THE new chair of Creative Scotland has insisted the organisation is fully committed to the creation of the country’s first permanent film studio - despite industry anger over a lack of action on the project.
Richard Findlay, a former chair of STV, said he also believed that there were “legitimate concerns” about the current state of the screen sector in Scotland, which critics believe lags way behind other European countries.
Mr Findlay told The Scotsman he would be making a case to the Scottish Government for extra backing for the culture sector because of its importance to the economy and efforts to attract inward investment.
Senior officials at Creative Scotland will be giving evidence to MSPs next month in response to claims of a mounting crisis for film-makers, companies, writers and producers.
Industry leaders have warned the film and TV industries north of the border are in a far worse state than previous decades because of the lack of major productions being made and joined-up support for the sector.
At the heart of their protests are dismay about the failure of Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, who share responsibility for the film and TV sectors, to deliver a permanent studio facility capable of attracting high-profile productions.
However there are also concerns about a lack of available finance to help get any more than a handful of TV drama series and home-grown films off the ground.
Despite the claims of a deepening “crisis,” Creative Scotland has refused to increase its own production fund from standstill funding of £4 million in recent years due to the demands on its overall £93 million budget.
Mr Findlay, who replaces former Standard Life chief executive Sir Sandy Crombie as Creative Scotland’s figurehead, has pledged to try to win a better funding deal for the arts quango, despite the prospect of a squeeze in public spending in the next few years.
He has pledged to travel the length and breadth of the country to listen to views from key sectors on the performance of Creative Scotland and what was needed to help them prosper.
But he said it was too early to talk about setting up a new dedicated screen agency, as Creative Scotland had only inherited responsibility for film and television less than five years ago when it was set up by the Scottish Government.
Mr Findlay, who was founding chair of the National Theatre of Scotland, takes over as the new figurehead of Creative Scotland at a time of mounting dismay over the failure to deliver a film studio.
A host of leading actors, producers, writers and directors are among more than 1600 film industry figures putting their name to a petition calling for the complex to be built in Glasgow as soon as possible.
Mr Findlay said: “We have a lot of indigenous talent here and people who want to live and work in Scotland permanently.
“We can do more for ourselves in Scotland and that’s what the discussions about a film studio are all about.
“It is a facility that Scotland needs. We have the outdoor facility, we have the most incredible scenery here, but we’ve not got the indoor facility. For large-scale productions, that’s exactly what the country needs to attract business to Scotland, but also to assist the indigenous production sector.
“A tripartite discussion is going on between Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the government. At some point a decision has to be made and I’m sure it will be made. If I can be helpful in that then I’ll do my best. We are absolutely committed to the concept. The will is there, it is a question of when and what kind of model we believe is sustainable.”
Creative Scotland ring-fenced £1 million for a proposed film studio development in Glasgow almost two and a half years ago, but the project was delayed when the Scottish Government - which has pledged £2 million for an infrastructure loan fund - and Scottish Enterprise began exploring other sites.
Scotland is said to have slipped down the European league table for film and TV productions after failing to build on the success of the likes of Taggart and Monarch of the Glen, while new facilities in Cardiff and Belfast have attracted Doctor Who and Game of Thrones respectively in recent years.
Last week claims emerged that the country was being held back by the lack of a long-term plan for the screen sector - just months after Creative Scotland published its own blueprint, which took several years to produce.
Film producers are furious that efforts to secure funding to set up a powerful new support network were rebuffed by Creative Scotland, despite months of negotiations and an announcement about the plan during the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Mr Findlay added: “There are legitimate frustrations within the independent production sector. I think the lack of a studio facility is probably one of them, but nonetheless there are other issues that they face. If we can help resolve them we will.
“Doctor Who has completely transformed the situation in Wales and as a consequence of that other productions have followed. The same thing could happen here.
“I actually think there is more talent to support such an operation than there is in Wales. A lot of the talent there has had to be imported from London and there is a lot of expensive travel flowing between London and Cardiff.
“I wouldn’t call it a crisis at the moment, but there is a sense of frustration that most of the television commissioning editors are still based in London. The independent sector in Scotland still find it difficult to penetrate that market-place.
“I’m willing to meet anybody to talk about any issues that they want to talk about.
We have just moved from Scotland having its own dedicated screen agency. Five years is not a long time. I believe the screen industry is part of the totality of culture and the creative industries in Scotland.”
Mr Findlay, a former chief executive of media giant Scottish Radio Holdings and a former chair of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, said although culture secretary Fiona Hyslop had cut a good deal for the arts in Scotland in previous years, he did not believe the sector had to accept its share of spending cuts.
He said he “very much” saw his role as helping to win a better financial deal for the culture sector instead, by making clear how they boosted the economy and the country’s commercial interests.
He told The Scotsman: “While we have a very good minister - she does a very good job in husbanding the money for the arts - we need to put the case for funding the arts.
“Part of that case is that art and culture are excellent in their own right, but at the end of the day too they are what makes Scotland attractive, for business interests, development and inward investment.
“I’ve always argued that there is this other dimension to the arts. They are a hearts and mind thing, they are what we are in Scotland, but they are also incredibly important to Scotland commercially, as a major earner.
“Every sector believes that it should be protected (from cuts), but the arts are important. I would certainly want to make the case that we should actually receive more funding, rather than less funding.
“It has been protected in the past. That is a recognition from the government that the arts are important to Scotland and that we do punch above our weight internationally.”
Mr Findlay has arrived in post following a spate of controversies over the way Creative Scotland was making funding decisions.
Organisations denied long-term backing have accused the quango of failing to explain why they had been turned down completely or had their funding cut.
Chief executive Janet Archer, whose predecessor, Andrew Dixon, was forced to resign in the wake of prolonged criticism of the body, had overseen a shake-up of its funding regimes in a bid to make the application process simpler.
Mr Findlay said: “The organisation is coming through some of its early difficulties and I am taking over, I think, at a good time.
“A lot of hard work has been done by Janet Archer and her team. Hopefully I can be helpful in moving things along. I need to get and about to talk to people. It is early days.
There will always be difficult decisions for Creative Scotland to make. In the last round of funding, there were applications for more than twice the money that we had available.
“I certainly believe in an open process so that people can see exactly what is going on, participate in it and then understand why a decision was made. That is the process Creative Scotland is following and that is the way an organisation like this should follow.
“I certainly regard taking up this post as the peak of what I’ve done so far. It is an organisation that is so important to Scotland and it was something that that I couldn’t really resist.
“I hope I don’t have too high a profile as people with high profiles tend to get shot at. But I certainly want to talk to people in the sector and listen to what they’ve got to say.”