Comment: Scotland needs a national film studio

Creative Scotland facilitated the creation of a studio for the production of the new TV series Outlander in Scotland - the studio now employs 400 crew. Picture: AP
Creative Scotland facilitated the creation of a studio for the production of the new TV series Outlander in Scotland - the studio now employs 400 crew. Picture: AP
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Scotland sets the stage for the production of many movies but it needs a national studio to raise its profile worldwide, says Rosie Ellison

IS SCOTLAND film friendly enough? Forget the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and referendum, when it comes to capturing the imagination of a global audience and showcasing Scotland, there is one event that has got pulses racing across the world in hot anticipation.

The US and Canadian premiere of sci-fi fantasy series Outlander hit the small screen last week and is unquestionably a game changer for Scotland. Based on the 25 million plus selling book series by Diana Gabaldon, charting the adventures of Second World War nurse propelled back in time to the Jacobite rebellion, it is the first high-budget US TV drama to base and shoot entirely in Scotland.

Filmed across locations including Perthshire, Lanarkshire, West and East Lothian and the Pentland Hills, it needed a studio. Thankfully, with the support of Creative Scotland, Outlander was able to find and fit out a suitable (albeit single purpose) space. The studio now employs around 400 crew and provides professional development for new entrants to the film industry – vital in order to service future productions.

So why is film so important to Scotland? In 2012, VisitBritain published figures stating that 40 per cent of visitors want to go to locations seen in films. Visitors to Californian wineries rose by 300 per cent following the success of Sideways, and Rosslyn Chapel recorded a 500 per cent rise in visitors following the release of The Da Vinci Code. There are now Game of Thrones tours in Northern Ireland.

In the past few years, Scotland has been showcased worldwide in Skyfall, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, Fast and Furious, Cloud Atlas, Sunshine on Leith and many more. A successful high-budget film in its opening weeks can expect to be seen by over 120 million people worldwide. Virgin Atlantic is well aware of film as a major influence in customer choice and, at the launch of its new Red Line connecting Shanghai to Edinburgh, VisitScotland and Film Edinburgh took a group of Chinese journalists to Edinburgh’s film locations, with the aid of the new Edinburgh Film Map.

It is not only feature films that promote us internationally. Case Histories, Rebus and Monarch of the Glen are fantastic examples of successful TV dramas that travel; and children’s TV such as Balamory, Me Too, and now Katie Morag showcase Scotland’s cities and countryside several times a day to kids and parents alike.

It’s one thing to sell Scotland as an outstanding location, but we’ve got to be able to back it up. Scotland has for sure had a share of a lot of great films and TV programmes, but it’s a highly competitive marketplace and we cannot simply sit back and wait for them to come to us.

There has been good progress in recent years. Film Edinburgh and the City of Edinburgh Council launched a new Filming Charter earlier this year confirming that the whole council is ready and willing to work with filmmakers whenever they want to film here. East Lothian council is about to follow suit. The network of film offices around Scotland are working together more efficiently with Historic Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Creative Scotland and VisitScotland, with a recent Commonwealth Games event showcasing a more collective approach to marketing Scotland. Film Edinburgh has launched the Edinburgh Film Steering Group made up of key influencers in Edinburgh’s film culture – CMI, Screen Academy Scotland, film/TV producers, council conveners and VisitScotland – who take on an ambassadorial role in promoting Edinburgh as a film city.

The pilot episode of Game of Thrones was filmed in Doune Castle in Perthshire, but the series moved to Northern Ireland because it needed a film studio. This has been the gaping hole in Scotland’s film package and we’ve missed out on a huge number of high-value productions. And crucially, our production talent struggles to sustain a career in Scotland.

A process is under way which we can only hope will lead to the creation of a dedicated Scottish film studio – an announcement is expected imminently.

Perhaps it won’t be long before Scotland can compete on a more level playing field with the rest of the UK in winning high-value productions. We look forward to what Outlander will do for Scotland, but most importantly, what we will do for the benefit and future of our own film industry.

• Rosie Ellison is film manager of Film Edinburgh

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