Lindsay Dougall: Scotland could be on course for screen stardom

Scotland’s profile as a prime location for film and TV productions is on the rise, bringing benefits to multiple areas, including our legal sector.

Scotland’s profile as a prime location for film and TV productions is on the rise, bringing benefits to multiple areas, including our legal sector.

The TV series Outlander, a fantasy tale set in the times of Jacobite rebellion, has attracted a global following and has bolstered tourism in Scotland. Filming in a number of iconic Scottish locations since 2013, this production has required bespoke leases or licenses to accommodate its needs.

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Other recent productions include the Mary Queen of Scots, Netflix film Outlaw King, charting the rise of Robert the Bruce, and BBC series The Cry which featured Glasgow as one of its settings. The city is also one of the locations for the new Fast and Furious movie currently in production.

With scripts and set requirements often changing at the last minute and the extensive overheads of the cast, crew and equipment, flexibility in legal documentation and speed are key in ensuring location agreements support tight production schedules.

A record £95 million was spent by the TV and film industry in Scotland in 2017, according to Creative Scotland. While this was a significant increase of £26 million from the previous year’s figures, it is only a tiny portion of the £7.7 billion which, according to the Office for National Statistics, was spent on film and TV productions throughout the whole UK in 2016.

With big budget productions such as Game of Thrones and Star Wars opting to go for other locations after considering Scotland, how can we ensure we are better positioned to capture a larger portion of the expanding UK marketplace? The Scottish Government is investing more than ever before to grow the industry in all areas, from production and talent to infrastructure and audience opportunities. Screen Scotland has been tasked to focus on projects that will attract more Scottish-based production including investment in infrastructure and broadcast content.

The private sector, including lawyers, also has a role to play in developing a service offering that will further support the industry. Advisers need to build an understanding of the unique challenges that face production companies when choosing where to film such as tax, employment, confidentiality and intellectual property issues. Other support sectors including hair and make-up, catering, wardrobe and set design and build need to likewise ensure they are making the most of the opportunities available and demonstrate a world-class service.

There are many barriers to overcome to develop a successful film and TV industry including managing the piecemeal nature of individual production projects where a small change in tax policy can suddenly make another jurisdiction more appealing. All levels of government in Scotland must therefore work together to ensure they implement and maintain supportive policies. In an industry where sets often need to be identified and built within a matter of days, local authorities need to make sure they minimise red tape and maximise flexibility if the industry is to thrive.

While Scotland’s varied and scenic landscapes, its rich history and iconic town and cities are all a draw, so too is a skilled workforce within the 
technology and creative sectors which media production companies heavily rely on. Policy-makers must consider how they can continue to support and further develop these areas.

The creation of high calibre film and TV studio facilities has the potential to be a real game-changer for the industry in Scotland. Screen Scotland has recently identified an industrial building in the Port of Leith as the home of a major studio. It is hoped the 160,000 sq ft space, which could include up to five sound stages, workshops, production areas and an extensive backlot, will be opened by the end of 2019.

Earlier this month, PSL Land announced plans for a new studio at Saltersgate in Dalkeith. The planning application for the new site, currently owned by one of Scotland’s largest private landowners the Duke of Buccleuch, was submitted on 9 January.

These projects along with Channel 4 setting up a new creative hub in Glasgow, could deliver significant film and TV investment and jobs to Scotland. When you consider the six-week shoot for the Avengers Infinity War reportedly generated over £10 million for Edinburgh’s economy, the potential return of such investment is clear.

With film and TV productions on the rise in Scotland, we can see greater potential to build an economically significant industry. While recent developments have been encouraging, it will require on-going support from both the public and private sector for Scotland to secure top billing.

Lindsay Dougall is an associate at CMS