Scottish film industry ‘left to wither’ and lags behind neighbours, Holyrood finds

Institutional neglect, lack of facilities and a talent drain have led to a situation where ‘it’s that bad, even films with a Scottish story can’t come here’

It’s a country with plenty to offer a film production: breathtaking scenery, versatile urban locations and a wealth of technical and creative talent.

But while Scotland has lately enjoyed an extraordinary flourishing across culture – most notably in theatre and the visual arts – Scottish film has, according to one leading producer, been “left to wither”.

A Scottish government inquiry, expected to report within a fortnight, has heard senior industry figures describe institutional neglect, disillusionment and deep frustration as local competitors in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales enjoy a big- and small-screen “gold rush”.

The inquiry was convened after a damning review by arts agency Creative Scotland found Scotland was trailing behind European rivals, blaming lack of funding and strategic commitment, a shortage of suitable facilities and a talent drain.

Arabella Page Croft, co-founder of Glasgow-based Black Camel Pictures, which produced the Bafta-nominated Sunshine on Leith, described a dispiriting experience at last week’s Berlin International Film Festival. “In spite of my best and most passionate endeavours, I watched as a major European co-production opportunity walked out the door from Scotland to Ireland – and this is with the script actually set in Scotland. It’s that bad even films with a Scottish story can’t come here.”

Page Croft said her company simply could not compete with Irish funding incentives. “We are the last partners at the dance – and even films that actually want to come here won’t because there’s nothing for them.”

Giving evidence at the Holyrood committee, she revealed how Scotland lost out on the production of the multi-million-pound zombie blockbuster Generation Z to Wales, after the failure of a bid for funding from Creative Scotland – despite it having a Scottish director and starring Scottish actor Dougray Scott. “If the national arts agency is failing to support their most energetic producers, then I’m gravely concerned about our future sustainability,” warned Page Croft.

Equity Scotland’s Drew McFarlane described the effect on the Northern Irish industry of the creation of a film studio in Belfast, which opened in 2005 and was used as the main studio for Game of Thrones – a production that originally considered filming in Scotland.


“After years of neglect, it has now overtaken Scotland in such a way that Game of Thrones went there because they had the infrastructure. Northern Ireland Screen has been an aggressive lead body in getting film companies to use not just the backdrop of the country but the infrastructure.”

McFarlane complained of “huge inertia” from parliament and lead bodies in Scotland. “There’s been a complacency that, because of the beautiful landscape, production companies themselves will take the initiative to build the facilities they need.”

“It’s all very well saying ‘we’ve got bonny Scotland’,” he added, but film production faced a very practical handicap – Scottish rain. “The industry is crying out for a studio where production can happen in bad weather. It’s the missing piece of the jigsaw.”

Gillian Berrie, co-founder of Glasgow’s Sigma Films, who has worked on Lars von Trier’s Dogville and Red Road, directed by Andrea Arnold, and most recently won acclaim with the independent prison drama Starred Up, said: “A studio is part of the solution, but it has to be supported by infrastructure. We need a studio and a strategy.”

There are fewer than five film companies in Scotland regularly producing feature-length work at international level, said Berrie and – more worrying still – no next generation to continue their efforts: “They’ve all gone to London or abroad because they’ve seen how long we’ve struggled and how broke we are.”

In its film strategy published last October, Creative Scotland committed to a permanent studio facility to compete with the likes of Belfast and Cardiff, where The Fall and Doctor Who are filmed. Two new funds were announced by the Scottish government this month, one providing loans and another aimed at skills development. Natalie Usher, director of film and media at Creative Scotland, hopes that a recommendation for an inward investment fund, the likes of which has been so fruitful in Northern Ireland and Wales, will come out of the recent Holyrood hearings.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has suggested that a deal on the much-delayed studio project was imminent, with the Cumbernauld location used to film the US series Outlander being the most likely candidate.

For Berrie, who lobbied for the studio to be built in the more central location of Glasgow, it cannot come too soon. “There could be a change overnight by providing an incentive fund and putting a studio in an attractive place. We need something really transformative. Every week I say goodbye to people.”

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