SCOTLAND’S first major film and studio complex will be up and running within three years in a bid to help it catch up with rivals around Europe, under new plans to revive the industry.
It is hoped a £15 million complex will be up and running by 2017 in or around Glasgow under a long-awaited blueprint for the project, which will be carried out in phases to help protect the public purse.
Ministers are to launch a hunt for private-sector partners for the venture, which does not yet have a preferred site, although the favourite is thought to Pacific Quay, close to BBC Scotland’s headquarters and an existing film industry “cluster.”
It is not yet yet known how much public money will be needed to get the project off the ground and an official report commissioned to examine various options admits it could come with “significant” risks.
The proposed Scottish studio would be a fraction of the size of a new 180,000 sq ft Pinewood complex which is to be built in Wales. A huge indoor studio complex in Northern Ireland is used to shoot Game of Thrones, despite the pilot being filmed in Scotland.
The report also states that Scotland needs to offer much better financial incentives for productions. At present a maximum of just £300,000 is available for feature films, no matter their budget or star-power.
It is hoped a better funding deal for film will be confirmed by arts agency Creative Scotland when it publishes a new strategy for the sector in June. The quango had pledged action after a group of independent film producers launched a campaign last year claiming the industry was in the grip of a deepening crisis.
One of them, Gillian Berrie, who is based at Pacific Quay, pointed out that the level of investment proposed for the Scottish studio was roughly the same that was needed to get the Titanic Studios in Belfast off the ground.
She said: “After years of cyclical discussions, this is a very clear, positive statement as to the viability of a screen production facility in Scotland.
“We firmly believe that there is now the political will and market opportunity to create a production facility of national and international significance, with the opportunity to cluster rather than fragment screen and creative industry talent.”
Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, Halle Berry and Daniel Craig are among the stars to have visited Scotland to film major features in recent years, while Sunshine on Leith and Filth were two of the UK’s biggest box office hits in 2012.
Creative Scotland has previously ring-fenced £1 million for new facilities in Glasgow, while the Scottish Government has earmarked £2 million for a “loan fund” to help get a film studio project off the ground.
Although the government is to seek expressions of interest from film industry on taking the lead on the new studio, this is felt “unlikely” to bear fruit. Legal advice is being sought on the extent of state aid a public sector-led project will be able to get.
Converting old warehouses or other industrial buildings has been largely ruled out, despite the owners of the former Isola factory in Cumbernauld managing to attract the makers of American fantasy series Outlander to set up a temporary studio there for the £50 million production.
The study - commissioned last year by Scottish Enterprise - proposes a “foundation studio,” which would boast around 35,000 sq ft of filming space across two sound stages, with the same amount of space available for workshops.
Experts brought in to examine various options around the country said the recommended model would offer “an opportunity for Scotland to gain a foothold in a fast-growing market.”
The report states: “There is a clear opportunity for a studio in high-end TV and medium-budget film production, supplemented by local production and commercials.
“This opportunity is largely in internationally mobile production in a highly-competitive market, and there is a need for a coordinated package of incentives (including the UK tax schemes) and support to ensure a consistent flow of business. A studio alone may not be sufficient, however it is currently a barrier to Scotland competing effectively in this market.”
A statement from the Independent Producers Scotland (IPS) group said: “We welcome the ongoing constructive conversations we’ve been engaged in with Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland with regards to repairing the film sector and creating a sustainable foundation for a Scottish film studio.
“Savvy film policy makers across the globe realise the importance of empowering their indigenous producers and production companies, where projects are nurtured through production to completion and distribution. Rooting the film studio into the infrastructure we’ve already created is a sensible and practical way forward.”
Five different options were examined by consultants EKOS - including using the facilities currently being deployed for Outlander on a permanent basis, creating brand new studios at industrial sites at Gartcosh in Lanarkshire and Dalmarnock, in the east end of Glasgow - and an expansion of Film City Glasgow, where a number of production companies currently operate from the former Govan Town Hall.
The latter option was planned to be carried out in two stages and would have seen a total of four sound stages and workshop spaces built in the Pacific Quay area, but at a price tag of almost £54 million.
A fifth option, which is to be taken forward by the Scottish Government to gauge interest from the private sector, is much smaller in scale, but will be pursued for a yet-to-be-identified site with room for significant expansion.
However Tiernan Kelly, director of Film City Glasgow, said there was potential for the Pacific Quay area to become home to “the most connected screen production facility in Europe.”
He added: “Pacific Quay ticks all our boxes. In particular, the economies of scale of having the existing Film City Glasgow site adjacent to our proposed development immediately establishes Pacific Quay as a cost effective option.
“In the wider area there is now a critical mass of screen and creative companies, with the major terrestrial broadcasters, 40,000 sq ft of post-production facilities, the Glasgow School of Art Digital Design Studio, and the SSE Hydro and SECC complex.
“This has been three years in the making for us, but with our own business plan due this month, and this endorsement by the public sector agencies, our competitive advantage is clear and we will be responding positively to this report in due course.”
Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “We have consistently championed Scotland as a location for international film and TV productions and we work hard to ensure Scotland is widely recognised for its world-class talent, crews, facilities and breathtaking locations. Scottish ministers are firmly committed to supporting a sustained increase in production.
“Public agencies worked hard to source suitable premises for Outlander to consider, and we are delighted that this major production is now filming in a 140,000 square foot studio established in Cumbernauld. But we recognise that to provide more opportunities for Scottish production we need additional studio space.
“That is why we worked with Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland to commission this report. It recommends that we investigate the creation of a ‘foundation studio’ in the event that a private sector bid for additional studio space is unsuccessful. I welcome this recommendation and will be exploring this further with the relevant agencies.”
David Smith, director of creative industries at Scottish Enterprise, said: “This report gives us a sound understanding of Scotland’s options in developing a dedicated film and TV facility.
“From here, we can move quickly towards the next phase of work to establish interest from the private sector and develop a robust business case for public sector investment.”
David Brown, the UK producer of Outlander, which is currently filming on location at Doune Castle, in Perthshire, said: “Government investment is vital in growing the creative sector and this announcement is very welcome. Scotland has many talented production personnel and we are delighted to be part of the growth in film and television production in the country.”
A damning report on the Scottish film industry, instigated by Creative Scotland, warned that the country was being left behind the likes of Ireland and Denmark due to a lack of studio space and said there was an urgent need for a long-term strategy to revive the sector.
Last night, Creative Scotland’s chief executive Janet Archer said: “Film is very important to us as one of our key areas of responsibility, alongside the arts and the creative industries, we are working very hard to identify how we strengthen resources for film through partnership working with Government and other partners.”