2007 - 2021

The Real Mystery of Flannan Isle

So the fantastic tale of the Flannan Isles lighthouse is going to be made into a film directed by the award-winning Danish director Kristoffer Nyholm, and starring Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan. It sounds like a big-budget movie that manages to steer away from the one-dimensional ‘gritty urban realism’ trope and has attracted both box-office stars and quality international director.

What’s not to like?

Well it’s a great Scottish story being filmed by Ffilm Cymru Wales. It’s funded by Ffilm Cymru Wales and Creative Scotland aren’t involved. No doubt it will be heralded as a great ‘Scottish film’ and given serious media coverage with a lot of back-slapping. But it’s not. There is no Scottish film industry. It doesn’t exist.

It’s one of the great cultural disasters of the devolved era that no-one has had the nous to create a viable structure for funding and producing film in this country. It has meant not just an economic but a cultural loss – an inability to present our stories to the world and to create jobs and develop skills. It would be at the heart of an industry that includes technical development, script-writers, production crew, designers, location benefits as well as, crucially, telling our stories to the world.

It’s more of a tragedy because we have all of these skilled people and the nascent parts of a film-industry right here right now. Actor Colin McCredie told Bella:

“Until we get a dedicated studio we will always lose out on production. In 1993, Shallow Grave had to shoot interiors in a warehouse unbelievably 23 years later Danny Boyle had to resort to shooting Trainspotting 2 in a warehouse in Bathgate. Outlander the biggest ever production to come to Scotland had to bankroll & set up it’s own studio space. The majority of productions just won’t bother with this & head to Belfast or Cardiff where there are established studios. We have the most amazing scenery in the world, modern & picturesque cities, excellent crews & world renowned actors however the missing piece of the jigsaw is a purpose built studio. If we don’t stop talking about it & paying for yet more feasibility studies then in another 25 years film-makers will still be forced to shoot in empty factories.”

In fact it’s far worse than that. We were discussing this way back in 1953 (‘The long road to a scottish film studio’:)

“What he [Sir Compton Mackenize, speaking about new Albion Film Company] hoped to do, he said, was to repeat  if possible, the success of “Whisky Galore”.  If that could be done he would try to raise enough money in this country for a third production.  After that there might be film studios in Scotland for it was no use talking about Scottish films until Scotland had her own film studios.
– Film Venture’s Plans – Glasgow Herald, Oct 12, 1953 

This ongoing failure reflects the timidity and inertia at the heart of our political and cultural leadership. The real mystery isn’t about what happened to Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald MacArthur, the real mystery is why we don’t have the cultural confidence or political acumen to offer up some serious investment.

Back in May the the Association of Film and Television Practitioners Scotland (AFPTS) wrote to all MSPs saying:

“The Government agencies involved with the delivery of a film studio to Scotland have shown low ambition and a make do and mend attitude. Which has left practitioners within the industry with serious doubts as to their competence in developing the future growth of the Scottish Film Industry. With this present attitude and low ambition for resources, our current spend is only 3% of the UK spend and this is supposedly our best year yet. We think this is pitiful.”

No doubt we will be told that Creative Scotland are reviewing this and reviewing that and there will be a complex tale of half a dozen projects under-way, stalled or imminent in various locations, at Pentland or Straiton or Cumbernauld or Inverness or Leith or some new place. The fact is that our film and broadcasting infrastructure remains a farce and it’s one that can’t really be ignored by those who argue that we are a great and culturally confident nation. We’re clearly not.

As Christopher Silver wrote way back in July 2014:

“Very few Scots will be aware that the nation recently lost out to Wales as the site for a major new film and high end TV studio to be built by Pinewood. This has been met by investment from the Welsh government of up to £30 million. Scotland’s film budget last year was £4 million” adding “With decades of commitment to the national industry, the Danes can expect around 25 feature dramas and 30 documentaries a year to be made in their native land.”

It’s time to stop talking and abandon old factories. Like much of Scottish cultural output the talent is there but the infrastructure and the political commitment is missing.



Comments (27)

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  1. Graeme Purves says:

    I’m reeling from the news that Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan have been passed over in favour of Peter Mullan and Gerard Butler!

    But you are right, and the roll call of inertia, provincialism, timidity and incompetence in this sorry saga is a long one.

