Today’s Herald features a piece by Phil Miller on that perennial plea – voiced this time by Iain Smith, producer and current chair of the British Film Commission about the need for a Scottish studio. In the article an uncredited ‘spokeswoman’ for Creative Scotland is quoted as saying that £1m has already been ring fenced for this purpose, on the back of a £75,000 feasibility study into the viability of a fit-for-purpose four-waller, the elusive missing piece of the nation’s film and TV infrastructure.
What we are not told is this – where is the £1m coming from? And moreover – is this announcement in any way connected to the misnamed Film (not Screen) Review being conducted by CS? That Scotland needs a studio is not in doubt but one only has to look back at the multiple failed attempts to build one to know that that the political will to achieve this has been in short supply. An Evening Times article published in November 2012 noted that the majority – 46% – of location inquiries made to the Glasgow Film Office came from TV. Which begs another question – if a studio is built – as seems likely – to service mainly TV production, what exactly is the role of our indigenous broadcasters in supporting hosted TV production? A taxi to Dumbarton?
The lack of answers to these questions is of no comfort to indigenous film producers who, even if they manage to finance a film – generally on budgets far below those of TV drama – have little use for a studio given the expense of standing sets or even a green screen. For that reason most homegrown Scottish films opt to shoot on location – that and the fact Scotland boasts some of the best land and cityscapes in the world – assuming you get the weather.
This goes to the heart of what is euphemistically termed the ‘challenge’ of indigenous film production. As I pointed out in my speech at the recent Creative Scotland Open Session in Glasgow, we filmmakers are being shot by both sides, with production levels remaining almost static for two decades or more, while behind closed doors at CS, a selected group of individuals and organisations have been invited to discuss their views for the current Film Review while the rest of us have to make do with a written submission to one of the three consultancy firms appointed by CS. One might be forgiven for reading the runes – and that in September, amid great fanfare, the CS Film Review will conclude that the way forward is to build a studio, most likely in Glasgow, the cost of which will be borne by the Government either directly or in one of its many arm’s-length guises. And none of which will help the cause of Scottish Film.
Personally I have no objection to a studio, but don’t expect me to believe it will help get my next film made. And if the collective wisdom thinks an adequate studio space and the necessary infrastructure to support it – set construction workshops, say, or digital effects studios – can be bought for around £1m, they’re plainly deluded. To arrive at a realistic cost, one only need compare film and TV with another highly Government-subsidised industry – arms – and the handouts given to two companies based less than a mile from Film City Glasgow.
In recent years Glasgow has become expert in the tin-shed business, as evidenced by the SECC, the Science Centre, the Clyde Auditorium and the latest creation – the Hydro – built at a cost far in excess of the mooted £1m. So unless Scottish Enterprise or Clyde Waterfront are strangled into submission to increase the spend, it’s debatable whether Star Wars or any other 9-figure circuses will roll into town, tax breaks or no tax breaks.
Me, I’ve already got my own shed – sorry – studio. Time to get back to the labour of love that is Scottish film production. As they say in Govan – nihil sine labore.