Star Wars assistant director slams failure to build Scottish film studio

A still from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Tommy Gormley, an assistant director on the film, has criticised Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise over the lack of movement in building a dedicated film studio in Scotland. Picture: The Kobal Collection
A still from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Tommy Gormley, an assistant director on the film, has criticised Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise over the lack of movement in building a dedicated film studio in Scotland. Picture: The Kobal Collection
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ONE of the filmmakers behind the new Star Wars blockbuster has launched an outspoken attack on the failure to build a film studio in Scotland - saying it was having a “catastrophic” effect on the industry north of the border.

Glasgow-born Tommy Gormley has accused Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, the two agencies responsible for the industry, of a “shocking” lack of ambition.

The director, who received an outstanding achievement award from BAFTA Scotland two years ago, accused the two quangos of giving an impression that a studio “would be nice, but isn’t really actually a necessity.”

Mr Gormley, assistant director on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, said a studio was a “vital component” of the film production process and Scotland had completely fallen off the radar of production companies completely because of the lack of facilities north of the border.

Mr Gormley, whose previous films include Star Trek, John Carter and The Golden Compass, has published an open letter to MSPs almost three years after a film studio delivery group was set up.

It has failed to get the project off the ground since then despite examining sites across the country and growing clamour for facilities to those up and running in Wales and Northern Ireland, where Doctor Who and Game of Thrones are made respectively.

Both Mr Gormley and the Association of Association of Film & Television Practitioners Scotland have written to Holyrood’s enterprise committee in dismay at answers given by reprenatives of the quangos at a recent hearing.

He said: “The harsh, inescapable and unacceptable truth is that Scotland has around three per cent of UK production spend, nowhere near what it should be. It is a catastrophically low percentage.

“A film studio is no panacea, and it doesn’t in itself solve the problem of this low spend ratio, but it is a vital component of the film production process and absolutely a prime mover in where films and high end TV shows choose to base their productions.

“I truly believe, with all my experience and knowledge of this field, that a film studio would a true hub for our industry, and would gather together the critical mass required, in terms of skills, crewing and ancillary support, to be a game-changer for filmmaking in Scotland.

“It is woefully overdue but it is still not too late. However it needs the people charged with overseeing this task to truly believe in it.”

Clamour for a permanent film studio in Scotland has grown since production started on the big-budget American TV series Outlander.

Two series have been shot on location across the country, as well as in a vast converted warehouse complex in Cumbernauld, in Lanarkshire, helping to raise the value of film and TV productions in Scotland to a record £45.8 million.

However the Scottish Government believes European Union state aid rules effectively ruled out the public purse bankrolling such a venture. Talks with a private sector developer over an un-named site have been going for more than a year.

A joint statement issued by the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise said there was clearly “a fast growing appetite from major filmmakers to use Scotland as a backdrop for their productions.”

The statement added: “We are firmly committed to supporting the screen sector to grow and develop further, as underlined in Creative Scotland’s film strategy and through the record £24.1 million public sector funding awarded to support the industry in 2014/15.

“Creative Scotland’s Screen Commission is busy with enquiries from the UK and internationally; they actively promote currently available space in Scotland and are continually bringing new options to the market.

“But we recognise the importance of ensuring additional screen infrastructure is developed in Scotland and the film studio delivery group remains committed to doing whatever we can within EU State Aid rules to make this happen.

“These EU rules mean we are only able to pursue a proposal that is led by the private sector, with public sector support to the minimum necessary to secure commitment from the private sector.

“A private-public proposal with the potential to meet our aspirations remains at a critical stage of consideration.

“We have been navigating incredibly complex and shifting terrain with this proposal, and there have been several iterations. Studios are notoriously difficult to make work commercially, which is why we are taking the time to get this absolutely right.”