Posts Tagged 'scottish film'

Growing Scotland’s film and television – yes please Minister(s)

Though some practitioners are expressing ‘consultation fatigue’ (following the Creative Scotland Film Sector review (which I chaired) and subsequent consultation on its Film Strategy 2014-17, the Scottish Parliament Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s enquiryto consider how Scotland can grow sustainable TV and film and video games industries” it is an important opportunity to set out the potential for growth as well as the obstacles facing our screen practitioners and businesses and encourage Parliament to press the Scottish Government  to seriously up its support for the sector if it really wants to see the culture, economic and social benefits from the moving image that other European countries have achieved through concerted action.  My tuppence worth is available along with the other eighteen [since posting the number has risen to 40] written evidence submissions (though one of them seems to have wandered in by mistake!) here. The committee will be taking further evidence from a variety of practitioners and agencies during January starting with Games on the 14th, TV and film on the 21st, public agencies on the 28th and Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs on the 4th of February. Given the concern for the economic impact of the creative industries it is curious that the Committee, so far at least, doesn’t plan to take evidence from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney.  He’s the person who really holds the key to investment in the sector…having read and heard the evidence from all the above perhaps the committee will then have some questions for him.

UPDATE 4/2/15 in recent days John Swinney’s name has appeared on the agenda alongside Fiona Hyslop to appear in front of the committee today which suggests that the committee members/those giving evidence have successfully upped the ante..

The scanner has been working overtime this week digitising some pre-web documentation of Scotland’s film history and this delightful epistle from Bill Forsyth in the 1986 Edinburgh International Film Festival Programme is just one example

Bill Forsyth letter on That Sinking Feeling EIFF Programme 1986

Sunshine on Leith and Filth zoom into all time Scottish top ten

The latest and, as ever, fascinating annual statistical handbook from the BFI allows the elves here at The Producer’s Cut to update the all-time top Scottish films at the UK Box office (NB Adjusted for inflation) with not one but two films making it into the list from 2013.  Not surprisingly perhaps Sunshine on Leith and Filth, having briefly occupied the number 2 and 3 spots at the UK box office in 2013 have quickly joined the all time Scottish top ten at number 4 and 6 respectively.  Trainspotting remains the undisputed top dog with 25% of the total box office garnered by the ten films and indeed all but one of the top five films are from the 1990s.  Inevitably the definition of ‘Scottish’ used here is subjective – both Rob Roy and Last King of Scotland could be ruled out on production origin terms (as could even Mrs Brown for that matter) but allowing for that caveat we can see that there’s no real pattern to the best-selling Scottish movies other than that from thrillers to a musical they managed to strike a chord with the film-going public.

 

UK Box Office £ (adjusted for inflation)
Trainspotting (1996) 12,331,224
The Last King of Scotland (2006) 5,680,951
Shallow Grave (1995) 5,101,342
Sunshine on Leith (2013) 4,600,000
Rob Roy (1995) 4,352,000
Filth (2013) 3,900,000
This Year’s Love (1999) 3,600,636
Mrs Brown (1997) 2,647,037
Magdalene Sisters (2002) 2,138,934
The Angels Share (2012) 1,928,376
Total 46,280,500

Independent Screens

(this is the slightly longer original version of the piece published today in The Sunday Herald http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/referendum-news/how-we-can-put-scottish-talent-into-a-starring-role.24235648)

There are many reasons why film and television in an independent Scotland could be bigger, better and benefit audiences, the economy and our wealth of creative talents much more than it currently does. For the best part of a century our screen culture and industry have depended on the resources and perspectives of London decision-makers. At times this relationship has indeed been beneficial but mainly it has been debilitating. It is true that at some key moments in our screen history, for want of a stronger domestic infrastructure, we have profited from enlightened regimes at the BBC, the British Film Institute (BFI) or Channel 4 who have given Scottish stories and talent support and screen time. Without them Bill Douglas, Bill Forsyth, John McKenzie, Lynne Ramsay or Paul Wright might never have reached our screens.

But we shouldn’t have to rely on those occasionally benign decisions which expose precisely the highly dependent nature of the relationship. Despite thirty-five years of effort since Bill Forsyth’s That Sinking Feeling burst onto the screen, we still lack the size and shape of screen industry that can consistently develop, employ and retain talent in front of or behind the camera without first looking to SoHo or W1A for approval.