  2. c rober says:

    The Cumbernauld one is imo the preferred option , between two of Scotlands main airports , and directly between both of its cultural and biggest cities.Plus has a benefit of being easy access to Fife and Perth.

    However when you consider than so many Scottish scenery mentioned above is either day shoots , then back to studio outside of Scotland , or in the case of say Braveheart where it was shot in Ireland then we have to ask why this was the case.

    The answer though is simple , no tax levers , means no ability to enact change – Wales , Ireland both have those tax powers.Scotland though does not , so on this occasion I cannot easily blame the SNP… which is unusual for me.

    1. Neets says:

      The SNP do have tax raising powers and have had for some time now. They just chose not to use them. However, they have now chosen to do so and as of April 2017, we will be the highest taxed nation in the UK.

  3. Mrs Hurtle says:

    Àpart from wondering why Scottish films inevitably star Peter Mullan, I also ask -what happened to Scottish Screen? If it’s part of Creative Scotland there’s obviously no hope.

  4. Alf Baird says:

    “..ongoing failure reflects the timidity and inertia at the heart of our political and cultural leadership”

    Such a statement could easily be Scotland’s epitaph, and cuts across numerous policy areas including our non-existent film industry, and that’s with a supposedly ‘competent’ SNP administration in place. Fowk micht haver awthing uised tae be e’en mair thrawn afore thon SNP? A doot it. What is the point of Fiona Hyslop? What hope for Scottish culture when our political and cultural leadership (the latter heavily Anglicised, aye SNP tae) are incapable of drafting even a Scots Language Act? If we canna e’en teach wir bairns tae read an write thair ain langage, the ane thay uise at hame, in the playgrund, an doon the street, we dinna deser naething. Scotland’s yairns hiv tae be telt uisin wir ain langage, no anither fowks tongue. Langage is cultur efter aw, yet we sling a deifie tae wir langage, an syne we sling a deifie tae oor cultur anaw.

    1. Matt Seattle says:

      Aye, Alf, A’m thinkin that Independence cannae be won a’ the while Scotlan is feart o spikkin in its ain tongue. The triumph o unionism wis its sabotage o Scotlan’s confideince in itsel an its ain voices.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        Naw voters tent tae hae thon creenge ower haurd, nae doot aboot thon, thay fowk juist canna faur-see Scotlan iver daein onything speicial alane ataw, nor e’en survivin oan wir ain. An aw wir elite-Scots heid-bummer naw voters are juist as John Cleese descrived thaim – ‘obedient retainers desperately seeking social (i.e. Anglicised) status’, feckly via chyngin thair speech, i.e. langage, an bletherin richt ‘English’ wicelike fer aw thair wuirth. Thon Aye/Naw deceesion is syne necessar a cultural ane (wi langage bein creetical tae cultur), i.e. fowk feelin mair Scottish or mair British, an thon dependin oan the deepth o indoctrination, muckle thanks tae thon bullshyte haverin BBC.

  5. tartanfever says:

    Some claims here that need some detail.

    Wales has studios mainly because of the BBC. A senior producer in the BBC’s Drama department along with Russell T Davies decided to re-make Dr Who and both being Welsh, decided to produce it out of Cardiff. That was the early 2000’s.

    Along came the spin off Torchwood, shot at the same ‘complex’ – disused industrial warehouses some 15 miles north of Cardiff. As senior people in the BBC’s drama department with a lot of influence, they had decided to re-invigorate the Welsh drama scene, which once had been strong but had declined.

    Talk of building a new studio complex was initiated but to make it work financially, it had to have more productions, so the BBC axed Casualty from Bristol and relocated it to Cardiff. Bristol’s loss. This was also a time when the BBC was coming under pressure to provide more regional production, so along with the new production facilities in Salford, Cardiff became a hub for drama. That investment led to other productions outside of the BBC coming to Cardiff as new facilities were available.

    It had very little to do with the Welsh Assembly.

    Likewise, Belfast has become a hub for production because of production companies, not because of the political administration, although help was afforded by them to aid in production.

    Then this quote:

    ‘then in another 25 years film-makers will still be forced to shoot in empty factories’.

    Perfect. Thats exactly what happened with Dr Who. I’ve worked on a load of TV dramas and films that shoot in exactly those situations, and indeed, seek them out because they are cheap.

