Brian Ferguson: Lights, cameras and action for Young Films

Young Films producing BBC Alba series Bannan. Picture: Contributed
Young Films producing BBC Alba series Bannan. Picture: Contributed
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As Monday morning meetings go, the setting was hard to beat as the sun rose over the distant hills of Knoydart. It was my second visit in a year to the base of Young Films in Sleat, the “Garden of Skye,” as it is promoted. But in that time, the company masterminded by producer Chris Young has stepped up its activity. Perhaps most importantly, it has finally secured a production deal with BBC Alba to ensure the Gaelic drama Bannan will continue for the next four years.

Its creation was the catalyst for Young to base his company in Skye in 2012 after he had finished work on The Inbetweeners TV series and films. Young was keen for me to see how a new generation of actors, directors, writers, editors and technicians were being trained up while working on the drama series, which is based at Gaelic college Sabhal Mor Ostaig.

The funding for Bannan not only ensures future work for many of those involved in Bannan, but it also allows Young Films to accelerate a number of other projects. One of these is a feature film on the conspiracies surrounding the Lockerbie disaster, which Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald and award-winning playwright David Harrower are both working on, and a big-screen adaptation of The Silver Darlings, the classic Neil Gunn novel. Another is the creation of a new film foundation which seeks to bring new Scottish writers, producers and directors together on Skye.

Young Films is seeking six new projects to help develop. Young, who spearheaded the production of the first Gaelic feature film, Seachd, has ambitions for his new initiative, which was inspired by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute and already is backed by Creative Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Channel 4 and Film4. Among mentors are Macdonald and Harrower, Iain Morris and Damon Beesley, writers of The Inbetweeners, the comedy Young produced for E4 and screenwriter John Hodge, who scripted the Trainspotting films.

Young hopes a major selling-point to persuade some of the world’s leading filmmakers to lead the week-long residency programme will be the unique landscapes which have attracted major productions like Prometheus, Macbeth and The BFG in recent years.

Crucially, his foundation is emerging at a bit of a boom time for the industry after a prolonged period of anxiety and uncertainty among those at the sharp end. It certainly did not have its troubles to seek in the wake of the mid-1990s “golden era,” with the scrapping of Scottish Screen and the failure to create a full-time studio, while Wales and Northern Ireland reaped the benefits of investing in proper facilities.

There is little doubt the economic spin-offs and international interest in Outlander, which started production at a converted warehouse in Cumbernauld four years ago, have helped spark the ongoing revival, including Edinburgh’s most lucrative film shoot to date, on Avengers: Infinity War, earlier this year.

The kind of benefits Scotland could be looking at if more film and TV productions can be delivered are now glaringly obvious, even if the wait for that studio is still going on. The recent announcement by the Scottish Government of a doubling of support for the screen sector to £20 million was long overdue, but a key milestone.

With both STV and the BBC pledging a new commitment to drama, and the National Film and Television School setting up a hub in Glasgow, there are arguably more reasons for optimism than at any other time since the turn of the century.