Outlander boss pleads with Holyrood for Scots film studio

ONE of the key figures involved in making the smash-hit TV series Outlander has pleaded with the Scottish Government to give the green light to the country's first major film studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh - describing it as a 'no-brainer.'
Scots actor Sam Heughan and co-star Caitriona Balfe on the set of Outlander in Dysart in Fife. Picture: Steve BrownScots actor Sam Heughan and co-star Caitriona Balfe on the set of Outlander in Dysart in Fife. Picture: Steve Brown
Scots actor Sam Heughan and co-star Caitriona Balfe on the set of Outlander in Dysart in Fife. Picture: Steve Brown

Michael Wilson, who has spent almost three years as production manager on the time-travel fantasy, says the industry north of the border is being forced to “survive on scraps.”

He has warned of a growing talent drain from Scotland because of the lack of a permanent studio, saying some of his former colleagues had been forced to leave the industry completely due to a lack of work in what he described as a “cottage industry.”

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And he said the creation of a permanent studio would help attract more productions on the scale of Outlander, which has been credited with boosting the value of film and television productions in Scotland to a record £45 million. Mr Wilson, who has also worked on Rebus, Taggart and Monarch of the Glen, has written to the Scottish Government ahead of an appeal over the £150 million project earmarked for green belt land at Straiton, in Midlothian.

Mr Wilson said: “I have spent 15 years working variously in Scotland and around the UK. Scotland has had a cottage film and television industry to date.

“Without a proper facility for the making of mid-high end TV drama and films we’ve had to survive on scraps. I’ve seen many good colleagues move south to pursue work or leave the industry entirely. I’m currently working for Outlander. We’ve built a facility and for the first time I’m able to sustain solid work, for decent wages, at home. This job has changed the professional landscape for me and my co-workers. But it’s not enough.

“Half of the technicians in Scotland are still surviving on scraps. If you aren’t on Outlander you’re still scraping around for the next low budget feature or poorly-recompensed BBC Scotland drama. There’s proof from our neighbours in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Scandinavian countries and even the Isle of Man that multiple film studios can survive and thrive in smaller countries than ours.

“With another studio we can attract more work of the scale of Outlander. We have the abilities, we now need the facilities. The Pentland Studios development seems like a no-brainer.”

Promised facilities at the Pentland Studios complex - which is earmarked for an 86-acre swathe of land, close to the Straiton Retail Park - include six “sound stages” up to 70 ft tall for indoor filming and two backlots suitable for blockbusters.

However it is opposed by Midlothian Council amid concerns that it would caused unacceptable disruption to local residents and blight the local landscape and threaten the expansion of other developments.

Mr Wilson has told the government: “Investing in film means inward investment, jobs, money pumped into the country and it also pays off ten-fold in boosting tourism. With the Pentland Studios project we’re not even asking for your money, just your support for private investors to do the rest. I urge you to please get on board and lend your support.”

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A spokeswoman for national arts agency Creative Scotland, which provided £170,000 in funding to help attract Outlander to Scotland, said: “We have conveyed our support for the Pentland Studios proposal to the Scottish Government, and publicly, and would be very pleased to see this facility realised.

“Having met with the developers, we understand that their proposal remains private sector led and they are not seeking any public sector investment.

“We have expressed our continued support to PSL as they develop the studio element of their mixed-use facility and are happy to meet with them at any time to discuss progress.”