Time to end dithering on Scottish Film Studio – Robert Brown

Update: sign the petition here

The failure to establish a national film studio in Scotland is fast becoming a national scandal. It is high time for Scottish Ministers to stop dithering and take action. My preference would be for the location to be in Glasgow or Lanarkshire where there are a range of possible sites — close to the television hub at Pacific Quay, no less than 4 major Universities, gritty urban locations and stunning mountain, loch, seaside and rural locations nearby.

Such a facility would provide an attraction both for major film producers looking for a suitable location, and for local talent. It must be a prime objective in Scotland to establish a film studio here but, importantly, to do so in a way which will attract quality users, both domestic and from abroad.

Dr David Archibald, Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at Glasgow University, told the Scottish Parliament in November 2014 that the lack of studio facilities was

a negative factor in attracting international companies to Scotland, but it also leads to Scottish/UK companies working elsewhere. Notably, the makers of Sunset Song utilised studio facilities in Luxembourg. It would be a mistake to view the creation of a studio as a panacea, but without appropriate studio facilities it is difficult to see how the filmmaking industry in Scotland can match the achievements of countries with fully-equipped facilities.

It is clear that there are many talented filmmakers in Scotland, many of whom struggle to learn and develop, to progress to sustainability in a notoriously difficult industry. Indeed, most promising filmmakers move south for the opportunities afforded in London. There seems to be unanimity and indeed growing anger about the missed opportunity in terms of the missing studio.

Film Edinburgh told a Scottish Parliament Committee that the loss of revenue from not having a film studio and relying instead on providing a location service meant that “major productions simply cannot choose Scotland as a place to shoot for any more than a few days of essential location filming” and that, out of the value of the film industry to the UK of £1 billion, location filming in Scotland provides only £30 million.

As Dr Archibald noted,

there exists a disconnect between the talent base and the opportunities on offer.

The UK Government has been supportive both of the British Film Institute and in offering tax breaks for the production of film, high-end television programmes, animation and video games. The Government rightly want to make the United Kingdom the technology hub of Europe.

The UK creative industries generated a record £76.9 billion of gross added value in 2013 and have grown faster than any other UK industry – contributing £17.3 billion to exports, supporting a million local jobs and with over 12,000 registered enterprises operating in the sector.

But it is up to the Scottish Government, local authorities and the film industry to take advantage of  the opportunities this offers. There are all sorts of explanations for the failure to establish a Scottish film studio, but the fact remains that both Wales and Northern Ireland are streets ahead of Scotland in this respect. Game of Thrones in particular has been described as a pillar of the Northern Ireland economy, while Doctor Who is now based in Wales.

As it happens, Wales has two studios with six stages, and Northern Ireland also has two major studios with six stages and with plans for more studios in development. Scotland has none. The infrastructure to support such productions as Game of Thrones and Doctor Who is sadly lacking. Indeed, it took an American company (Starz) to take a risk when setting up their own studio lot in Cumbernauld for any large production to come to Scotland at all. (Long story short: they succeeded despite the government, not because of them.)

The long saga of the Scottish Film Studio failure by the SNP Government seems no nearer to resolution today despite the setting up nearly three years ago of the so-called “Scottish Film Studio Delivery Group” by Fiona Hyslop, the SNP’s Culture Minister.

There are obstacles in the form of the European Union State Aid rules but it beggars belief that there are not publicly owned facilities which could be converted or private sector funding and organisation that could not be accessed.

Suggestions in the media for a site have included East Kilbride, Cumbernauld, Midlothian, Edinburgh, Dundee – and Glasgow, described as the “heart and soul of Scotland’s film and television industry”. The then Leader of Glasgow City Council, Gordon Matheson, in a frustrated letter to the Minister last February, noted that:

Glasgow regularly attracts more than half of all the film and television activity in Scotland, has successfully attracted and hosted Hollywood blockbusters, lower budget independent films, and national television shows, while the council's Film Office has attracted over £80 million of production in the past four years.

In June 2014, the Scottish Government’s infamous White Paper on Independence waxed lyrical about the potential of the Scottish Film Studio project. In February last year, it was reported that a deal to secure a Film Studio was “just weeks away”.

In March 2015, the Economy, Energy & Tourism Committee of the Scottish Parliament warned that a delay on the project could cause “lasting damage” to the industry. At that time, Scottish Enterprise had confirmed they expected to reach a decision by the end of April – on what were understood to be five different options.

In April, I took part in a General Election Hustings with the Minister organised by BECTU, the media and entertainment trade union. Again the Minister indicated that progress was imminent. In September, Janet Archer, Chief Executive of Creative Scotland, indicated her “confidence” that a Scottish Film Studio would become a reality.

In October, a Parliamentary Question revealed, according to the Minister, that “Scottish Enterprise, on behalf of the film studio delivery group, has received a proposal from a private sector developer. That bid is at a critical stage of consideration, but the need for commercial confidentiality means that we are currently unable to provide more detail.”

Last week, Alan Wands, Chairman of the Association of Film and Television Practitioners Scotland – and producer of the Rebus series and the remake of Whisky Galore – branded the lack of a major film studio in Scotland a “national disgrace”. Scotland, he said, was the only country in the UK and Europe that does not have its own film studio.

He went on to claim that Scotland’s television and movie talent is struggling to compete with other nations because it is the only one in Europe without “this basic facility”. He noted that the sector raked in more cash than the oil industry in Scotland.

Even Luxembourg, with a population of 500,000, has a Film Studio of 3,000 square metres with associated international facilities and is now a flourishing source of film production.

It is no doubt not just the fault of the Government – but there are other issues of concern too: the level of potential funding by the Scottish Government is dwarfed by that made available in Wales and Northern Ireland, while the role of Creative Scotland is not without controversy and criticism.

Scottish Ministers are in pole position to lead, co-ordinate and support the Scottish Film Studio. The failure to deliver this to date is simply a disgrace. It is time for the SNP Government to stop dithering and deliver, for the future of the Scottish film industry, for the benefit of the Scottish workforce, and for the future prosperity of our country.


 

Update: Greater Glasgow Liberal Democrats have now launched a campaign on this issue. You can sign the petition at glasgowlibdems.org.uk/filmstudio.