Scotland sets sights on securing £1 billion screen industry from film and TV boom

Scotland’s film and TV sector is set to be worth more than £1 billion to the economy in the near future if its current production boom can be sustained, the Scottish Government has claimed.

Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 6:22 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 10:14 am

Culture secretary Angus Robertson said the target could be reached within the next few years under existing trends for the sector, which has been valued at £567 million in new research.However the long-awaited study, which revealed more than 10,000 jobs are now supported by the sector, is based on activity in 2019 – before the opening of new studios in Leith, Bathgate and Glasgow.

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Mr Robertson said there had been a "profound change” in the industry, which had been suffering from “market failure” a decade ago due to a lack of studio space.

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Martin Compston will be staring in the new Amazon series The Rig, which was made in the new studio facility in Leith.

He insisted more studio facilities were "on the way” to cater for the growing demand to use Scotland as a base for series such as The Rig, Anansi Boys and Good Omens.

The new Indiana Jones adventure, new Batman and Batgirl movies, Aftersun, Silent Roar, The Lost King, The Origin and The Outrun are among feature films to have been shot in Scotland recently, as well as with the Scottish-set dramas Crime, Guilt, Shetland, The Control Room and Vigil.

The value of film and TV productions to the economy is said to have reached £315m by 2019 – three times as much as previous estimates.

Scotland’s film festivals and cinemagoing were said to have been worth £88m, TV broadcasting £51m and screen-related tourism, such as visits to locations by fans of Harry Potter, Outlander and James Bond, valued at £55m.

Michael Sheen and David Tennant have made a new series of Good Omens in Scotland.

Speaking at the FirstStage Studios complex in Leith Docks, where Amazon series The Rig and Anansi Boys were shot over the past 18 months, Mr Robertson said there were now more opportunities to work in film and television in Scotland than ever before.

Mr Robertson said: “We have seen incredible growth of the screen sector in Scotland in recent years.

"With this report we are able to understand that, in effect, we have seen the value of the screen sector magnified by three times.

"If this trend continues, and there is no reason to think that it won’t, then it can easily reach a billion pounds in the years ahead.

Whoopi Goldberg has been filming in the new film studio complex in Leith in the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2005 fantasy novel Anansi Boys.

"We need to make sure that the appropriate training is in place so that people who want to work in the film sector can get the necessary skills, and we need to work hard to have the right facilities for producing companies.

“We need to make sure the tremendous growth in the film and TV sectors continues – the potential is a huge prize and I’m really excited for anybody and everybody who wants to work in the industry because the opportunities are there like never before.”

The Scottish Government faced prolonged criticism over the failure to create any large-scale studio facilities in Scotland before the Sony-Starz series Outlander began production in Cumbernauld in 2013.

Mr Robertson said: "There has been a profound change in Scotland’s screen sector over the last decade.

Saoirse Ronan has been filming the big-screen adaptation of Amy Liptrot's book The Outrun in Scotland. Picture: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

"We’ve gone from being a country which had very little production capacity and studio space to growing exponentially. There's been an end to what was effectively market failure when we literally had no studios.

“They’re proliferating across Scotland, with more to come. Public sector broadcasters like Channel 4 and the BBC are still the cornerstones of commissioning, they’ve been joined by streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, and we have had large-scale Hollywood productions such as Batgirl, which was recently filmed in Glasgow.

"We know there is more demand out there. We’re doing everything we can to help satisfy that demand, identify the studio space that people require, match that up with the funding that is available, and make sure we have the right talent pool in Scotland.

“If the trends continue, I’m absolutely convinced that we can aim for the £1bn figure over the next few years and that’s an achievable goal. It’s one that I would encourage everyone in the film and TV sectors to get behind.”

Isabel Davis, Screen Scotland’s executive director, said: “The baseline figure in the new study gives us the opportunity tell a wider-reaching story about the screen sector and its value to Scotland.

"Up until now, previous studies have only focused on production spent, and high-end film and TV spend hooked around a tax credit. We’ve not had the true value of the sector before and now we know what it was worth in 2019.

David Smith, director of Screen Scotlan, Screen Scotland executive director Isabel Davis, Scottish culture secretary Angus Robertson, Emma Picken, chief executive of the charity Be United, which worked on the recent Amazon series Anansi Boys, and film producer Bob Last, co-founder of FirstStage Studios in Leith.

"We’re already confident enough to project almost a doubling of that figure by 2020, based on spending on productions. One show can represent tens of millions of pounds.

"Back in 2019, although Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld was going like the blazes with Outlander, we were still very much a locations-driven business as far as incoming production was concerned.

"There is a huge significance in going from having one to three large-scale facilities. That will have a huge impact on that baseline number.”

Douglas Mackinnon, the Skye-born director of both Anansi Boys and Good Omens, said the two series were made at the same time in Scotland because of the close proximity of the two studio facilities in Leith and Bathgate.

He said: "It was Amazon that asked us to do the two series together. That was the key to bringing both productions to Scotland because I said ‘the only way that we could possibly do that was if the studios were alongside each other physically’.

"Both were pretty close to the airport, which was obviously very handy, and as Bathgate, in particular, is right in the middle of the country, you can draw on crew from both Edinburgh and Glasgow.

"It's pretty commonplace around the world for warehouses to be adapted into studio spaces. They’re not perfect because they’re not purpose-built, but film crews are used to going in and adapting and making things work for the space.

"At the end of the day, I don’t think anybody is going to be watching Anansi Boys, which is set in Florida, the Caribbean and Brixton, and saying ‘hang on, it looks like Leith’.

"The whole experience of filming the two series was fantastic. There were no hassles at all and it really did feel as if I was filming at home. I’d happily take any production into either place again.”

David Smith, director of screen at Screen Scotland, said: “The major thing that a studio facility like the one in Leith unlocks is that Scotland is no longer just a location for some scenes, we are a location for the entire production.

“The Rig and Anansi Boys are multi-part series which have been made for an international streamer, with production budgets worth tens of million of pounds, which have been entirely made in Scotland.

"Since 2019 we've seen an incredible growth in production in Scotland and a resurgence of independent film in Scotland. But to increase the value of the sector further we have to work across both studio spaces and skills to develop them.”