    ‘because we have all of these skilled people and the nascent parts of a film-industry right here right now’

    No, we don’t. It’s one thing to make drama’s for TV (shown on a box in the corner of your front room) but it’s a completely different kettle of fish to make a film for cinema release and be projected onto a big screen. If drama’s and film are not being produced in Scotland, you simply cannot then claim to have the necessary talent. Key positions in BBC dramas that have shot in Scotland are inevitably crewed by freelancers from London.

    In my day on the Dr Who set, a crew of say 60 people were equally (or maybe 60/40 in favour of Wales) staffed from Wales and the rest came down from London. One of the biggest recipients of licence fee money were the Cardiff hotels that had to accommodate the London based staff. Crucially, nearly all the actors/directors were from outside Wales.

    These facts also demonstrate why the new studio is going to Wales and not to Scotland. It all started with two key Welsh people working in the BBC drama dept, not the will of politicians to create – they’re just jumping on the bandwagon.

    1. tartanfever says:

      And as a final add on, I’ll once again just point to the BBC version of Wallander with Kenneth Branagh (which I’ve mentioned many times because it is the single biggest rip off that Scotland has faced this century to it’s ‘budget’)

      Branagh and other London based TV executives talked about making an English version and when it came to BBC involvement, Anne Mensah, a London TV executive currently based at BBC Scotland for a couple of years ‘in the sticks’, decided that BBC Scotland should co-produce and pay out our budget. That programme was pretty much entirely pre and post-produced in London with filming in Sweden.

      It had absolutely no Scottish connection not provided no work for any Scottish talent.

      Mensah has since of course returned to her native London, but only after deciding that we weren’t capable of making our own drama’s so moved ‘Waterloo Road’ north of the border to film. She was previously an exec producer on Waterloo Road when filmed in England.

      Compare that to the story of the two Welsh people above.

  6. George Gunn says:

    Tartan Fever is correct. In Scotland the BBC is part of the problem. The lack of real engagement with the creative sector by all Scottish governments including this current one is part of the problem. The lack of real training in production and technical skills for TV and film in Scotland is part of the problem. We have to create a film industry from the bottom up, not the top down. That also includes how we train actors and where we draw the talent from which should be from all areas of Scottish society not just those who can afford to go to the Conservatoire in Glasgow. Politicians like to be involved in the glitzy end of the business, not the gritty end which is education and infrastructure. We cannot tell our stories to ourselves let alone the rest of the world unless we see our place in the world clearly and definitively, and not through the lens and filter of the UK. Ultimately this is all political. As Brecht wrote, “The decision about the meat lacking in the kitchen is not taken in the kitchen.’

  7. DialMforMurdo says:

    I’ve been tediously working my way through various ‘Route To Finance’ and Art Impact docs this morning, with all the usual suspects churning out the same magic bean analysis of how the creative sector is worth £76 billion to the UK economy and how every £1 of public money magically produces £5 in the people’s purse… It’s all soooo fucking familiar.

    We retread the Scottish studio argument so often, we should have a national day, the ‘Whaur’s Oor Fillum Studio?’ day. Instead we grind our teeth, have a moan and grudgingly accept that it’s aye been that way. Yet, we have an agency charged with funding our creative sector, that only ever garners negative coverage. Blame and shame is shoved onto index linked pensionable bureaucrats, a paltry budget from Holyrood, via a paltry Westminster budget, austerity and nothing ever changes. Independence may be the answer, but would it be a priority, which politician if any is laying out a blueprint for aspiration filmic success?

    I would genuinely love to see someone from Creative Scotland do that thing, you know, engage with their demographic and maybe come on here and tell us what the state of play is regarding a film studio.

    I mean borrowing rates have never been lower, if now is not the time for Creative Scotland to corral the Scottish media sector and say, ‘we’ll front a repayable funding package, you lot organise yourself into a PACT coalition with fiscal responsibility, let’s identify a site, seed routes from education into it, tie in the RFT’s and some of the less venal exhibitors and make it happen over a 25 year funding package’, then when is?

    Perhaps then the next Flannan Isle, Game of Thrones etcetera won’t pass us by. I mean ffs the Isle of Man 20 miles off the Galloway coast has an 11,000 square foot sound studio that cost them £2m 16 years ago, an investment that has been returned multiple times…

    Creative Scotland, do something and if you can’t, tell us and then verily do fuck off.

