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.