Edinburgh's film studio saga is finally set to be turned into a screen dream

It has been lobbied for and debated about for at least 85 years.

Now the cameras are finally set to start rolling as the long saga over a film studio in Edinburgh is brought to an end – and a new screen era for the city gets underway.

A former wave power plant in Leith Docks has been transformed for the start of filming on the first major production to be secured by First Stage Studios.

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And all the signs are that the long-awaited facility is about to get off to a flyer.

It is just over a year, shortly before the country went into lockdown, since film and TV producer Bob Last and Jason Connery, the actor and director whose father Sean became the city’s biggest ever film star, secured a £1 million funding deal with the Scottish Government and its screen agency to take over the former Pelamis complex.

The building had already been used during the filming of the blockbuster movie Avengers: Infinity War in Edinburgh four years ago.

But last year’s announcement was hailed as a game-changer for Scotland’s screen sector as a major anchor for film and TV productions.

After decades of the country being used for location filming, it would finally be able to offer a proper base for the first time.

The new First Stage Studios complex has been created at the former Pelamis wave power plant in Leith Docks. Picture: Liam Anderstrem

Any doubts that the Covid-19 pandemic had derailed the project were dramatically dispelled in November when it emerged that industry giants Amazon Prime had committed to make a new six-part drama series there.

The first details of the story Edinburgh-based writer David Macpherson to emerge were tantalising to say the least. The Rig is billed as a supernatural thriller about a group of North Sea workers who find themselves cut off from the outside world when a mysterious fog descends off the Scottish coastline.

Expectations about the new show have only soared further in recent weeks as details of the cast have emerged – with Shitt’s Creek star Emily Hampshire, who played Stevie in the hit comedy, joining a roll call of Scottish screen talent, including Martin Compston, Iain Glen, Mark Bonnar and Emun Elliott.

Macpherson said: "Being able to film my first show here in Edinburgh is a dream come true.

Emily Hampshire has been cast in The Rig. Picture: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

“Scotland has the storytellers, the talent, the skills and the locations required to make ambitious, world-class film and TV, and this new studio can provide an excellent base for both homegrown and international productions.

"A show on the scale of The Rig could only be made with a facility like this and the team at First Stage have done an excellent job getting the space ready on schedule and working with the production team so we can tell the best story on the biggest canvas."

The opening of First Stage Studios is the biggest boost yet for efforts to attracts films and TV shows to Edinburgh and the Lothians.

The value of bringing productions to the city has been as much as £16 million in recent years – without being able to offer a full-time facility.

First Stage Studios will be hosting its first major production when The Rig starts filming next month.

Rosie Ellison, manager of the Film Edinburgh commission, said: “The studio will help us attract high-end TV and feature film productions not only to shoot on location here but to create a base in Edinburgh for the duration of the production.

“This means that rather than coming to Edinburgh for just a few days or weeks, a film or TV show can be in the city for months or even years, hiring local services and production crew, booking accommodation and using local hospitality.

"It creates opportunities for production support services to set up in proximity to the studio on the basis that their services will be needed by the studio, but also this also benefits the other productions that continue to shoot in the area such as the very buoyant commercials sector and independent drama production.

"And it creates more opportunities for our locations and landscapes to be featured in internationally recognised films & TV shows with the knock-on tourism benefits that these can have.”

Ellison is hopeful that the studio facility could dramatically boost the number of people making a living in Edinburgh from involvement in the film and TV sector.

She added: “Prior to the studio opening its doors, Edinburgh was home to 500 production crew and service providers who sometimes work in the city but often travel for work.

“The studio provides opportunities for many of these to work closer to home, making for a better work-life balance, but also creates opportunities for new talent coming out of Edinburgh’s colleges and universities, and helps us attract established talent.

“We’ve had wonderful feedback from crew who have stayed in the city while filming here and would love to move here on a more permanent basis.”

Filming is getting underway on The Rig as Scotland is experiencing growing demand to be used as a base for productions. A second series of crime thriller Guilt and a new marine detective drama Annika have been filming over recent months, under strict Covid-safety industry guidelines.

Cameras are due to start rolling soon on a new series of Shetland and a new Channel 4 prison drama Screw, which will be filmed in Glasgow, while the city council and government agency Screen Scotland have joined forces to create a new studio facility at the Kelvin Hall.

Isabel Davis, executive director Screen Scotland, said: “Our role, in partnership with industry, is to support the further growth of infrastructure and crew, the development of locally originated film and TV content and to attract internationally financed production to Scotland.

"Through this work we will continue to make an ever larger contribution to our economy through the creation of jobs, use of facilities and businesses and enabling sustainable, rewarding careers for our talented local industry."

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