Scottish film industry needs tax breaks - Spacey

Kevin Spacey says the Scottish film industry needs tax breaks to prosper. Picture: TSPL
Kevin Spacey says the Scottish film industry needs tax breaks to prosper. Picture: TSPL
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HOLLYWOOD star Kevin Spacey has urged governments to give film companies tax breaks in a bid to create new jobs and improve Scotland’s screen industry.

The Academy Award winning actor said that more could be done to attract productions and ensure that home-grown films in Scotland and south of the Border did not have to be shot abroad.

Mr Spacey spoke to The Scotsman about help for the industry during a question and answer session at the Edinburgh International Television Festival on Friday, the morning after his delivery of the annual James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the McEwen Hall.

He gave the example of the upcoming Scottish film, Filth, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh and starring James McAvoy.

Filth was partly filmed in Scotland but production also took place in Sweden and Germany, which offers tax incentives and substantial grants even for non-German productions.

Mr Spacey said: “The reason people go to Germany is because movies are not easy to raise money for, in any time, but particularly in these times, and television is no different.

“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 state and your own country.”

Mr Spacey, who plays the ruthless politician Frank Underwood in the acclaimed Netflix series House of Cards, said ministers and decision-makers had to understand that productions would move to the cheapest film location.

House of Cards itself was filmed in Baltimore instead of Washington DC to take advantage of tax breaks in Maryland.

He said: “The offices, hotels, the townhouse, it’s all filmed in Baltimore but it looks like DC.

“What we bring to the state of Maryland in terms of jobs and the economy is pretty extraordinary - we employ thousands of people.”

He also spoke of his fondness for Scotland, and that while he has visited the Festival on at least four occasions with his Old Vic theatre company, he has yet to be offered a role in a production north of the Border.

He said: “If there is a project that was shooting up here I’d love to come. I wish I didn’t have to go back [home] so soon. I’d love to stay and see a few things here at the Fringe.”

Mr Spacey received a standing ovation from television executives and delegates at McEwen Hall on Thursday following his delivery of the MacTaggart lecture on the state of the industry.

He spoke about the rise of television and the migration of top actors, writers and directors from the film industry to work on popular programmes including Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.

Mr Spacey also spoke of new methods of viewing such as Netflix, which funded House of Cards and several other web exclusive series, bypassing television networks.

He said that the innovative form of distribution was proof that the TV industry could learn “the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn”.

“Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it”, he said.

“Well, some will still steal it, but I believe this new model can take a bite out of piracy.”

Film productions in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK are offered a tax credit of 20 per cent on filming costs if expenditure is below £20m. This raises 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.

Fiona Hyslop, Scotland’s Culture Secretary, claimed last month that an independent Scotland would offer more incentives to attract film crews.