As a result, unlike our literature, music or theatre we still import virtually all of our screen culture, more than any comparable western European country. Indeed it seems that we have almost lost the capacity to imagine any other arrangement, tending to assume that Scottish must mean pawky, parochial or poor quality. Lacking a sense of what a distinct Scottish audience might want, from say its screen dramatists, it’s little surprise that producers focus hard on meeting the expectations of financiers, distributors, BFI and TV executives for whom Scotland will always be small part of a bigger picture with no enduring claim on their time or resources.

The queue for film finance is so long and the local pot so limited that the average age of a first time feature director in Scotland remains stubbornly close to forty. It can take ten years to get a film like Sunset Song (even with Terrence Davies attached as Director) or a TV series like Katie Morag from development to production (both first supported with development finance by Scottish Screen in 2000).

Meantime Scotland’s share of network TV production has edged up from 3% by value in 2003 to just over 4% in 2012 – far from the 9% that our population share would suggest is a reasonable expectation of our public service broadcasters. Under pressure to deliver more for the ‘nations and regions’ valiant producers turn creative cartwheels to plausibly relocate a secondary school from Rochdale to Greenock while we wait patiently for a Scottish originated volume drama to be commissioned for the network – any network.

What would make things better in an independent Scotland?

Since no country’s screen industry has succeeded internationally without a strong and growing home audience we could work harder to grow domestic demand. Not by forcing audiences to watch home-grown movies through import tariffs or blocking Eastenders but rather by ensuring we have the capacity to offer real choice in the living room, in the cinema or on tablet PCs. That will take time. A Scottish Broadcasting Channel that, like most European public broadcasters, was mandated to support domestic film production (with investment and screening slots) alongside commissioned TV drama would be a powerful aid to growing production, jobs and facilities. Of course it would have to compete, as in Ireland, with UK networks – just as UK networks now have to compete with Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. But it would also be a crucial platform to develop Scottish talent and companies for whom these new distribution channels are real opportunities. In the same way people often overlook the fact that Grand Theft Auto originates in Scotland, not many people realize that international TV hit The Tudors was developed in Ireland, giving several new Irish directors their big break as well as employing legions of crew and facilities.

 

I’ve written elsewhere about how Scotland’s film success is patchy and stop-start compared to other countries because we operate well under the critical mass required to produce hits with any sort of consistency. If we invested the levels of public finance per head that other similar sized European countries do we could transform the environment for Scottish film and TV. Where we spend around one pound a year per person on funding film, Ireland spends two and Denmark ten, resulting in a far bigger share of the domestic market than Scotland has. Add control of tax reliefs and incentives and the full range of studio facilities to attract more inward productions like US series Outlander filming in Cumbernauld and we can see how Scotland could reach Irish levels of production and perhaps, in the longer term, Danish.

 

An independent Scotland in the EU would qualify for country of ‘smaller audiovisual capacity’ status which would bring the same advantage when applying for Creative Europe MEDIA funding as every other small country in the EU enjoys. And like those countries if we joined EURIMAGES, the European Cinema Support Fund, our producers would have access to coproduction funds which the UK, as a non-member, does not.

Fiscal and regulatory measures to stimulate production are only part of the picture. Alongside a commitment to grow production levels, investment in skills and talent development is crucial. For too long we have waved goodbye to talents in front of and behind the camera that, once established in London, New York or LA then have precious little opportunity to pay return visits. Conversely when high value productions arrive from elsewhere they quickly max out the available expertise or worse, because of unfamiliarity with our abundant talent and skills, bring up their favoured cast and crew anyway.

Our screen ecology suffers from a long term depression of demand. In contrast Denmark’s equivalent of BBC Scotland, home to The Killing and Borgen, employs 40 people in its Drama Department. Its Head of Drama Piv Bernth cites their close relationship with the Danish Film School as “one of the secrets of our success – With The Killing 3 for instance, we had five young student cinematographers for three weeks on the set.” A revitalised film and TV industry in Scotland could offer similar opportunities, providing many more rungs in the career ladder, not just the step up to a plane south but an open return ticket too.

