Leith film studio can be catalyst for new hub of creativity and culture – Brian Ferguson

More than five years after it was deployed for one of the word’s biggest blockbuster movies, it was something of thrill to get a guided tour of the “Big Blue Shed” on Edinburgh’s waterfront.

The Habour 31 development is expected to take shape around the FirstStage Studios complex in Leith.
The Habour 31 development is expected to take shape around the FirstStage Studios complex in Leith.

Back in 2017, the £10 million spin-off from six weeks of filming on Avengers: Infinity War was something of a one-off for the city. The lack of any large-scale studio facilities meant Edinburgh had to do settle for outdoor location filming to sustain its industry.

But being able to lure the Marvel franchise to the city thanks to the availability of a vast warehouse less than two miles from key locations in the Old Town was the game-changer the city had long been waiting for. It took another three years for significant progress to be made, but an announcement by the Scottish Government and its agency Screen Scotland of a full-time operator of the studio and £1 million worth of investment was the signal for the city to finally realise its potential as a serious hub for film and TV production.

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Incredibly, it is nearly two years since the first production was secured by FirstStage Studios, the venture established by film producer Bob Last and actor-director Jason Connery in the fomer Pelamis wave power plant. But the wait to see the first fruits of their partnership is almost over with Martin Compston, Emily Hampshire, Iain Glen, Mark Bonnar and other stars of The Rig due to head down the red carpet in Edinburgh next month for the premiere of David Macpherson’s supernatural thriller, which saw the various sound stages of the Leith site turned into different sets on a North Sea oil rig for the Amazon series.

Industrial sites around the FirstStage Studios complex in Leith are planned to be transformed into a new creative industries quarter.
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Locations around the world were created across the studio spaces for Anansi Boys, which Amazon started work on in Leith almost as soon as filming for The Rig finished. Since the Neil Gaiman adaptation wrapped in the summer, Last and Connery have been overseeing a third phase of work on the building to ensure it can provide the highest possible quality of facility for the demands of modern-day productions, including lighting, soundproofed roofing and doors, and workshops.

The latter has already been deployed for other film and TV productions shooting elsewhere in the city, while its huge car park has also become established as a new unit base for crews. But what really impressed on my visit was the emerging vision for the development of the wider docklands area and ambitions by Last and Connery to ensure it is linked to their studio.

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A new partnership with dock operator Forth Ports and investor Tartan Commercial will help transform several industrial sites around the studio to make them suitable for the creative and cultural sectors. Old dock sheds, a pump house and former shipping containers are planned to be turned into new warehouse facilities, workspaces for businesses of all sizes, commercial units and offices on the doorstep of the studio.

A public square, waterside boardwalk, cafes, bars and restaurants are also envisaged as part of the Harbour 31 neighbourhood. But, more importantly, the port could soon become home to one of Scotland’s most significant quarters for culture and creativity. And after decades of stop-start developments, the project could finally help realise the potential of at least part of Edinburgh's waterfront.

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Two major Amazon productions, The Rig and Anansi Boys, have already used the FirstStage Studios complex in Leith Docks. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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