WHAT do Wales, Northern Ireland, England, and even Yorkshire and Bristol have, which Scotland is lacking?

Not mountains of course, or ruined castles, or buildings replete with Victorian elegance or urban grit. Not even film crew or directors, screen writers or location experts.

No, the answer – as it has been for decades – is film studios: several sturdy, capacious, weather-resistant, flexible film studios, ideal for both visiting Hollywood blockbusters, for making long-form dramas for online streaming platforms, for crafting indigenous movies or recording TV dramas.

As one prominent MSP, culture committee convener Joan McAlpine, lamented earlier this year, the call for a film studio for Scotland has been made, and not answered, since the 1940s.

Scotland, at present, needs not just one, but several. Nearly all industry experts agree, with one lobbying group saying it is now “more urgent than ever”. The screen industries, boosted by tax cuts, are a proven boon for the UK economy, and Scotland too.

The British Film Institute (BFI) said last week that the UK film and TV industry generated a record £7.9 billion in 2016, helped by Government tax reliefs.

But any industry needs premises: Scotland, apart from some industrial spaces which can be used temporarily, only has one full-time studio: the Wardpark Studios at Cumbernauld with its four sound stages. However, that is used solely for the successful time-travel romantic drama Outlander, and likely will be for the next two or three years, with little availability for anything else.

In comparison, Wales now has several studios, including a Pinewood extension that could have been in Scotland, as has Northern Ireland.

Yorkshire has a studio, and last week the need for Scotland to compete with other parts of the UK was underlined when Steven Knight, the Birmingham-born screenwriter, film director and creator of Peaky Blinders, revealed plans to open a six-stage TV and film studio complex in the Midlands city.

The 20-acre site, called Mercian Studios, will be located near Birmingham airport and include six sound stages.

Scotland, by contrast, seems to have, when faced with the prospect of building film studios – Wardpark aside – been gripped by a case of soundstage-fright. Various plans, from prospective studios in the Highlands to plans for the outskirts of Edinburgh, have risen and fallen like apparitions.

But is this situation about to change? It could be. It is understood the outline of a public-private solution could be unveiled before Christmas.

The Herald on Sunday has learned that Creative Scotland, which has a new screen body, Screen Scotland, is shortly to put a private-public studio proposition, with a specific site in mind, to tender to interested companies.

This will be a different proposition from 2015, when the body and Scottish Enterprise put several suggested business cases out to tender, with little success.

The plan received an “approval in principle” from Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, on July 18, and a “prospective landlord” is in commercial discussions.

Now Screen Scotland is to recruit a project manager to “drive the next steps” in the plan.

Where this studio might be is not known, but the 2014 EKOS consultancy's report into the potential for film studio in Scotland, for Scottish Enterprise, suggested a site in the central belt with good transport links.

Iain Munro, the interim chief executive of Creative Scotland, says that the new studio plan – still largely under wraps – could be a “step change” for the screen industry north of the border, and boost the already £95 million the screen industries bring to the country.

He says that, in combination with the new Screen Scotland unit, “permanent, sustainable studio facilities are a particular focus”. Munro said: “There is already studio provision in Scotland, but Screen Scotland recognises, in order to deliver that ambition, and the step change for growth in the sector, a studio remains a central proposition.

“We shouldn’t overlook that there are other facilities in play, but this central proposition is the fact we’ve been working on a technical business case ... in order to deliver this central priority.

“We are doing our due diligence – the important thing is that we are at an advanced stage, and are about to embark on the next stage.”

The next stage is putting the idea out to tender, and Munro said “we understand that for some time, there’s been a real desire for Scotland to take up this opportunity, and the potential for this sector is huge, and there is so much more than we can do.”

He added: “Once we go to tender, that will be about securing an operator for a facility, and that is quite an exciting new stage.”

Munro does not think Scotland is starting from a “blank piece of paper” in Scotland, with Wardpark and other facilities that can be used on temporary basis.

He added: “We have Outlander here, production growth is up, but this significant studio is a game-changing element that will be key to that development in the next five years.

