Brian Ferguson: Outlander success belies lack of investment

Oulander has a 200-strong crew and features more than 200 actors and extras
Oulander has a 200-strong crew and features more than 200 actors and extras
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THERE are many remarkable things about the American television drama series Outlander, over and above the fact it is entirely set and filmed in Scotland.

Well over a year after filming got under way, it is still hard to believe the largely unremarkable town of Cumbernauld is home to the biggest-ever inward investment into the country’s film and television industry.

Two years ago, I doubt few of those in the country’s film and TV industry had heard of the Outlander series of novels by American author Diana Gabaldon, despite them selling more than 
25 million copies.

When Dumfriesshire-born Sam Heughan was cast in the key role of Jamie Fraser, the 18th-century Highland warrior who falls for a Second World War nurse sent hurtling back in time, I wasn’t the only one trawling the internet for background on an actor best known for roles in Doctors and River City.

A second series of Outlander was, incredibly, announced last August after the screening of just one of the eight episodes to be shown so far.

Such is the scale of the production, which has a 200-strong crew and features more than 200 actors and extras, it has almost single-handedly doubled the value of film and TV in Scotland in the space of just four years, to more than £40 million.

Astonishingly, it has yet to see the light of the day in the UK. While entertainment giant Sony insists its programme will be shown here this year, details of exactly where and when are frustratingly elusive. That did not stop Creative Scotland from holding up Outlander as a beacon to try to prove the country’s film and TV industry is not – as many industry figures believe – in the grip of a deepening crisis.

While Creative Scotland is able to bask in the glow of Outlander, it has invested a mere £170,000 in the production, mainly to help pay for the conversion of the former Isola factory in Cumbernauld. That is only to be expected for such a high-profile production base, even a temporary one.

What Creative Scotland has not done is plough any more money into film and TV production since Outlander was commissioned. If the benefits of high-end shows and films are so obvious, why has its budget not been dramatically altered to reflect this, especially after Game of Thrones was lost to Northern Ireland?

An extra £10m has been found in its budget over the next three years to accommodate growing demand for funding from theatres, venues, events and arts organisations. Unless substantial extra backing for film and television can be found, the crisis claims are unlikely to end any time soon.