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Talking Point: Would the north of Scotland benefit from a new film studio in the region?

peaky blinders portsoy
Parts of the last series of "Peaky Blinders" were filmed in Portsoy.

It has been one of the more welcome recent developments in the arts; the emergence of Scotland as a prime location site for TV and film producers.

Even in the last couple of years, north-east director Jon S Baird shot scenes for his new movie Tetris – which is released next week – on the streets of Aberdeen, while Portsoy was featured in the final series of Peaky Blinders and Peterhead Prison Museum was used for exterior scenes in the Channel 4 drama Screw.

In the north, meanwhile, the James Bond franchise and Outlander are just two of the smash-hit productions to have capitalised on the stunning scenery….and that is even before we mention the success of crime series Shetland, which has become a global phenomenon since Ann Cleeves’ characters were brought to the screen a decade ago.

Studios already established in central belt

Douglas Henshall’s work in “Shetland” brought the islands a lot of publicity.

But while this has sparked publicity and increased tourist awareness, in most cases, the casts and crews of the various projects mentioned have merely spent a short time in the region. They have been itinerant visitors on the entertainment equivalent of an away-day work assignment. Here one minute, gone the next.

So wouldn’t it be a positive – and profitable – idea if a new film and TV production studio was created in Aberdeen or Inverness? A state of the art venue where everything from acting and editing to post-production, special effects and extras casting could be carried out at one site, and tap into the expertise of the students and teachers who are working at various universities and colleges across the north of Scotland?

A range of new multi-purpose studios has already been established in the central belt and these have attracted plenty of customers. So what about constructing a similar facility in a part of the country which is becoming synonymous with screens of all sizes?

Martin Compston is among the stars of the new Amazon Prime drama "The Rig".
Martin Compston starred in The Rig on Amazon Prime. Image: Hires Photography

The benefits speak for themselves

Bafta-winning film-maker Anthony Baxter, who gained plaudits for Eye of the Storm and You’ve Been Trumped, is among those in the industry who backs the idea.

He said: “A new film studio in Inverness or Aberdeen would be a tremendous asset for Scotland. There is a growing list of high-end content being shot in the country for streaming platforms and available studio space offering adaptable sound stages is key.

“For example, Amazon Prime has green-lit season two of The Rig with production returning to FirstStage Studios in Edinburgh. Until a few years ago, this was a vast derelict warehouse in Leith. But now, thanks in part to an initial £1m investment from the Scottish Government and Screen Scotland, it’s welcoming some of the country’s best production talent and stars to create content which is proving a hit with audiences.

“But why couldn’t series such as The Rig be shot in Aberdeen or Inverness?  Both cities have excellent transport links and provide enviable and unique locations.

“The knock-on effects of production ripple through the local economy, as Edinburgh has proven with The Rig. Amazon is reported to have invested more than £50m and created 750 jobs through filming several big series in Scotland”.

Filming for the Tetris movie in Seamount Court, Gallowgate, in February 2021. Picture by Kath Flannery/DCT Media.
Filming for the Tetris movie in Aberdeen in 2021. Picture by Kath Flannery/DCT Media.

‘We could have a thriving film and TV sector’

His words were endorsed by film-maker Pat Macleod, who had more than 30 years of experience in the industry and is now involved with Aberdeen-based Midas Media.

She said: “The potential in this area is enormous and I feel strongly that the north-east region should be recognised as a creative hub. Economic development agencies have historically focused on specific sectors here, such as oil and gas and food and drink, but excluded film and TV, which has instead been clustered around the central belt.

“In Aberdeen, we have two universities and one college educating media students in Film and TV, yet these graduates have little choice for work experience or mentors locally, and many of them leave the area for better prospects, with the exception being the P&J Live which offers great opportunities for careers in Sound.

“We could and should have a thriving film and TV sector here, and let’s face it, who can beat us for such a wide variety of locations and stunning scenery? So I wholeheartedly support the creation of a new film studio in the north-east.”

The famous red telephone box in “Local Hero” has appeared on myriad postcards.

Iain Smith, the associate producer on Local Hero, and somebody who has worked with the biggest names in film history, was among those who fell in love with Pennan and the surrounding area while shooting the classic movie 40 years ago.

And he said: “A modest facility in the north east could be sustainable and profitable if it is carefully promoted and managed”.

Let’s call Lights, Camera, Action on this proposal.

Recent TV projects in north-east

A host of TV and film projects have been shot in the north-east recently:

SCREW: The series, created by Bafta-nominated writer Rob Williams, who wrote Killing Eve and The Victim, focused on the travails of its central character, Leigh, played by Nina Sosanya. Several scenes were shot at Peterhead Prison Museum in the early months of 2021 and a new series has been commissioned.

GRANITE HARBOUR: The Aberdeen-based crime drama, most of whose exterior shots were filmed in and around the city centre, allowed viewers to spot locations such as the Castlegate, Broad Street, North Silver Street and Provost Skene’s House.But the programme itself proved a damp squib.

PEAKY BLINDERS: Parts of the hit show, written by Steven Knight, were shot in the picturesque Aberdeenshire village of Portsoy two years ago. A stellar cast, including Cillian Murphy and Finn Cole, arrived for filming in the winter of 2021.