be done with collaborating with US entertainment business. Offering large grants for productions that use local talent and crews etc, however some do question if collaborating with the US film industry really is the best strategy and doubt it has really paid-off. Why are we giving so much to large corporations when domestic talent is fighting for scraps.

The large-scale film studios are often owned by US organisations who provide little for local economies and often block-book them years in advance for streaming TV shows. And although we do have talented writers such as director Charlotte Wells who went on to direct critically acclaimed indie film Aftersun, do we champion enough Scottish storytellers so that the filming being produced doesn’t feed into the American idealisation of a tacky tartan strewn, shortbread eating Scottish landscape.

The continuous top-down management of the arts in Scotland is personified more than ever right now, and because of this the Scottish film-industry is close to becoming victim of playing servant to the huge US entertainment industry, most likely as a way of aiding the Scottish Government true interests and boosting tourism and the service industry.  

Scotland’s talent in film and TV shouldn’t have to prove itself, and it shouldn’t be shunned in the face of Netflix. Just like all other creatives in Scotland they deserve to be listened to and championed.

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