Scotland: the new Hollywood?

Illustration Credit: Tamsin Scott

Scotland has always had a minimal role in the film world. Ever remembered for BraveheartTrainspotting and Sean Connery’s sexy accent, it seems incredibly far removed from the showbiz of Hollywood. Yet it appeared that one of the recurring themes at this year’s BAFTA Scotland Awards was the question of the country’s new-found importance in the film industry. Finally, it seems to be getting the due recognition it deserves, with an increased interest in both its locations and actors being apparent.

First to grace Scottish soil was Brad Pitt, whose upcoming post-apocalyptic zombie horror, World War Z used Glasgow’s George Square because of its similarities with the streets of Philadelphia. This in turn led to a sudden flurry of interest, as Scotland became a legitimate location for filmmaking. Subsequently, it has seen a transformation into the streets of San Francisco for the film version of the book Cloud Atlas, starring Halle Berry;  the setting for a body-harvesting alien who abducts hitchhikers, in Scarlett Johansson’s forthcoming, Under the Skin; and  for elements of the final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

This newfound attraction seems to have received a warm welcome from members of the Scottish entertainment industry, as James Cosmo – winner of the Best Actor in Film Award at this year’s Scottish Bafta’s for his film Donkeys – commented, “It’s great to see films shot in Scotland and we wish there would be more shot.” Similarly Peter Capaldi, who was nominated for Best Actor in Television for his role in Field of Blood stated, “Scotland always punches above its weight in terms of filmmaking and television.”Hollywood regular Robbie Coltrane, who won an accolade for Outstanding Contribution to Film at the awards said, “It’s a wonderful thing, and why not? It’s a great location and the problem has always been Scotland’s weather, but now we have HD cameras that can film in candle light. You don’t need California sunshine to make films any more. I think it’s going to open up Britain and Scotland in particular.”

In an industry that now turns over £1.2 billion in profit, it is clear that the Hollywood invasion is potentially worth millions for small companies. Evidently an incentive is needed to encourage production companies to come to Scotland, thus removing the competition from neighbouring countries. Proposals of fiscal incentives such as a five percent return on the money spent in the UK, will help provide the necessary allure for big name American production companies to consider Scotland a viable option. Somewhat depressingly, it was predominately due to cash incentives that quintessentially Scottish film Braveheartwas actually filmed in Ireland.

According to Belle Doyle, locations manager for Creative Scotland, the recent insurgence of Hollywood films that have come to Scotland was never properly planned. “It was luck. It was down to people getting the money on time, the weakness of the UK pound, the producers getting the money and all the films arriving at once. The fact that Glasgow is a gridded city helps a lot. We are competing with the rest of the world, so we are always having to think about what we can sell and how we can bring something in and make it look as good as they could get in the States and everywhere else.” As she rightly points out, when put alongside the production companies of Hollywood, they don’t stand a chance. “We look like we are amateurs. What I can offer are world class crews, fantastic locations and people that are really keen. There are definitely talented people here but we are a kind of cottage industry at the moment.”

Unfortunately, in a lot of cases production companies are unwilling to fund film projects. Film producers inevitably go wherever the money is, and when it comes to financing a film, you have to look at where the best place to reduce costs is. Offers of tax breaks in certain countries play a huge factor in a producer’s decision to use a certain location.

For Scottish films themselves, there seems to be a definite perception that they tend to all be grim and depressing. As Scottish screenwriter Sergio Casci points out, “what we expect from Scottish films is either shooting up or shooting grouse.” Whilst this is true to a certain extent, there are countless examples of top quality comedies, horrors and sci-fi films that have simply slipped under the radar.Film is an industry that is governed by Hollywood. Whilst other countries work hard to achieve the same level of viewers, budget restraints inevitably result in considerably less profit being achieved at the box office. As award winning British indie director Ken Loach comments,“We need to reclaim our cinemas because at the moment they show almost exclusively films from another culture. American films are fine but they shouldn’t dominate to the extent they do”.This is a fundamental sentiment that needs to be addressed. However, given the recent success of Scottish actors – with Robbie Coltrane and Billy Connolly featuring in the upcoming Disney Pixar feature Brave, and Peter Mullan playing Albert Narracott’s father in Spielberg’s adaptation of Warhorse – perhaps a focus should be maintained on the collaboration of Hollywood and Scotland, rather than their mutual exclusivity.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Nov 29th 2011.

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