With our cinemas, television and internet media saturated with US imports, targeted to the viewing habits of impressionable teenagers, many film-makers would agree. But is there any future for our home-grown film-makers?

Although it did not make any feature films, Carlyle’s 4Way Pictures did better than most at attracting government finance, with Scottish Screen putting in more than £100,000 in company investment, with a further £600,000 invested in its slate of projects, most of which was returned when the films failed to move into production. With Carlyle’s prodigal talent supported by director Antonia Bird, and esteemed critic Mark Cousins on board, plus writers Alan Warner and Irvine Welsh, the collected talents of 4Way Pictures should have been a dream team for making films, and might still succeed, but films take a long time to make.

4Way wanted to start at the top by dint of the impressive track record of those involved, but had a limited

reputation as a film production company. With big-money investment hard to find, and even studios such as Universal struggling to fund their projects, making low-budget features might be less glamorous. Yet it is an increasingly useful route to the screen for anyone keen to prove themselves. Sitting pretty in the US top 10, the horror film Paranormal Activity cost less than £10,000 but has grossed more than £5m, propelling cast and crew on to bigger and better things.

Ten years of working as a film critic gave me an anxious seat in the stands to watch as talented and established Scottish companies and individuals crashed and burned. Yet even during a recession, cinema box office takings are rising and new distribution methods, through new technologies such as iTunes or X-Box, promise encouraging financial rewards, albeit on a smaller scale.

Working with director Marc De Launay and Mandragora, a Glasgow-based production company, we shot a low-budget thriller, Dark Nature, last year. Rather than pay for expensive insurance bonds, which would tie us creatively to government agencies, we chose to raise the budget privately; thrift is the key virtue when your own hard-earned cash is at stake. The largest obstacle to film production in the past showed me that poor distribution blocks any real chance of making money; if people can’t pay to see a film, it simply can’t succeed. So Dark Nature secured a UK DVD distribution deal on the table before filming commenced, giving us confidence to hire cast and crew on deferred payments and complete the film for less than £100,000.

We set out to create a script that avoids the pitfalls of big-budget productions. Dark Nature takes place almost entirely in daylight to get the best from digital cameras, with production values coming from the locations, and the cast and crew focused on the one cinematic quality that does not require a big budget or stars: high tension. But Dark Nature was not entirely made without the support of government bodies. Mark Geddes and his South West Screen team helped us get the best value from our budget.

Making films is an expensive business but a little sensitively-invested cash can go a long way. The debate about the 2009 Scottish Bafta nominations is useful as it focuses on the future of film and television. All any awards body can do, however, is reflect the state of the industry and there has been little note taken about this year seeing the highest number of feature films entered (11), almost all with budgets of less than £350,000.

There is little to be gained from putting the blame on past models of government investment. The only way forward is to look to the future, support the next generation of film-

makers and hope for the sort of returns Paranormal Activity has enjoyed. That is the challenge for film-makers, financiers and government bodies alike. Creative Scotland will have to look carefully at how the investment process is managed if Carlyle’s gloomy prediction for our film industry’s future is to be avoided.

Eddie Harrison is a film critic and screen-writer. The first preview screening for Dark Nature is at Cineworld, Glasgow, next Friday, October 30.

Eddie Harrison