  8. Redgauntlet says:

    There is no political will for a film industry in Scotland, and the significant progress which was made in the late 90’s and noughties in film, under a Labour government and Scottish Screen, has not been followed up by an SNP government who will not listen to Scottish film-makers. The SNP leadership are contemptible people, they should be barred from entering cinemas in Scotland.

    Fiona Hyslop is an enemy of the Seventh Art. Janet Archer is an enemy of the Seventh Art. Natalie Urquhart, the Head of Film at Creative Scotland, sat in front of a Holyrood select committee and openly lied when she affirmed that the absence of a studio was neither here nor there in terms of the prospects of the Scottish film industry….

    …when somebody is prepared to make such a nonsensical declaration as that, you know that they’re not even trying to pretend they care about Scottish film anymore, they have effectively abandoned it. They don’t care, and they don’t care if we know they don’t care.

    “Look North” said the great John Grierson, our most respected and inspirational figure in film.
    But the SNP oblige us to move south…

    1. DialMforMurdo says:

      Excellent rant there Redgauntlet. Struggling to remember the great work Scottish Labour and SS did during that timescale. I’m sure they did something other than Labour being struck dumb when the likes of John McCormick was advocating that broadcasting be devolved to Holyrood.

      Re Grierson, ‘Look North’ he was referring to a Canadian documentary called ‘Look to the North’, which he thought brought a sense of national identity and pride to Canada that had never existed before. He was commissioner of Canada’s National Film Board at the time, after the Canadian government invited him to investigate their film production…

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        Hi Murdo.

        It’s not like I was a big fan of Scottish Screen, much less Labour, don’t get me wrong. In fact, in all my dealings with SS – I’m a film-maker – I was always shocked at how parochial, provincial and bureaucratic they were.

        But it was a stand-alone film agency, like they have stand-alone film agencies all over Europe.

        When the SNP came to power, as I recall it, they inherited a blueprint called Creative Scotland, which was designed by New Labour and which has all the nefarious hallmarks of New Labour, and talks the bullshit and unbearable language of New Labour.

        Instead of binning it and drawing up a new plan, the SNP went ahead and implemented it. The SNP had no official culture policy when they came to power. Which is very, very weird for a “national party”.

        Since then, on numerous occasions, Scottish film-makers have pointed out the importance of a stand-alone film agency. But the SNP, thrawn to the point of stupidity, have completely ignored those opinions

        Whether the surge in Scottish film-making in the 90’s and noughties was down to the existence of Scottish Screen is debatable and probably even dubious, but we know, all of us know, that the current set up is a joke.

        The head of film at Creative Scotland is a London lawyer. She’s not a creative.. What the FF is that? Why would any film-maker subject their work to the judgement of a London lawyer?

        The way forward? Forget commercial cinema in Scotland, and use the four million quid to fund films which cost no more than, say, 250,000 pounds. Experiment! The film essay, the documentary, more “slow cinema”… the new formats from the international festival circuit.

        We don’t have the facilities or the backing of the Scottish government to be an industry. So let’s become a laboratory, or a workshop…

      2. Redgauntlet says:

        There was one guy at SS, Murdo, and this is a true story, who knocked back an application for development funding because the screenplay option was for a duration of 18 months, extendable for another 18 months after payment of X pounds….

        …SS had the – arbitrary – condition that an option for an intellectual property had to last at least three years. Why? Because somebody else in London had come up with that arbitrary condition, probably.

        And so this SS “executive” – what a nightmare he was – told me that 18 months + 18 months didn’t equal three years/36 months. Application rejected, and a lot of time and money wasted.

        And Ken Hay, the former CEO of SS…he is – or at least was – another personification of the corporate character of our times, another evangelist of the New Labour way of doing things.

        Ken Hay stood there in the office of Scottish Screen one day and very smugly told all the Scottish producers present, who were up in arms that they were obliged to sign a grant of rights of their project to SS to be eligible for development funding, that his duty was “to protect the tax payer”.

        It made no difference to Ken Hay that the conditions he was imposing were harsher than any high street bank. What kind of salary would Ken Hay have been on? What, maybe 100,000? I don’t know.

        So you’re right. Scottish Screen were terrible, awful.

        As for Creative Scotland Film, I have never applied. Why bother?

