THE AWARD-WINNING producer of Chariots of Fire, Local Hero and The Killing Fields has urged Scotland to create its first proper film studio, saying: “If you build it they will come.”
Lord Puttnam said he was dismayed at the level growth of the Scottish screen industry compared to the rest of the UK considering where it was in the 1980s and 1990s.
He called on the Scottish Government to step up efforts to support the creative industries and take action to prevent a talent drain out of Scotland.
He has also urged the country to try to emulate the hugely successful “Nordic noir” TV series which have emerged from Sweden and Denmark in recent years and said the long-delayed studio development could help buffer the country from the impact of the decline in the oil industry.
But he also warned a studio could be left redundant for months without proper infrastructure in place and enough grass-roots support for producers, writers and directors.
Lord Puttnam was speaking to The Scotsman during a visit to Scotland as part of an inquiry he has instigated into public service broadcasting.
He is the latest high-profile industry figure to enter the debate on the lack of a Scottish film studio, which has been played out for more than 80 years.
The Scottish Government last month backed plans to create a permanent studio at an industrial estate in North Lanarkshire.
An existing warehouse complex at the site, which the government has agreed to help expand, has been used for the hit Sony TV show Outlander and is widely expected to return there for a third series.
A private consortium has been pursuing a separate project which would see a vast studio development built on a green belt site on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
However the developers behind the £230 million project, which could take at least five years to complete, have been forced to mount an appeal to the Scottish Government after failing to win the backing of Midlothian Council.
Lord Puttnam said it was crucial for the studio to be built on top of a strong “talent base” in Scotland or it risked being a failure.
He said: “You cannot build the creative industries around a film studio. If you believe in the creative industries you will eventually need one in order to deliver a lot of the things you aspire to.
“You’ve got to make the case that the creative industries generate revenue and the kind of jobs that young people and graduates want to aspire to. More capital is flowing into film content than ever before. More opportunity exists for that content to play out on YouTube or wherever.
“If you think that movement is inexorable, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the Scottish Government to be looking very seriously at building that talent and income base?
“If a studio is an outcrop of a whole load of activity that is taking place in Scotland, where really good scripts being written and good directors are working, then it will be viable.
“But don’t start with a studio. If you do you’re in danger of defeating your own objectives. Suddenly the studio could, God forbid, be empty for three or four months a year.
“The Scottish Government should be looking at the talent base in Scotland, making sure it is well-utilised, trying to keep it at home and not draining across the border.”
Outlander, which started filming at the former Isola factory in Cumbernauld in the autumn of 2013, has been in production there ever since and has been credited with boosting the value of Scotland’s screen industry to a record £45 million.
However the lack of a permanent studio is said to have cost Scotland the chance to be the base for HBO’s hugely successful fantasy series Game of Thrones.
Lord Puttnam added: “The industry in Scotland is not as strong as I would have hoped or expected by now, given all the other developments. I am not too surprised, and I’m not sure why that is the case.
“The best model for Scotland at the moment are the Swedish and Danish noir TV series. That’s been built up from nothing. You only have to look at somewhere like Leavesden Studios in London. It was built for Harry Potter, but now it is not only a studio but is making millions as a Harry Potter experience.
“On balance, it is a lot easier to make films now. The whole world of digital has made filmmaking a lot easier.
“I can vividly remember when Bill Forsyth and I were making Local Hero the first big question we had with the budget was film stock. My job was to run around and make sure we had enough money to fund it. Today, the equipment is half the weight. It is a lot easier to make good content than it was then.
“I would absolutely involved in a film in Scotland again - partly because I got so lucky here. I had consistently very happy experiences. I really ought to be put out to pasture, by now. I am 75, after all.”