ARTS agency Creative Scotland today insisted it is the right body to revive the nation’s troubled screen industry – despite the lack of progress over a national film studio.
Its director of film insisted substantial progress had been made in the 12 months since a strategy to restore the fortunes of the nation’s film and TV producers was published.
Natalie Usher said support for productions had more than doubled inside a year, to almost £10 million, with a number of high-profile films secured in the last 12 months, including a remake of Whisky Galore, golfing drama Tommy’s Honour and Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur film.
However, industry leaders have made repeated demands for the revival of a dedicated screen agency for the country amid claims Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, who share responsibility, are unable to work together effectively.
Both are represented on a “film studio delivery group”, instigated by the Scottish Government two and a half years ago, which has yet to identify a preferred site for the long-delayed project.
A Holyrood inquiry into the screen sector heard in February how Scotland was sliding down the UK’s league table of productions hubs due to a lack of facilities and financial support. Scotland is said to lag seriously behind the likes of Wales, Ireland, Denmark and Yorkshire.
At that time, Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop told MSPs that a private sector proposal was being “actively” pursued which would create one of the highest sound-stages in the UK. Scottish Enterprise announced on the same day that it was hoping to agree terms with a developer within eight weeks, but there has been no news on the project since then.
Ms Hyslop insists the private-sector bid has now reached a “critical stage” of consideration, but admitted the government was also open to any new proposals from the private sector in the short term to provide studio infrastructure in Scotland.”
Creative Scotland said it would be “energetically pursuing alternative large-scale production spaces throughout Scotland,” like the Cumbernauld warehouse used for American drama Outlander, but said a purpose-built facility was a priority.
Ms Usher said significant progress had been made to address other key priorities, including increasing incentives for films and TV shows to shoot in Scotland, providing greater support for writers and script development, and nurturing a new generation of producers through talent and skills development programmes.
She said: “We’re working incredibly hard on the proposal that’s come forward from a private developer, but developing enhanced facilities for Scotland doesn’t just mean one studio. We’re working to identify other facilities which can be converted relatively straightforwardly and can be used for big productions, as well as smaller ones.
“We’ve done an awful lot in the last year, but there’s a lot more to do. We’ve brought about an injection of an extra £4.75 million, which is not to be sniffed at.
“We’ve made it clear to the sector that we now see ourselves as the lead organisation for screen in Scotland. We have a dedicated screen team of 11 now.
“We think we can deliver, we’ve made our commitment clear to the sector, and there are lots of producers out there who think trust is building and we’re doing a good job.”
A full-scale review of the screen sector, instigated by Creative Scotland following mounting criticism of its stewardship, found that many of those involved in the industry feeling it had reached “a crisis point,” with levels of production seen as too low to sustain a viable domestic industry.
Glasgow-based film-maker Gillian Berrie, one of the founders of the Independent Producers Scotland lobby group, said “good progress” had been made over the last year.
She added: “It shows that our combined efforts have had some impact.
“The next big challenge is to succeed in obtaining European funding and or finding more ways to get funding into production and development, as well as growing the screen team in Creative Scotland, and stabilising and developing the industrial aspects of the sector.”
John Archer, chair of IPS, added: “The ground has been prepared for substantial and sustained growth in this vitally important part of Scottish culture. There’s much more to be done on the business side of production but the increased investment in the economic potential of screen production in Scotland is very welcome.”
Ms Hyslop pledged that the government was “firmly committed” to supporting the growth of the industry in future years.
She said: “We know Scotland’s screen sector has the talent and skills to deliver world-class films and attract major productions. But we recognise we need to do more to support the sector if we are to deliver on our high ambitions.
“Working with our partners, we’re committed to doing exactly that.”