None of this means severing our links with industry, institutions or audiences south of the border. Rather it means reframing those relationships so that we can enter into creative and commercial partnerships on a more equal basis, bringing more to the table and having more say on how audiences here are served and industry supported. For example the Irish Film Board gets along very well with the British Film Institute and they regularly co-finance films in much the same way that Creative Scotland and the BFI do.

Of course there are risks: for instance we might not grow our domestic TV production base fast enough to compensate for the loss of ‘lift and shift’ procurement that is currently propping up the BBC’s commissioning record in Scotland. There might be additional transaction costs that could work against co-production or co-investment. We might discover it’s too late, culturally, to reverse audience expectations of wall-to-wall imported screen content. Or we might just not bother to take our screen culture and industry seriously enough to give it the investment it requires. But none of these things are inevitable. As the recent Creative Scotland Film Sector Review shows, we have the potential, the talent and the skills to make a difference. If we have the will there is a way in an independent Scotland.

 

Goodness knows we’re not so miserable now

Scottish filmmakers have routinely been accused of indulging in ‘miserablism’, a critique levied in recent times by a wide range of people from film-makers themselves and policy pundits in Scotland to journalism students in London and critics in New York (and back in 2000 to boot).  It is is a charge which has some basis if portraying poverty, drug abuse or crime necessarily equates to ‘miserablism’ (though this is a crude equation in itself) but does it overstate the case and ignore the diversity of Scottish film? Indeed does the seeming dominance of such stories perhaps tell us more about the relative success, in the UK/Global cinematic division of labour, of Scottish films with a hard edge rather than necessarily reflecting their share of what is produced?  The boffins here at screen facts central have turned the handle to see what the numbers tell us and they may come as a surprise to some of our less evidence-based commentators though perhaps not David Archibald whose piece on recent Scottish Films persuaded the FT subs to go against the usual headline grain.

The graph below (based on films that had or were intended for theatrical release) shows that while ‘Drama’ remains the top genre throughout the period from 1990 to now, comedy has significantly increased its presence from 10% in the 1990s to 29% in the current decade so far.  Allowing for the fact that some films designated (using IMDB categories) as romance could be labelled comedy and vice versa if we aggregate those two comedy/romance really took off in the 2000s moving from 13% in the 90s to 22% in the 2000s and 29% now.

Scottish Film genre 1990 to 2013

THE X FACTOR

The graph tells most of the story but one aspect it doesn’t is the apparent big increase in the proportion of 18 certificate films which by definition exclude a large chunk of potential audience members by virtue of their more graphic depictions of violence and/or explicit sex.  The relevant figures are

1990s  29 films  of which 31% (9) 18cert

2000s 50 films  of which 18% (9) 18cert

2010-13 21 films of which 33% (70) 18 cert

Of course we are only four years into the decade so things may look different in a few years’ time but for now perhaps the commentariat will be little less prone to reaching for the miserablism tag.  We shall see!

The long road to a scottish film studio

We noted yesterday some of the previous attempts to sustain a film studio in Scotland and given the Scotsman’s piece today on the debate and since on Fridays part of our mission is to recover some of Scotland’s endangered film history let’s skip back a few decades in time to previous newspaper reports of Scotland’s film studio, or lack thereof:

First the thirties and one of many comparisions between Scotland and Denmark:

“Denmark and Norway maintain a steady production, and Sweden has a widely known and respected film tradition.  Scotland does have one fully equipped film studio and laboratory, capable of turning out films on a comparatively modest scale.  At their India Street studios in Glasgow, Scottish Film Productions have just completed their most ambitious production.  This is “The River Clyde” produced for the Clyde Navigation Trustees, and directed by Stanley L. Russell from a scenario by George Blake.  Perhaps the most significant aspect of the films that, apart from the film stock, it was made entirely in Scotland – financed by a Scottish institution, written by a Scottish autor, directed by a Scotsman, and completed for the screen in a Scottish laboratory.  Clearly we have the technical requirements for film-making.  Finance, production strength and a market may follow.” ‘A Stevenson travesty, Kidnapped from Hollywood’ The Scotsman 28 Jun 1938 

