Arts bosses close to submitting plan for new Scottish film studio

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, right, and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser, centre, in a scene from TV series Outlander. Picture: AP Photo/Sony Pictures Television, Ed Miller
Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, right, and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser, centre, in a scene from TV series Outlander. Picture: AP Photo/Sony Pictures Television, Ed Miller
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Arts bosses have said they are “very close” to putting forward a business case to ministers for a new film studio in Scotland.

Iain Munro, deputy chief executive of Creative Scotland, said getting a new studio was a top priority as it could be key in transforming the country’s film industry.

The base would be separate from Wardpark Studio in Cumbernauld, where the TV series Outlander is filmed, and the proposed Pentland Studios in Straiton near Edinburgh, which were granted planning permission last year.

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Mr Munro said: “I can’t say any more about it because clearly there are business sensitivities and commercial considerations there, but we are very close to making that case to get agreement to move forward.”

He revealed the possible new development to MSPs on Holyrood’s Culture Committee, who came under fire for publishing a critical report on efforts to boost the screen sector at a potentially “disruptive” time.

In an interim report a few weeks ago, the culture committee said there was “no guarantee” that Scottish Government-backed plans to establish a screen unit within the existing arts body Creative Scotland would deliver the transformation required.

Instead they demanded a separate new agency be set up to boost film and TV production work in Scotland, saying this could help the country benefit from the billions of pounds being spent by companies such as Amazon and Netflix.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop told the MSPs that had been made public “right in the middle” of the recruitment process for the screen unit.

She said: “I don’t think it was the intention of the committee, but my genuine concern is that there shouldn’t be any disruption or delay or derailing. Because your report appeared right in the middle of our recruitment process, I think that is of some concern.”

She stressed it was “really important everybody gets behind the screen unit and its activity” as Mr Munro told the committee Creative Scotland was committed to putting the new unit in place.

He said: “It is a five-year plan. We want to see that step change too and we’re putting in place the mechanism to ensure we’re able to deliver on that. That’s what people can judge us on.

“We’re two months into that five-year plan. I appreciate people are impatient, but we’re very committed to making sure this happens to the best effect.”

SNP MSP Richard Lochhead said: “We feel the film and screen sector is at a major crossroads at the moment.

“There are literally billions of pounds being budgeted by companies across the world to spend on film and screen and we want Scotland to have a bigger slice of that. We’ve not been doing that over the last few years compared to other countries.”

Creative Scotland board member Barclay Price argued disrupting the existing plans could “set things back quite dramatically”.

He added: “I think Creative Scotland will and should be judged on whether it delivers and it seems to me if after three, four, five years this committee and the film sector believe that Creative Scotland hasn’t delivered the ambition, that would be the time to consider a different arrangement.

“I think a different arrangement at this time would actually be quite disruptive.”

Committee convener Joan McAlpine told him: “We don’t have three to five years to wait and see what happens.

“Our interim report, based on the evidence we received, is Scotland has an incredible opportunity at this point in time to benefit from the amount of content that is being commissioned across the world and if we don’t get it right now we will miss the boat.

“Can you understand that when you say ‘wait five years and if it’s not worked, it’s not worked’, that will send real chills through the sector, people will be very concerned to hear you say that.”