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Dallas King: Aberdeen is more than ready for its big cinema close-up

Actor Taron Egerton (right) on set during filming for Tetris at the Zoology Building in Aberdeen (Photo: Kath Flannery/DCT Media)
Actor Taron Egerton (right) on set during filming for Tetris at the Zoology Building in Aberdeen (Photo: Kath Flannery/DCT Media)

If you were to visit Glasgow this month and take a walk along the Trongate, you may find yourself not in the Dear Green Place, but Gotham City.

That’s because the Batgirl movie is currently being shot there. The DC superhero movie starring Leslie Grace, JK Simmons and Michael Keaton is the latest Hollywood production to use Scotland as a filming location. Well, Scotland’s Central Belt, to be more exact.

The recent trend began in 2011, when Glasgow’s George Square became Philadelphia, the centre of a zombie outbreak in Brad Pitt film World War Z. The city went on to host the likes of Hobbs & Shaw, The Flash, the upcoming Indiana Jones movie and The Batman.

Edinburgh has been visited by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for the production of Avengers Infinity War, as well as the Fast & Furious crew.

Explosions and fire are seen on the set for the new Batgirl film, currently being shot in Glasgow (Photo: Ewan Bootman/Shutterstock)

It leads me to wonder – if the Caped Crusader can visit Glasgow, why not Aberdeen? Why can’t the Granite City be transformed into Gotham City?

One could easily visualise the Dark Knight stood atop Marischal College, the old Woolmanhill hospital transformed into the rogue’s gallery of villains that is Arkham Asylum, or Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker recreating his infamous dance down the flight of steps from Crown Terrace to Bridge Street.

Culture focus can bring in cash and create opportunities

Culture will play a big role as the city looks to the future, away from a reliance on oil and gas. Could a move into the film industry be on the cards?

It would certainly be a lucrative one. Glasgow City Council’s Film Office reported that location filming generated £42.4 million last year.

Not only does film and television production generate money for the area, it can also offer opportunities for local talent to work in the industry

It has been nearly 30 years since the north-east town of Pennan was immortalised in Local Hero and it is still a badge of honour, with recent campaigns to help save the iconic phone box and pub featured in the film. The time has come for the area to hear the words “lights, camera, action” again – and the foundations have already started to be laid.

Scenes for the final season of Peaky Blinders were filmed in Portsoy. In February 2021, I witnessed the excitement as fans gathered around Aberdeen’s Zoology building to catch a glimpse of star Taron Egerton during filming for the Tetris movie.

Scenes from Peaky Blinders filmed at Portsoy harbour (Photo: Jason Hedges/DCT Media)

The film’s director, Jon S Baird, is from Aberdeenshire and was adamant that he wanted to bring production to the city. The BAFTA-nominated director of Stan & Ollie hailed the shoot as a “dream come true”.

Not only does film and television production generate money for the area, it can also offer opportunities for local talent to work in the industry. Plus, when the films are released, our cinemas receive a boost as audiences turn out to see their city on the big screen.

I worked at the Belmont Filmhouse in 2015 during the release of Terence Davies’ adaptation of Sunset Song. Filming took place in several locations across Aberdeenshire and it felt like everyone and their sheepdog (no, literally) who had appeared as an extra or worked on the production visited the cinema to see if if they had made the final cut and watch the finished film. It ended up outgrossing the James Bond film, Spectre, that year.

Time for the silver city to shine on the silver screen

Aberdeen has a wealth of homegrown talent, both in front of and behind the camera, but often they find themselves having to leave the north-east to pursue their dreams. What if we brought in more opportunities to work on productions within the city? We could retain and nurture that talent instead of losing it.

Head to the Beach Esplanade with a macaroni pie and you could film a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds without the need for special effects

The Aberdeen City and Shire Film Office already exists, but with investment in infrastructure and the right incentives, Aberdeen could become the next must-visit destination for Hollywood.

Following the success of the Avengers filming in Edinburgh, work commenced on building a film studio inside an old warehouse in Leith docks. With oil companies downsizing and moving their offices into the city centre, there is potential to convert some of the empty spaces in existing Altens and Dyce industrial estates into film hubs.

Aberdeen’s striking skyline is undeniably cinematic (Photo: Kami Thomson/DCT Media)

As for the city itself, underneath its cold granite exterior (deemed perfect for Tetris’s Soviet Russia) lies a world of cinematic opportunities. One just has to take a walk around the city for inspiration.

The Shell building in Altens reminds me of the Tyrell Corporation headquarters from Blade Runner. Walk along Forest Road in the West End of Aberdeen and you could convince yourself you’re in Manhattan, looking at a brownstone building. Head to the Beach Esplanade with a macaroni pie and you could film a remake of Hitchcock’s The Birds without the need for special effects.

To paraphrase Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, “Aberdeen is ready for its close-up, Mr DeMille”. It is time for the silver city to shine on the silver screen.


Dallas King is a film critic, writer and podcaster from Aberdeen

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