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Time for Scotland to invest in its film industry

To the untrained eye, 2013 may not have seemed too challenging a year for the Scottish film industry.

There were two hit movies - Sunshine on Leith and Filth - and Glasgow's streets featured in the Brad Pitt thriller World War Z. Scotland has never been a major international centre for filmmaking, so this rather modest tally of high-profile films is not unusual.

It does not have to be that way, however. Given the talent available and the size of the nation, Scotland should be producing many more films. Instead, there has been a growing sense of pessimism among industry insiders. Sixty producers wrote to Creative Scotland in September warning that the state of the industry was "extremely bleak" due to financial constraints.

So it is good news that their views on how to build up the industry are reflected in a long-awaited review of the film sector for Creative Scotland.

The report makes clear that the lack of a large-scale studio has meant Scotland cannot compete when it comes to attracting big-budget productions. The case for building one is now overwhelming. Having state-of-the-art facilities would help ensure that film companies do not just come to Scotland for location shoots, in misty glens or urban streetscapes, but could complete their productions in this country. This would help ensure a steadier supply of work for creative and technical staff in Scotland and make the country more attractive as a destination for filmmakers.

A new film studio would also help attract producers of high-end television, a prize not to be missed. Scotland is the same size as Denmark and has a huge wealth of writing, acting, directing and producing talent but has not produced anything to rival the Danish series Borgen or The Killing.

This is not just due to lack of facilities. Scotland also suffers from a legacy of underfunding. In Denmark, £52m is invested in film each year; in Scotland, the figure is £3.5m. The report recommends a greater level of funding overall for film and efforts to lever in diverse sources of money at an earlier stage; it also calls for incentives to encourage inward investment. All of these measures make sense. While public finances are tighter than ever, spending taxpayer pounds on supporting the film industry is an investment.

The Scottish industry has also suffered from lacking a public agency of its own. The decision to do away with Scottish Screen, which merged with the Scottish Arts Council to form Creative Scotland in 2010, was perhaps too hasty. Scotland finds itself almost entirely alone in Europe in not having its own dedicated screen agency, a change which has left film producers feeling under-represented. This report recommends the creation of a screen-focused public agency to be set up within Creative Scotland, which could answer the concerns of filmmakers, but only if it truly is a powerhouse championing the industry and is seen as equal to other national screen agencies, not a clever remarketing of the status quo.

Creative Scotland is due to produce a strategy on film by June. It must heed the lessons of this report.

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