It is time to emerge from our movie-star fantasy - a Scottish film studio would be meaningless
THE PROPOSAL TO SET UP up a film studio in Scotland has been exercising pressure groups and politicians in recent months. Various competitive projects are being promoted, with Sir Sean Connery and the Sony Corporation said to be promoting a commercially funded location near Edinburgh Airport, and John Archer, Chief Executive of Scottish Screen, promoting their studio in Glasgow. Henry McLeish has said that the Scottish Executive are studying the options and are likely to make an announcement soon on whether or not the government will support such a project.
The Scottish press, particularly the tabloids have got rather over-excited about this prospect, and the creation of a Scottish film studio has now become some form of virility symbol. The fact that huge chunks of the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart, were filmed in Ireland has apparently caused both insult and injury to our national pride. A film studio on the banks of the Clyde, we are led to believe, would solve all these ills. The Scottish editors of the Mail, Express, Record, Mirror of Sun have developed happy visions of hordes of attractive film stars arriving at Glasgow Airport, to be transported to the new studio in appropriate fashion – presumably in stretched white limousines – while being photographed for their pages.
It’s time for a dose of reality. A film studio is little more than a large shed, rented out by the week. The days of the studio system, where companies such as Ealing films made a string of hit comedies using their own production staff, were well and truly over more than forty years ago. Film projects today are undertaken by companies formed specifically for the purpose, hiring contract skilled technical and artistic talent for the duration of the project, and dispersing them afterwards. Anyway, most of today’s films, the likes of Trainspotting or Shallow Grave, are shot on location, and will have little need of a shed on the Clyde.
In any event, the film industry is no longer the economic power it once was when MGM made their glamorous musicals in the days before television and electronic entertainment. Today the computer games industry worldwide is much bigger, both in people employed and in revenue earned, than the film industry. And unlike the film industry there is a significant indigenous computer games industry in Scotland, led by companies such as VIS, DMA, and Red Lemon. Companies which employ teams of highly skilled and creative production staff, who actually live in Scotland, and who don’t fly straight back to Gatwick when their production is over.
Other new generation creative companies are making a positive contribution to the Scottish economy, while earning recognition in the wider world: Digital Animation created Ananova, the digital newsreader, and successfully sold it to the Press Association; Digital Bridges has created multi-player entertainment channels for the new internet-enabled mobile phones, and are now selling these via many international mobile phone service providers; CamVista is a leader in webcams, providing an internet ‘window’ through which you can look over Big Ben, or Edinburgh Castle; Machinima.com, based in Edinburgh, is operating a form of constantly rolling international film festival consisting of highly creative streaming video productions contributed by artists worldwide.
Of course, all these are examples of the new creative economy, and it is difficult to get quite so emotionally attached to them, as it is to fondly remember Scottish film or TV classics such as Whisky Galore, or Doctor Finlay’s Casebook. Sorry to disappoint, but, in fact, both of those productions were actually made in London, in an age when location filming was minimal, and a studio really was required.
Strangely enough, the same newspapers who are lobbying hard for a Scottish film studio seem to be quite unconcerned about the fact that when the devolution settlement was determined, control over broadcasting was reserved for Westminster, and not ceded to Holyrood. Scotland’s parliament must be the only elected body in the world that is not permitted to be concerned with its own indigenous television and radio services. In fact, since the devolution referendum transferred power from London to Edinburgh, Scottish Media Group, the owners of both Scottish Television and Grampian TV, has transferred the management of key aspects of its production base, such as drama, from its Glasgow offices to it’s London one. And while the broadcasters have undoubtedly added extra coverage of the parliament, nobody seems to be holding them to account about their coverage of the rest of modern Scottish life – coverage which seems to have diminished markedly over recent years.
And that is maybe something worth getting excited about, rather than whether or not we need to build a national film shed on the banks of the Clyde.
Ian Ritchie is a director of VIS Entertainment, and Digital Bridges.