  9. Gordon Keen says:

    I read with interest the many thoughtfully constructed and very pertinent points about the lack of a purpose built facility. Yes, very true, we do not have such a facility in Scotland, but we don’t have nothing. I manage Film Services Ltd in Livingston, a studio complex that opened in March this year with two soundstages and a third on the way plus a full post production studio complex, production offices etc..there is no need to film in empty warehouses any longer, unless a production finds itself requiring to build very high (two storey and above) sets, in which case there is a real limit on what is achievable north of the border at present. We’ve hosted the new Churchill film starring Brian Cox and Miranda Richardson, The replacement, a major drama and a host of adverts have been made. We have a 60 foot green screen in our 4,000 square foot soundstage which is our smallest stage. The largest is 15,000 square feet ! For all on this thread, http://www.filmservicesltd.com you may be pleasantly surprised !

    1. Thanks very much Gordon, really interesting to hear about

  10. Stiofan O Labhrai says:

    ” timid and inertia”…….as someone said…… What happened to the Gaelic spirit of Scotland ?

  11. barakabe says:

    Redgauntlet says: “The way forward? Forget commercial cinema in Scotland, and use the four million quid to fund films which cost no more than, say, 250,000 pounds. Experiment! The film essay, the documentary, more “slow cinema”… the new formats from the international festival circuit.
    We don’t have the facilities or the backing of the Scottish government to be an industry. So let’s become a laboratory, or a workshop…”- this would be an amazingly positive solution to the structural problems inherent in the Scottish film ‘industry’. One only has to look what has happened to the likes of May Miles Thomas- who incidentally any other ‘nation’ in Europe would be proud to have based in their borders- with his struggles to find film funding, despite an international reputation for technical excellence. These sorts of problems don’t just exist in Scotland of course, look for example at the treatment of a great film artist like Terence Davies in England. Its largely a UK wide problem. We tend to view film not as art and more akin to a commercial enterprise. Its a shopkeeping logic to culture. By all accounts many highly creative people have been rejected for funding by Creative Scotland, as well as BFI, for their ideas not being “commercially viable”.
    So if we could actually make our mark in terms of supporting innovative film artist make low budget films for the International Festival circuit, and they were to be placed and win, we might actually begin to take film seriously as art form- even raise the profile of Scotland as a major European cultural centre- but unfortunately even that avenue has been largely cut off for filmmakers as their ideas are deemed commercially unfit by the managerial class and the bean-counters who wield power in organisations like Creative Scotland.

    1. Redgauntlet says:

      Exactly Barakabe.

      We’re in the age of digital cinema, costs have plummeted. Within reason, almost anybody can make a film these days, a different kind of film to commercial cinema.

      In Spain, we have a New Spanish Cinema emerging which has coalesced around the Seville Film Festival and the film monthly magazine, “Caiman: Cuadernos de Cine”. Films made with tiny budgets which have so much more to say than the commercial fare. It’s such an exciting time.

      Films like “Magical Girl” by Carlos Vermut, “Berserker” by Pablo Hernando, “O Futebol” by Sergio Oksma, “Todos vos Sodés Capitans” by Oliver Laxe, following up on the groundbreaking work back at the time of directors like Jose Luis Guerín’s “Innisfree” and of course, the great Victor Erice, who back in 1992 shot a film about the painter, Antonio Lopez, painting a quince tree, called “The Quince Tree Sun/ The Dream of Light”.

      Films somewhere between the arthouse cinema and the art museum which do not need much investment and which people will want to watch 20 years from now, so unlike 90% of what is shot.

      The whole corporate mentality of Creative Scotland is a dead end. It mirrors Creative England, and the English film business is basically service driven and talent driven, give one or two exceptions. Indigenous English cinema barely exists, one or two exceptions granted.

      Besides, traditional narrative is exhausted, all the stories have been told a hundred times….we need a new film policy for a new film age. We’re stuck with a mentality from the past, and the institutional structures of the past…

      1. Graham Rae says:

        I have been writing about film for nearly 30 years, and wrote occasionally about Scottish film, for a top Hollywood magazine, American Cinematographer. I also have been on BBC Radio Scotland a few times reviewing films. I have no film training, I just wrote about what I liked, have talent, and have done some top level things under my own steam. None of this was due to any kind of support whatsoever from any kind of Scottish film or funding or creative agency.

