£40m national film studio plan for Edinburgh

An artist's impression of the studio. Picture: comp
An artist's impression of the studio. Picture: comp
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BLOCKBUSTER movies are set to bring a touch of Hollywood glamour to a field on the outskirts of the Capital after it was earmarked as Scotland’s answer to Tinseltown.

A world-class film studio costing £40 million at Straiton could see the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie produce new projects in Midlothian.

Rivalling top UK studios such as Pinewood in London – where James Bond is captured on camera – the plans would see Edinburgh and the Lothians regularly showcased to audiences around the world.

Plans unveiled today for the Pentland Studios project come after the Scottish Government signalled earlier this year that it wanted to build a major home for movie production.

Developed by a key figure from Ealing Studios – the home of a host of well-known films and television programmes – a blueprint has already been submitted to planning chiefs at Midlothian Council ahead of a scheduled opening date of 2017.

Jeremy Pelzer, a former studio director at Ealing, was also managing director of Elstree Studios – where EastEnders is made. His partner, Donald Wilson, has held senior positions at Murray International Holdings and Premier Hytemp.

Another boss at Pentland Studios said the Straiton site offered an “unbeatable combination of scale, facilities and deliverability”.

Should their plans get the go-ahead, film royalty could descend on the Capital on a more regular basis, as the studios would be capable of producing the biggest movies.

That means the likes of Anne Hathaway, who filmed One Day in Edinburgh, and Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, who made the Railway Man mainly in East Lothian, could become frequent visitors.

The 29-acre development would be almost twice as big as Pinewood and with hotel, leisure and retail facilities also included in the plans, experts believe Straiton would become an unlikely hot-spot for A-list celebrity sightings.

An insider said the studio would be predominantly privately funded, although it will be boosted by millions from the public purse.

James Hickey, a former director of the Edinburgh Film Festival who worked on the 2005 Scottish movie Frozen, believes the studio would have the necessary pulling power to prove successful, but warned it faced stiff competition for the leading lights of cinema.

He said: “It’s great news, but Straiton will face great competition because most of the existing film industry is located in Glasgow.”

He said the studio should also aim to capitalise on the growing success of large-scale television series, such as Game of Thrones, which is filmed in Northern Ireland.

Outlander, a series based on books by Diana Gabaldon, recently filmed scenes across Scotland, proving that the country is an attractive option for producers and directors.

Mr Hickey said: “A Scottish film studio was being talked about years ago, with the aim to attract big American feature films, but the landscape has changed. Big television series are now the gold you need to attract – look at the likes of Game of Thrones, which will make 13 episodes a series for several series.”

The Scottish Government opened the door to applications to build a major film and TV studio earlier this year.

Recent hits filmed in the country, such as World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, and Cloud Atlas, have shown that Scotland is an attractive destination for international moviemakers – with ministers keen to keep the door open to Hollywood’s brightest and best.

And studio developers said they wanted to reach new heights in the offering available to filmmakers looking to invest in the UK. The biggest set would be 30,000sq ft and 70ft high, allowing even the most challenging of productions to be filmed on the Straiton site.

Gordon Ash, a director of Pentland Studios Ltd, said: “Our vision is to create the most modern film studio in the UK, with the scale and facilities to attract film-makers from all over the world.

“Scotland has already shown in recent years, with productions such as World War Z, Cloud Atlas and Outlander, that it has the scenery and locations to compete on a global level. What we are missing, however, are the really large-scale studio, filming and production facilities which would complement our locations and enable Scotland to harness much of the high-level investment which currently goes elsewhere.

“Our team comprises a range of film industry, property and finance experts with many years of international experience and we are very confident the location at Straiton offers an unbeatable combination of scale, facilities and deliverability.”

Creative Scotland has ringfenced £1m towards the cost of the studio, while the Scottish Government has pledged to offer a £2m loan to develop the facilities. If Midlothian Council approves the plans, Pentland would be the UK’s first purpose-built film studio, with developers hailing it as the ideal venue to harness the skills of graduates from across Scotland, such as those from Screen Academy Scotland – a partnership between Edinburgh Napier University and Edinburgh College of Art.

Ailsa Carlisle, a Midlothian community councillor, said: “The last time we had a film star here, Tom Hanks was coming to make the Da Vinci Code at Roslyn Chapel. But he kept the darkened windows of his limousine rolled up and none of the fans lining the road saw him!”

Caledonia dreaming

SCOTLAND has proved an attractive destination for big-name Hollywood stars in recent times.

Brad Pitt was in Glasgow to film zombie thriller World War Z, pictured below, in 2011 when the city was transformed to look like the streets of Philadelphia. While far from Pitt’s biggest hit, it took more than £320 million at the box office globally.

Edinburgh has had a fair few recent successes of its own. The movie adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s hit novel Filth had James McAvoy portray misogynistic detective Bruce Robertson.

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess helped portray the Capital’s beauty when One Day hit the big screen in 2011, while Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Tom Hanks have all made recent working trips to the Lothians.