the forties

“AT first glance there appear to be several reasons why Scotland should have her own film industry, a prospect which formed the subject of a question by Major Lloyd to the Secretary of State for Scotland yesterday.  The picture the screen has presented of Scotland over many years has given little satisfaction to Scotsmen; their history, habits and clothes have been repeatedly travesties in films made four hundred or four thousand miles away.  … …The project abroad of a  travesty of the Scottish story is, therefore, not a mater of indifference; and in addition to the cultural aspect, the film is a valuable instrument of propaganda for a country’s commerce and industry … These are arguments in favour of good and trustworthy Scottish films; they are not necessarily arguments in favour of the establishment of a Scottish film industry.  A film industry connotes studios, equipment, technicians, distributing organisation, and hard-won experience – expensive though not unobtainable items, given sufficient capital.  On the whole, it seems unlikely that these requirements will be met in such a way as to give Scotland a fil industry in any way comparable with those of London and Hollywood. “ Editorial Article the Scotsman, 3/2/44

“Good wishes will attend the launching, with Board of Trade approval, of Scottish National Film Studios, Ltd. Which is appealing for public subscription, in gifts or loans, of £100,000 to put a Scottish film industry on the map.  The new company’s resources are enough for it to have planned already the production of three films, but it is justified in requesting solid support from the Scottish public with which to embark on more ambitious ventures while marinating the ideals which it has started. [But] the real test, and the real ambition of this venture, must ultimately be the production of full-length “story” films with which to challenge the world’s markets. ‘Scotland on the screen’, Glasgow Herald, 9 April 1946 

the 1950s...

“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 

“Mr Elder, who had toured Denmark to study Danish film production, asked why Denmark had a thriving film industry while Scotland, with 1,000,000 more of a population and the advantage of the English language had not one film studio in the country. Scotland was rich in talent and colorful background for the producing of films and had made several efforts to enter the industry,  These had been individual ventures without adequate backing, said Mr Elder.  He suggested that a group of Scottish exhibitors should meet with other interested parties to form a trust, acquire modest studio premises and initiate production.  Modest feature films could be made at least as successfully in Scotland as in Denmark, he said.” ‘Scotland’s Poor Film Record – Denmark’s Example.  Glasgow Herald, 1 February 1955 

“A Scottish film studio is the only thing lacking to provide all-the-year round employment for actors in Scotland Mr Alex. McCrindle, Scottish secretary, yesterday told member of the British Actors Equity Association at a meeting in Edinburgh…The question was being considered by the Scottish committee and if nothing could be done commercially the only thing would be for them to demand that a national film studio for making feature films in Scotland should be established by the Government.”  The Glasgow Herald 8 Sep 1958

Plus ca change!

Another sunrise for Scottish film?

Some 64 years since a member of parliament first raised the issue of a film studio in Scotland, Angus and Mearns MSP Nigel Don will move a motion in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow noting the imminent arrival of Terrence Davis to shoot his adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s masterpiece Sunset Song.  As it happens this was a project I first recommended for funding when I was in charge of development at Scottish Screen exactly 10 years ago, evidence (if any more were needed) of the patience and determination required of filmmakers in raising the money to get from page to screen. (See this earlier post for an analysis of what happened to the Scottish Screen Development slate ‘class of 2001’)

Don’s motion focuses on the absence of ‘proper’ studio facilities in Scotland, one of several factors which has over the years limited the number of incoming feature films that Scotland can attract and the amount that they can spend while they are here.  The absence of a full-scale sound stage and associated facilities has also, arguably, limited the ambition and possibilities of what Scottish-based filmmakers, and indeed television drama producers, can achieve on their own turf.

It has to be said that Scotland has seen the sun rise – and set –  on a studio or at least studio proposals many times since the end of World War 2. Beginning with Scottish National Film Studios (1946-47) through Blackcat (1984 – 1991), a veritable blizzard of competing proposals and sites in the early nougties (from  Gleneagles to Inverness) and most recently the sustained effort led by the redoubtable Gillian Berrie of Film City in Glasgow, the ambition to raise the roof on a studio rarely stays dormant for long.

Enhanced studio facilities alone, however, cannot solve all the problems facing Scotland’s filmmakers, both those trying to get projects of the ground here and those whose livelihoods depend as much if not more on incoming productions and the work they generate for technicians, facilities and service companies (from lighting and transportation to hotels and to catering).  However thanks to its Titanic Studios a single TV series, Game of Thrones, brings  £20m per series to the Northern Ireland economy, which combined with a single feature, Universal’s “Your Highness”, meant that last year N Ireland attracted £30m of spend, significantly more than Scotland’s typical £20 to £25m a year.

