Back in 2001 there were 53 feature film projects in funded development at Scottish Screen – a cumulative investment of just under £700,000 – I know this because back then I was the Executive in charge of script and project development. The agency was established in 1997, inheriting the functions of (and not a few projects from) its predecessor the Scottish Film Production Fund. Scottish Screen in its turn gave way last year to Creative Scotland which has taken on the mantle of investment in Scotland’s screen talent and championing its screen production.
Of those fifty-odd scripts (one or two quite literally so) to the best of my knowledge five have been produced. A couple of these you will probably have heard of and may well have seen: Young Adam, David Mackenzie’s 2003 adaptation of the Alexander Trocchi novel starring Tilda Swinton and Ewan Macgregor, or The Flying Scotsman, the true story of cycling ace Graham Oberee starring Johnny Lee Miller in the title role. The others you might not have encountered: Stewart Svassand’s One Last Chance (2004), Paul Pender’s Evelyn (2002) and Sergio Casci and Don Coutts American Cousins (2003). Together though, these were ‘the ones that succeeded’ out of the class of 2001, confirming that rule of thumb that one in ten funded developments will make it to the screen.
Was the remainder of the investment (roughly £600K) in those projects that didn’t get made wasted?
No and here’s why:
Firstly as William Goldman sagely observed, no-body knows anything and a one in ten production ratio is par for the course.
Secondly, whether you are a studio, a public agency or an independent producer, development isn’t just about having a punt on a project – it’s an investment in talent and relationships. This project may or may not pay off but through the process of working on it a collaboration is developed, tested and if it gels may be the seed of future success. For the individual company or studio the hope is that the talent will stick to you and eventually the right project will get green-lit. For the public agency however the payback need not be so direct. If the talent goes onto to make a contribution to the industry/culture as a whole – the common good as it were – then the investment will have been worthwhile.
So what happened to the ‘unmade’ talent of 2001? Here’s a selection of those attached to the projects that didn’t get made:
Craig Ferguson – now a star of US TV. Morag MacKinnon –TV directing career (Nice Guy Eddie, Buried, The Innocence Project)and first feature (Donkeys co-written by 2001 writer partner Colin Mclaren) released in 2010. Jack Lothian –TV writing career (Totally Frank, Doc Martin Shameless) Patrick Harkins has a TV writing and directing career including Sea of Souls and Taggart). Mark Greig has written for The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Life On Mars, Ashes to Ashes and Paradox. Eleanor Yule has been directing documentaries including Crimes that shook the world and drama documentaries on Dennis Nilsen and Ian Brady. David Kane has had a successful career in television as a writer (Sea of Souls, Rebus, Foyles War, Taggart) and recently director (The Field of Blood). Brian Kirk – went on direct TV in Ireland (Pulling Moves) England (Murphy’s Law, Funland) and the US (Father and Son, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones). Robert Murphy has written for Murder City, Cape Wrath and DCI Banks: Aftermath.And then there’s Gilles Mackinnon, Ian Sellar, Brian Elsley, Mike Cullen, Karen McLachlan and Margy Kinmonth.
So all in all at least half of the people that Scottish Screen backed in 2001 have and continue to make an important creative and commercial contribution to film or TV here and abroad. That’s the bigger picture of public investment in screen project development and a salutatory reminder that ‘getting it made’ isn’t the only relevant measure of whether an investment has been worthwhile. That said its notable how the careers of the class of 2001 depend on television and, by the same token, how restricted Scottish feature film production remains (a point regular readers will be familiar with). With the average age of a first time feature director in Scotland remaining stubbornly around the 40 mark and the competition for the more prestigious, high budget single or 2-part TV dramas at least as intense as it has ever been, the creative bottleneck facing the class of 2010 is unlikely to get much looser any time soon. So talent development remains a risky game which, for the time being at least, only pays off in the long run. Good luck to the class of 2010!