Around 40 different production companies across the country are preparing a bid to set up a powerful new network to bolster support for film-makers and raise more money for the cash-strapped industry.
The new body, expected to cost around £5 million to set up, would be independent from Creative Scotland, which would still be asked to fund individual film projects.
However the quango, which has capped its production fund at £4 million for the next year, would be asked to find another £2.5 million to get the new initiative off the ground.
Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government, who are already involved in talks to create a new film studio and a bid for European money to support the film industry, will also be approached for financial support for the new screen body.
Key aims would include helping to get new films off the ground, generating new finance for the industry, sharing resources and expertise, and ensuring that any new film studio complex is a viable proposition.
Details of the new screen agency emerged at a Scottish Film Summit, called by the Edinburgh International Film Festival to coincide with its opening day. It is being pursued by Independent Producers Scotland (IPS) which was set up last year to win a better deal for the film industry.
Gillian Berrie, co-founder of Sigma Films, which is currently making a major new feature with Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson in Glasgow, said Scottish Enterprise had agreed to help create a business plan for the new body. She told The Scotsman: “We will be applying next month, via IPS, for regular funding from Creative Scotland to allow us to parachute in a new super-infrastructure.
“Scottish Enterprise, who are paying for the business plan, can see that not only would this be fantastic for production company development, but it would underpin the film studio and be a realignment of existing agencies.
“We’ve scrutinised the most successful production companies that operate in the industry today. We want to put something in place for the whole industry in Scotland. It would be the closest thing to a screen development agency. We would not be handing out project development funding, but we would be providing the infrastructure that we just don’t have and expertise that we can’t afford at present.”
More than 100 leading industry figures were warned at the summit not to expect a major increase in funding for film productions over the next few years - despite the figurehead of the national arts agency admitting current support is not good enough.
Janet Archer, the chief executive of Creative Scotland, which has been under pressure to allocate more of its budget to film and television, told the first Scottish Film Summit that the figure was not enough to “support film production in Scotland.”
Ms Archer also said she was not expecting a significant change in the quango’s funding in the wake of the independence referendum - regardless of the result.
And she said it would be “challenging” for the film industry in Scotland to secure European funding for the industry, which has been put forward as one of the best prospects of boosting support for the industry.
Creative Scotland, which was formed four years ago out of a merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen, has a budget of more than £90 million and it is the lead agency for the film industry in Scotland. However it only has a handful of staff dedicated to film and has only recently appointed a full-time director for the sector.
Although the maximum support for films was recently increased from £300,000 to £500,000, film producers say at least £10 million is needed to help Scotland compete with the likes of Sweden, Denmark, Wales and Ireland.
But Ms Archer said she did not want to raid the budget for other art forms to boost funding for the film industry.
She told the summit: “Is £4 million enough to support film production in Scotland. No, it’s not.
“We, like everyone else in the film industry in Scotland, would like to see more funding available. Funding will continue to be an issue and I won’t pretend that it won’t.
“We have a limited pot. At £90 million, it’s a significant amount of public money, but it has limits, and we need to ensure that we support the broadest range of work across the arts, screen and creative industries.
“To increase funding for film from this pot would mean decreasing funding for other art forms - for theatre, for visual art, for literature or another area of creativity.
“We cannot and will not get into a situation where we are trading off one art form against another.
We need to put our efforts into finding different and new sources of funding for film and to working with other partners in Scotland to achieve this. We cannot fulfil our collective ambition for film in Scotland on our own, not should we expect to.”
Ms Archer said the quango’s support for the film industry actually amounted to £8 million when backing for film festivals, arts centres with film programmes, location services and promotional activities around the world are all included.
She added: “Culture in Scotland is already devolved and, as such, is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. Because of this, we do not expect any significant change to our funding or operational arrangements as a result of the referendum, whatever the outcome.”
Creative Scotland is joining forces with Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government to prepare a bid for European Regional Development Fund support for the film industry.
But Ms Archer said: “There are no guarantees with this route, but together with our partners, we are making every effort to find a way forward and get this right for Scotland.” Meanwhile Ms Archer said she hoped there would “soon” be an announcement on Scotland’s first full-time film studio, which the quango earmarked £1 million towards, more than 18 months ago, only for the project to be stalled while studies of various sites were carried out. The summit heard Ken Hay, the chief executive of the film festival, describe the current industry as “vibrant, although small.”
He said the film world in Scotland was “shifting”, with the publication of a major review of the industry earlier this year, which made clear recommendations to transform its fortunes, Creative Scotland’s own film long-term film strategy due to be published within weeks and the forthcoming referendum.
He added: “We have reached what I think is a tipping point for the sector in Scotland - one that is full of challenge but one that, I believe, is full of huge opportunity.
“It is an opportunity that will only work if we all collectively come together and express ourselves clearly in what we believe in and what we are trying to achieve.
“The problem with film, and it is a problem when it comes to governments and policy-makers, is that it is both culture and industry. It falls down the gap too often between those two things. My experience is that the sector doesn’t help by fully articulating that it is both.”