SCOTLAND’S film industry needs to focus on increasing tax breaks rather than the creation of a major studio, according to the Scots producer of one of the most acclaimed dramas in recent years.
Edinburgh-born Richard Brown, executive producer of the hit US detective drama True Detective, said if Scotland could work out a way to improve the existing tax incentive system it would draw in more big name productions.
Brown is one of the hottest names in entertainment with his current drama, which stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, top of the TV rankings on HBO channel in the US, attracting an average 11 million viewers an episode. The show premiered in the UK on Sky Atlantic last month and recent episodes have drawn in about 500,000 viewers.
The producer’s comments come as Creative Scotland, the Scottish Government’s arts body, continues to push for the creation of a permanent studio space in Scotland to attract large-scale productions to film work in Scotland.
Brown has now waded into the issue saying that while having a studio would be beneficial to his home country, he believed the only way to draw TV and film-makers was to make it cheaper for them to work here.
He said: “A lot of Hollywood films get made in Romania. Typically, where people go it’s where the best tax breaks are, and, secondarily, where the facilities are. Those are two things that drive decisions.”
Brown said True Detective – which follows two detectives pursuing a serial killer during the mid-2000s – was made in Louisiana, not just because the original setting was there, but because of the “very aggressive tax credit” available.
Turning to Scotland’s situation, Brown said: “Obviously if Scotland could figure out a way to improve upon what’s already in place then it would attract more production.”
Famously, Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart, though set almost entirely in Scotland, was filmed mainly in Ireland because of the relatively low cost to film there.
Film productions in Scotland, like the rest of the UK, get a tax credit of 20 per cent on filming costs if expenditure is below £20 million. This rises to 25 per cent if above this level for films and high-end television series. However, Ireland for example offers 28 per cent and New Zealand 40 per cent.
And recent figures show in Ireland film-making is worth ¤500m a year, while Scotland’s is valued at just £30m. This is despite a number of high-profile productions made in Scotland in recent years, including Glasgow doubling as San Francisco in Cloud Atlas and Philadelphia in the zombie blockbuster World War Z.
Iain Smith, Scottish producer and chair of the British Film Commission, said he agreed tax breaks would attract bigger and better productions and boost the country’s economy. He said there was a need “to gear up the Scottish ‘offer’ to incoming producers with regards tax”.
Iain Smith, Scottish producer and chairman of the British Film Commission (BFC), who has campaigned for a Scottish studio, said that the UK tax laws were such that there was now a pressing need for a one “to gear up the Scottish ‘offer’ to incoming producers”.
“Without a studio facility Scotland will not be able to adequately compete for a significant share of this business,” he said. “Northern Ireland, and more recently Wales, have been harvesting significant foreign earnings on the back of UK tax credit - anything from £20m to £50m a year with “Game of Thrones”.
“As things stand, Scotland is primarily a locations based destination which is not sufficient to build and maintain an industrial/commercial film and TV infrastructure of any size. Neither will it increase and improve the skills-base and the talent-base which is essential in today’s fast changing world.”
Smith said that as chair of the BFC he wanted to see the whole of the studio capacity upped across the whole of UK: “Scotland is underperforming in this sense, and is therefore ideally placed to grow a considerable share of the overall UK inward investment market, but only if it has the infrastructure to allow high end TV to function efficiently and well.”
He added, however, that there was scope to find ways to improve the existing financial incentives: “I think Richard is right in that a local ‘sweetener incentive’ on top of the UK tax credits will always help to make visiting producers feel ‘aggressively’ welcomed and valued.”
Hollywood star Kevin Spacey has previously called for film companies to be given tax breaks in a bid to create new jobs and improve Scotland’s screen industry.
Speaking in Edinburgh last year, he said: “As a producer or financier you’re going to go where you get the best bang for your buck. And I think that it’s incredibly valuable for governments to reassess their position in these things, because it isn’t just about giving a tax break to a film company, it’s about employing citizens in your own country.”
After growing up in Edinburgh, Brown started working in the music business as a talent scout for Island Records. He moved to Los Angeles in 1993, where he made the transition into film production.
Now based in New York and a senior executive at production company Anonymous Content, Brown revealed the success of True Detective had led to the commissioning of a second series. He is also working on a ten-episode series called The Knick.
But while focused on the US, Brown has not ruled out a return to Scotland to work: “It’s primarily just a question of finding a project which either takes place in Scotland or which makes sense to film in Scotland. It’s a very photogenic country and somewhat under-utilised cinematically.
“An interesting thing about Scotland is the positive image it has internationally – people pretty much everywhere in the world seem to either really love Scotland, or the idea they have of Scotland.”
Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s culture secretary, has claimed an independent Scotland would offer more incentives to attract film crews.