In the highly competitive world of mobile film production, and notwithstanding the fantastic work done by our screen locations and film commission staff, the highly-prized skills of our crews and the attractiveness of our diverse locations, cold hard cash plays a very large part in where producers choose to shoot their films.  Location incentives, tax breaks and ‘soft’ financing are the levers nations and regions use to lure productions their way and while Scotland benefits from the UK film tax credit we lack the direct incentives to clinch the deal that more and more countries from familiar players Canada, and Germany to assertive new kids on the block like South Africa, Belgium and individual American States.

Even as differential tax breaks and incentives for non EU productions are currently under scrutiny by the European Commission, Northern Ireland is looking at how it can develop its own tax break which offers producers and policy makers in Scotland some food for thought.

It starts with the audience

But making films and encouraging the making of films isn’t, or certainly shouldn’t just be about helping filmmakers or the economy.  From a public policy perspective the audience matters as much if not more; it deserves to have easy access to the best of the world’s cinema, the best that Scotland’s film makers can provide and the smallest gap between the two.  A key player in that regard is the British Film Institute.  With £98m to spend across the UK on film education, distribution production, talent and heritage it holds most of the purse strings and strategic oversight for a very large part of the UK’s film ecology including, at least for the time being, Scotland.  Following a period of policy reviews (to which the Sottish Goverment contributed) the BFI’s future plan, charmingly titled ‘Film Forever’  was launched a few weeks ago and its senior executives are currently on a tour of Britain, hosting Q&As with ‘stakeholders’, with the (not terribly well attended) Scottish event taking place last week in Glasgow.

The first of the BFI’s three ‘strategic priorities’ is “Expanding education and learning opportunities and boosting audience choice across the UK ” and central to the delivery of that part of the strategy is “A new education offer delivered by a new partner aimed at inspiring young people from 5-19 to watch, understand and make films”.

In practice what this means is a single agency for the UK charged with giving every school the opportunity to establish a ‘film club’; a new online platform; and a youth Film Academy (available in England only in year one).  In pursuing these objectives the BFI has stated its commitment to work with the nations and regions and existing expertise in further and higher education and to play a leading ‘advocacy’ role in, for example, making “the case to Government in Westminster and in the devolved UK administrations for film education to be more firmly embedded in curricula. We will advocate policies which build on pioneering work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and on the forthcoming national plan for Cultural Education.

Over the horizon…

So far so good and it seems most practitioners, policy-types and concerned politicians welcome the new strategy, even if they may argue the merits of individual budget priorities.  However the key challenge for Scotland is to make sure that the distinctive  legislative and administrative context and structures of education, training, exhibition, audience development etc. are understood, respected and engaged with in the development of truly ‘Scottish solutions for Scottish needs’.  So far the signs are broadly positive both in terms of the BFI’s engagement with the various sectors in Scotland and acknowledgement of the distinct Scottish context by e.g. some of the potential bidders to run the ‘5-19 education offer’.  More importantly, perhaps, the leading players involved in audience development, film education/skills and ‘ specialized’ exhibition in Scotland (organisations like GFT, Filmhouse/CMI, DCA, Regional Screen Scotland, access centres and the film and media academies) are showing real signs of a joined-up approach to making the full range of film, film understanding and film skills as widely available as possible.  At the same time Creative Scotland has embarked on a review of film in Scotland to “inform [its] future priorities for investment and partnership working in and beyond Scotland”.  Ten years have elapsed since the Scottish Executive’s Review of Scottish Screen and nine since the last published study of the economic aspects of film in Scotland (the ‘Audit of the Screen Industries in Scotland’ ) and while recent research on the cultural value of film has touched briefly on Scotland (such as the fascinating BFI report ‘Opening Our Eyes: how film contributes to the culture of the UK’)  there is still some work to be done to show just how important the moving image, and cinema in particular, to our sense of identity (or identities), our ability to make sense of the world around us and to help shape it.  As with a studio, illuminating what we have, don’t have and what we could have on the screen is a potentially important step forward and now is a very good time to let some more light in.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter feed

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Unless otherwise credited all text and image IP is mine