New film studio is finally set to help Edinburgh raise its screen game - Brian Ferguson

As the first anniversary of lockdown restrictions in Scotland rolled around this month it was strange to reflect on how many reasons were were to be optimistic about the cultural landscape across the country.

Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 7:00 am

A huge part of that was down to the fact that venues, event organisers and festivals were finally able to see light at the end of the tunnel and plan ahead with more confidence than they’ve been able to over the previous 12 months.

It is still sinking in that visitor attractions, indoors and outdoors, will be able to reopen within the next month, and live events should be able to return in some form a few weeks later, if everything goes according to plan under the Scottish Government’s route map out of lockdown.

Slowy but surely, the second half of the year is shaping up with daily announcements over festivals and events pressing ahead with plans which looked lost causes a couple of months ago.

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But perhaps the most significant event is happening behind closed doors, on Edinburgh’s waterfront.

Ambitions for the Scottish capital to have its own full-time film studio have been reported in these pages as far back as 1935.

There have been times reporting on the modern era of this saga over the last decade when I thought there was as much prospect of me starring on the big screen than Edinburgh getting a studio off the ground. So it seems like something of a miracle that finally, in the middle of a global pandemic, that the city’s studio dreams have finally been realised.

There have been no shortage of major blockbuster movies to use Edinburgh as a backdrop in recent decades, but the city has had to rely on location filming, sometimes for just a few days.

The new First Stage Studios complex in Leith Docks. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The new First Stage Studios complex in Leith Docks. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

But it was the securing of Avengers: Infinity War four years ago that unlocked the new studio, after Marvel were able to use a warehouse complex in Leith Docks for several weeks while key scenes were shot in the city’s Old Town.

Four years later, filming has begun on a new supernatural thriller set on a North Sea oil rig. Anyone who doubted whether producer Bob Last and director Jason Connery, who clinched a £1 million deal to secure the former Pelamis wave power plant a year ago, would attract major productions has probably eaten their words after some of Scotland’s leading actors, including Iain Glen, Martin Compston, Mark Bonnar and Emun Elliott, were confirmed in its cast.

There is is something symbolic in the fact Compston has been cast in one of the lead roles in The Rig – and not just because the new series of Line of Duty is the must-see programme on TV at the moment. It is well hidden on screen, but Line of Duty has been filmed since its second series in Belfast, the home of Game of Thrones, as well as other hit drama series like The Fall and recent hit Bloodlands.

Given the huge growth in streaming audiences over the last 12 months, it is little wonder there is said to be a queue of other productions waiting to use the same facility once The Rig moves out – and a search on for other empty warehouses that could help Edinburgh finally raise its screen game.

Producer Bob Last and director Jason Connery in the new First Stage Studios complex in Leith. Picture: Stewart Attwood

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