Scotland needs to step up studio game to capitalise on film and TV boom – Brian Ferguson

After more than a year reporting that Scotland was undergoing something of a film and TV boom, it’s been intriguing to finally see some of the evidence before my eyes.
Outlander has been made at Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld since 2013.Outlander has been made at Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld since 2013.
Outlander has been made at Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld since 2013.

I’ve spent the last few weeks immersed in the worlds of three different drama series filmed in Scotland during the pandemic – and somehow found the time for three Netflix movies made on these shores over the last year or so.

The contrast could not have been sharper.

Perhaps inevitably, the dramas were all crime series with an alarming combined body count.

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But Irvine Welsh’s TV debut Crime, the return of Neil Forsyth’s pitch black comedy Guilt, and Annika, the screen adaptation of the Radio 4 detective drama, were as good as any other British TV I’ve seen over the last 18 months.

Although some actors inevitably appear in more than one show – and you in some cases all three – they were a timely reminder of the on and off-screen talent available in Scotland.

The three new Scottish films to drop on Netflix in recent weeks – Falling For Figaro, A Castle For Christmas, and The Princess Switch – were as sugary as a tray of tablet and harmless fun as long as you don’t take your film viewing too seriously.

But the appearance of stars like Joanna Lumley, Danielle Macdonald, Brooke Shields, Cary Elwes and Vanessa Hudgens has guaranteed that Scottish locations are firmly in the shop window in the run-up to Christmas.

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It is remarkable enough that all these productions were able to film during the pandemic, some during the tightest periods of lockdown, thanks to strict protocols to help the UK-wide industry reboot last summer.

What is perhaps even more remarkable is that none of them have been making use of Scotland’s state-of-the-art studio complexes, which have generated so much interest in the industry north of the border in recent months.

News is still eagerly awaited on broadcast dates for the first two drama series to be filmed in the studios in Leith and Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall, but the details that have been released are tantalising enough.

The former, a vast wave turbine factory, was transformed into a North Sea oil rig for Amazon’s supernatural thriller The Rig, while the iconic Glasgow venue became home to a three-storey prison for Channel 4 series Screw.

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Then there is Outlander, the show that arguably sparked Scotland’s film and TV revival in recent years, which will premiere the season made under Covid restrictions in March and also film a seventh series next year at the Cumbernald studio complex which has just been snapped up by an American film consortium.

But with new Batman and Indiana Jones movies filmed in Glasgow also due next year, perhaps the biggest game-changer is still to come.

Behind closed doors in the FirstStage Studios in Leith and at the Pyramids Business Park in Bathgate, writer Neil Gaiman and director Douglas Mackinnon are working on two big new Amazon shows, Good Omens and Anansi Boys.

The flipside of securing these long-form productions for Scotland is that the country is now short of available studio space again for the largest-scale productions.

The race is on to find new new bases for filming if Scotland is to avoid losing out on new opportunities which come knocking.

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