Robin MacPherson: Edinburgh reels in filmmakers

Cloud Atlas films at City Chambers
Cloud Atlas films at City Chambers
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With Colin Firth the latest A-lister to visit, Robin MacPherson looks at what makes Edinburgh such a draw for filmmakers

MOVIES like The Monster Butler and One Day filming in the Capital have led to suggestions that the city is experiencing a mini boom as a location for the film industry.

Gosford Hall, where the Mad Butler will be shot

Gosford Hall, where the Mad Butler will be shot

Edinburgh has been popular as a movie location since Alfred Hitchcock shot the Forth Bridge scenes for the first adaptation of The 39 Steps in 1935.

One of Edinburgh’s most enduring attractions to visiting film and television makers is the wealth of stories to be found here. From the murky depths of Burke and Hare (most recently reincarnated by director John Landis), and the perennial Greyfriars Bobby to Pat Barker’s Regeneration and Ian Rankin’s Rebus, there is no shortage of dramatic possibility. From the upmarket young ladies of Marcia Blane’s academy in The Prime of Jean Miss Brodie to the grim Leith street life depicted in Trainspotting, the city has been portrayed in all its diversity.

But it’s not only the tales from the city that make audiences flock and filmmakers smile, Edinburgh’s gaunt streets and historic landmarks also shine on screen. Sylvian Chomet’s animation The Illusionist provided a perfectly crafted picture of 1950s Edinburgh, its weather, its chip shops and even its traffic instantly recognisable. Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave oozed Edinburgh, with shots tearing along cobbled streets and in to New Town circuses (even if much of it was shot in a Glasgow studio). Meanwhile, the city’s sparkling skyline takes a leading role in Hallam Foe as we watch Jamie Bell scramble across its rainy Victorian rooftops.

Edinburgh is a city of creativity, not only the home of the largest arts festival in the world but globally renowned for its writers, poets and storytellers too. With a literary culture that has distinguished and enlightened its past, Edinburgh has earned its title as the world’s first Unesco City of Literature. And that heritage is attractive.

James McAvoy films Filth in the Grassmarket

James McAvoy films Filth in the Grassmarket

Much of the appeal of Edinburgh too, is its internationally recognised “film friendliness”, largely due to the sterling efforts of Edinburgh Film Focus, the city’s screen commission and film office. Its staff are constantly researching new sites to add to their growing database of locations, making sure filmmakers see everything the city has to offer, not just the Castle and iconic Georgian streets. When production companies choose to shoot here, Edinburgh Film Focus ensures they’re given all the assistance they need to get the shots they want. Working hand in hand with the city council it strives to ensure both filmmakers and local residents are kept happy, as streets are shut off, night shoots organised and modern buildings disguised for period effect.

Incoming productions bring considerable direct and indirect benefits to the city. There’s the massive spend on location fees, hotels, catering and technical facilities. In 2008, the amount of money brought into Edinburgh by filming TV dramas, commercials and feature films was £3,065,307.

Then there are the advantages for local crew and extras, who gain much-needed employment which tops up the variable levels of Scottish drama production. At the same time the increased visibility of the city on the world’s screens helps to attract tourists, fascinated by Edinburgh’s history and reeled in by its mix of macabre and enlightening tales.

Films set here also remind international producers there’s a full spectrum of locations on offer, with a breadth of settings ranging from Old Town closes to 1960s high-rises.

Even the city’s student filmmakers, such as at Screen Academy Scotland, benefit from visiting productions. Film sets bring with them unique placement opportunities, giving a relatively rare opportunity to the next generation of Edinburgh’s moviemakers to get experience working on a big-budget, international shoot close up.

So when the movies come to town its good news all round.

• Professor Robin MacPherson is the director of Screen Academy Scotland and the Institute for Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University

Shining on the silver screen

Hollywood A-listers Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth have grabbed the headlines as they swept into town for the filming of The Railway Man.

The Oscar winners will be filming around Edinburgh and the Lothians in the movie telling the story of Edinburgh-born Second World War prisoner of war Eric Lomax.

Last September, the City Chambers became a Hollywood film set as it played host to the filming of Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. Films like Ken Loach’s The Angel’s Share and Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson, were also shot here last year.

More than £30 million has been spent by film and TV companies using Edinburgh in the last decade.