        And I must say, in my own opinion, that the views expressed above, about commercialism vs artistic vision and ‘experimental’ films…are absolutely a huge part of the never-ending, ongoing problem with Scottish film and its nonexistent industry. I no longer write about Scottish films, and moved away from even being on the peripheral edges of that whole messy scene probably 20 years ago. But even back then I was hearing the same tired arguments, about making ‘art’ films versus commercial ones.

        Look, pardon me saying this, but to my mind this is extremely elitist, and just as out of touch as whatever else the Scottish film scene (I cannot say industry; then again, my knowledge is not hugely current, though the themes being discussed are old and well-won and threadbare) is being lambasted for here. You can’t make a film without money; it’s as simple as that. Of course, filmmaking is becoming much cheaper, and eventually people won’t need to apply for funding from uncaring censorious or commercial bodies at all. Until that day, though, films have to be made that make MONEY first and foremost, to finance OTHER films.

        It’s a very simple equation. Think about it this way: Johnny Depp, before he got seemingly bored of the whole filmmaking world and just now goes for his huge paycheck films, used to make a small, quirky film or two, then do a big-budget one to pay for the time he spent working on small, personal projects that were of far more interest to him. But he wouldn’t have been able to do the artier, smaller budget movies without the big budget ones. It’s exactly the same with film. The Weinsteins at Miramax in America make big and small films; the former finance the latter, and allow them to take more cinematic chances.

        A nonexistent industry looking to get financed literally and metaphorically cannot be sniffy and elitist about getting its feet wet in commercial cinema: if you don’t make films people want to see, nobody anywhere is going to gives a damn, from the top to the bottom, with the bottom (line) being the paying audience. You will not cinematically ‘educate’ the average filmmaker into liking small, arty, experimental films, and quite frankly it would be condescending to think that you would have the artistic insight and taste and education to do so. People watch what they like, and some people have a far wider appreciation for cinema in all its forms, quite frankly. They will quite happily watch anything and everything made. I am one of them. But if you don’t make a big budget film or two to pay some bills and attract some top-flight talent, be it technical or starpower-pulling, then nothing will EVER happen with the Scottish film farce.

        I swear, I have heard these exact same ‘arguments’ for DECADES, and long ago gave up on them. It truly doesn’t interest me much anymore. If you were not middle class or English in the Edinburgh film clique, your face was not right for the place. I sincerely hope that has changed, but when I was writing for a top-flight magazine in Hollywood, and hanging out in Hollywood with top people…I was being judged for my accents by fucking middle class pen-pushers and clerks. It was a joke. Eventually, disgusted, I just gave up. Well, that and moving to America for over a decade, from where I returned last March, had something to do with it. Chuckling here. But still. Filmmaking is a business just like any other. If it makes no money, it will, quite simply, go bust, or never take off. Or it will languish in a tiny, elitist corner where the sniffy art-inclined intelligentsia can look down their noses at the fast good cinematic crap the hated proles are consuming, and hang around at small fests with other pretentious people.

        I am genuinely not trying to insult anybody here, got no reason to do so, don’t know anybody here, I’m just talking about a certain mentality I found far too prevalent in the Scottish film scene when I was slightly involved in it. I’d love to see more Scottish films getting made of all kinds: comedy, romance, horror, documentary, drama, and yes, even experimental, because I love experimental (or even just mental) films. But I think that Scotland needs to get out of this whole ‘government subsidised or bust’ mentality. American indie filmmakers make tiny, personal films by maxing out credit cards; have done so for decades. A good friend of mine, Keith Bradley, makes his own excellent wee films off his own bat, and is beholden to nobody. For people like him, it’s a matter of substance over style; he just gets on with the work, and doesn’t sit around moaning about not being subsidised or there being no Scottish film ‘industry.’

        Half the people in the Scottish film scene are just in to to look good and try and hang around with stars, it seems to me, everywhere at once during poseathons like the EIFF, waffling on breathlessly about mise-en-scene and cinema verite and universal themes and such, but nowhere on the ground getting the spadework done during the rest of the year. People like Keith (and others making short films on the net) break their backs to get things done, they don’t just talk about doing them. I would imagine a load of Scottish wannabe filmmakers would need to put their money where their mouth is and get a company/studio up and running by themselves with pooled resources.

        Because, with stuff like my bucket getting emptied once a month now, and more cuts coming, film is clearly not something that is high on any governmental priorities list. Which is as it should be. Film is a luxury, not a necessity; nobody ever died from not having a film to watch. So, from my scene-detached viewpoint, the choice seems clear: make your own wee self-financed film, then make a bigger one if it makes money, and so forth (like, say, John Waters did); pool your resources together with a load of like-minded people and build a studio or film company or something; or wait until kingdom come with a woulda coulda shoulda depressed oppressed attitude because you never got any money from a nonexistent Scottish film entity. Or, alternately, just be quiet and watch the ever-more-worthless drivel of juvenile dribble that comes out of Hollywood every year. No idea what they way forward is. But sitting around waiting for somebody else to make it happen sure as hell isn’t going to do anything.

        I have never been really involved with the Scottish film scene and yet have visited a Universal movie set (Land of the Dead, in Canada – a country with tax incentives for filmmakers, in 2004, where I met Dennis Hopper and George A Romero, and was made up as a zombie by Greg Nicotero, one of the world’s top FX men I still maintain occasional contact with, and who does the FX for The Walking Dead), met Quentin Tarantino before he even made a film (at the house of Scott Spiegel, a friend of Sam Raimi, of Evil Dead and Spider-Man fame, whom I got drunk with in 1989 in his house in LA), interviewed Remi Adefarasin, the DoP on The English Patient (for The House of Mirth, which was shot in Glasgow)…and I could go on with more stories.

        I am genuinely not trying to namedrop, I am trying to make a point: that if I had waited for somebody to hand me writing gigs, or to write FOR me, I would never have gotten anything done in my life and achieved the things I have. You can’t wait for somebody – anybody – else to do something for you, you just have to take it in both hands and DO IT YOURSELF. Or shut up and never do it and just get on with something else. Simple as that, To me, that is.

        Just my own overly long opinion, not necessarily claiming to be right. Makes no real difference to me, ultimately.

        Talk amongst yourselves.

        1. Redgauntlet says:

          Graham, good post, thanks.

          I basically agree with you. I have never worked in film in Scotland, I have worked in the industry for over 20 years, on various pictures in various capacities, but always in Europe. I tried moving back to Scotland recently, but that didn’t work out too well for me. What I was struck by is the seemingly complete enslavement of Scotland to Hollywood / commercial cinema, and the crass indifference of the Scottish government to film-makers which has to be worse than anywhere else in Europe.

          I’m not arguing for an “elitist” cinema, I’m saying you can’t finance an average European budgeted picture out of Scotland, or even 20% of a picture. You don’t have an autonomous Scottish TV to pre-buy rights, and you don’t have a studio, which if it existed, would help the Scottish service industry no end. You would have producers who could tap some money from a Scottish film agency to go into the production, and could maybe keep some of the rights, on a foreign picture shot in a Scottish studio. At the very least, the Scottish producer would charge a service fee and invest that money in Scottish film-makers.

          Besides. a film studio would pay for itself several times over in terms of its boost to the wider economy. It’s such a no-brainer that there’s no point talking about it anymore.

          If you don’t have an autonomous TV channel and you don’t have a studio, you don’t have a film industry, period. So if you’re going to spend money on film, I see no choice but to use a big chunk of it on pictures outwith the commercial circuit which might, at least, lead to some new Scottish film-talent breaking through.

          The alternative is to use the same chunk of the money on film education in schools. Most people in Scotland are film illiterate. The need for a film education as part of the national curriculum is beyond all doubt for me. We all go to the cinema to be manipulated or enchanted by a discourse of one kind or another. About 1% of the film audience knows that is going on and can make a judgement on it. 99% are manipulated, period.

          What really pisses me off, is that, as you rightly say, we have all the crap that goes with it. We have the fatuous and vastly overpaid Scottish Screen executive or EIFF executive, people with a kind of patronizing superiority complex who are executives of a phantom film industry and who know NOTHING about film, almost invariably… we have all the paperwork and the form-filling…we have the entertainment lawyers and this superiority complex which they also have in England.

          Some years ago, for reasons I won’t go into, I was working with a Galician film production company and through them, the Galician government film agency. We talked about making a Celtic co-production venture which would have loosely put together the film agencies of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Galicia in Spain and Breton in France, pooling resources and talent on international pictures. It’s the kind of venture people talk about, but which never happen.

          Nonetheless, the Galician govt film executive was very enthusiastic about the idea – a Celtic Film Fund – and drafted a letter signed and stamped by the Galician government – an official government letter – which I then sent on to Scottish Screen with a cover letter.

          Scottish Screen and its fatuous, overpaid and film illiterate CEO, who was Ken Hay at the time, never even bothered replying to the Galician government…

          These people don’t care about film. They are careerists in it for the money.

          “Forget them and go and do it yourself” you say. Well, I agree, but that is not an industry obviously.

  12. Tim Fraser-Granados says:

    Hope you don’t mind me chiming me in. I’m a German-born Scottish filmmaker based in Leith. I’m just in pre-production on my first feature film which is called Blood’s A Rover (not an adaptation of James Ellroy’s book of the same name; both film and book lift the title from an old English poem by Alfred Housman) and it is a neo-noir set in Edinburgh and between Penicuik and Gorebridge.

    The script is 166 pages long. It’s an indie grassroots film that’s only coming about due to the kindness of a friend and patron of mine who’s donating some money to us. The film revolves around competing bids for a farm at the Gladhouse Reservoir and that incident kicks off a major plot involving blackmail, murder, a dark family secret and political conspiracy.

    We’re still looking to secure additional funding but we’ll make this film even if we only end up with what we already have secured in terms of financing.

    There are 52 actors and around 55 extras. There are no more than five actors and/or extras in any given scene, and some people will literally be in one single shot in the entire film. Most scenes are dialogue-driven and will only feature three actors or so at a time, so while it is still a ginormous cast for a grassroots indie film, it is not as insurmountable-sounding as you think it might be.

    We have a crew between 20-25 people which, again, is huge for a film that has no financial backing from the funding bodies but the film requires it and we’ll approach this as if we are a big studio company.

    We’ll be filming with three cameras at the same time so that reduces our schedule significantly. Lighting is also owned by ourselves, and the locations are mostly local businesses who, so far, appear to be happy to let us film there for simply a credit.

    We fully intend to submit the film to global and local film festivals, and to aim for theatrical distribution locally and globally, and for home video distribution on Blu-Ray and DVD.

    We’ve cast about 17 actors so far, some professionally trained, some coming from other walks of life to film. I like that as it adds greater verisimilitude to the film. The age range of the cast is 30-70.

    Even though the film is inspired by James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler, it is still its own thing, and everyone who’s read the script says it’s unique. I think it’s fair to say that it’ll be the first Scottish noir, and one of the first Scottish feature films to run to three hours. I’m happy to say that everyone who’s read it says that while it is a long script, it doesn’t feel like it, and that the story requires that running time.

    So, we’ll go ahead with this in early 2017 and film throughout the first half into early summer, and then we’ll be editing and colour-grade the film in DaVinci Resolve 12.5, or version 13 if it materialises next summer. It’ll be shot in RAW on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras (two of mine) and the Canon 5D MK3 (my DoP’s camera), and we’ll utilise the chiaroscuro lighting of famous Italian paintings and 40s-50s noir. We’ll film in colour and grade it in post to look like three-strip Technicolour.

    So, I think no one can accuse us of a lack of ambition, and if we manage to pull this off on the tiny budget we have, I’d like to think we’ll motivate people here to more of a “can do” attitude especially on the side of the funding bodies and the politicians.

    I like the SNP but the film studio mess has been an uncharacteristic blind spot for them. If Pentland Studios falls through, I think Fiona Hyslop’s position becomes untenable. No confidence in CS either, frankly. CS should be dismantled or broken up. We didn’t approach them for funding because they’ll not fund debut features.

    1. tartanfever says:

      Well genuine good luck with your film, however there is one obvious point to make.

      If you are a minimum budget film shooting on locations that are allowing you to do so for free, then what use would a film studio be to you and how would you have been able to afford it ?

      1. Tim Fraser-Granados says:

        A film studio might have been able to let us film there for office scenes or hospital scenes. Whether we’d have been able to pay them for their renting fees is another story, but a film studio would still be beneficial even to local productions like ours.

    2. Thanks – and best of luck with the film. I have no doubts of the ambitions of film-makers, designers, script-writers, actors and technicians in Scotland – just that they don’t have the basic infrastructure to attract the best to shoot here and to develop our own indigenous industry.

  13. Matthew P says:

    Not so much a point regarding the Scottish film industry, just a small note regarding the picture in this article. The lighthouse portrayed here its almost certainly not the Flannan Isle light but more probably that of Sule Skerry, 35 miles west of Orkney.

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