“It’s a real priority, I cannot impress that enough.”

Producers, film-makers and location experts all agree a large-scale studio complex is needed in Scotland.

At present, big productions come to Scotland for its natural beauty, its castles and mountains and beaches, its urban elegance and city-scape toughness, but rarely stay for their whole shoot: there is no ready-made studio space to hold them and keep them for long periods.

Game Of Thrones, the hugely successful television fantasy drama, famously considered Scotland as a home, but was lured to Belfast by its Titanic Studios, one of Europe’s largest film studios.

So although Glasgow, last year, benefited from £15m in film and TV shoots, and Edinburgh had a bumper year of £16.1m, largely due to Avengers: Infinity War shooting some scenes in the city, the economic benefits of the movie, and, increasingly, televisions dramas driven by streaming services Netflix and Amazon, are nowhere near as high as they could be, experts say.

Scottish film-makers, the Association of Film and Television Practitioners Scotland (AFTPS) said in a new statement, have had to work with ad-hoc, temporary solutions.

It said: “For decades, Scottish film-makers have had a nomadic existence using buildings that have been discarded by other industries.

“Ten years ago, Scotland had the largest screen industry outside the home counties, it is now far behind Northern Ireland, Wales and the English regions.

“The screen sector is a multi-billion-pound global industry on the ascendancy, and the Scottish Government needs the will to encourage the local Scottish industry.”

The AFPTS, which includes directors, producers and technical crews, also notes: “There is difference between a studio and a stage: a stage is a big shed where you shoot the production. A studio has a lot more – it includes production offices, dressing rooms, prop storage, prop making, construction workshops, special effects, costume making, lighting companies, sound companies, camera hire companies, post-production, casting companies – and the list goes on.”

The Scottish Hollywood producer Iain Smith, whose films include Mad Max: Fury Road, The Fountain and Children Of Men, expresses a certain weariness over the lack of studio – he has seen many plans and schemes appear and evaporate over the years.

He sees an opportunity for Scotland in the seemingly inexorable rise of streaming platforms.

Smith said: “It is not just Birmingham, we are seeing initiatives all over the nations and regions, because people are beginning to get the picture – and yet Scotland seems somehow stuck.

“I’ve personally been on two of these [Parliament] committees with MSPs, and they seem positive at the time, but nothing transpires, and I quite don’t know why.

“It doesn’t have to be a massive spend, in fact I would argue it mustn’t be massive spend, it is about using facilities, amending and adjusting them so they are fit for purpose.”

Rosie Ellison is the head of film at Film Edinburgh. It is her job to draw movies, TV shows, documentaries and adverts to Edinburgh and the surrounding area.

She was deeply involved with recent shoots such as Avengers: Infinity War in the city.

Part of Avengers: Infinity War, when it was shooting in the capital, was filmed in a makeshift studio in the Pelamis Building in Leith.

The producers were able to erect a set there for some of the shooting in 2017. However, once the location shoot in Edinburgh was done, including much filming around Cockburn Street, the Royal Mile, St Giles' Cathedral and Waverley Station, the production returned to its base in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ellison believes Scotland needs two major factors to make a studio happen: a private developer with the will to make it happen, and a collective “belief”.

The lack of a large, permanent, film studio makes her job harder –productions want to shoot in the capital, and its surrounds, but they also need facilities indoors.

Scotland loses films, or can only be home for parts of them, because of the lack of capacity for indoor shoots, Ellison says. If there was a studio, it would create a virtuous circle. More productions would come for both locations and studios, more crew would move to, or stay in Scotland, and businesses connected to movies would also gather and grow.

She said: “What we find is that they really like the locations we have, and then they ask where are we going to build sets, and we need crew? We have stunning locations, but it’s very difficult to land productions without the studios.

“I think about [the forthcoming] Mary, Queen of Scots film, and how they came to shoot for a few weeks, to capture the Scottish landscapes and establish its Scottish nature, but if we had a studio, then that’s the kind of productions which could have come to Scotland, lock, stock and barrel.

“A film studio would be an absolute game-changer for Scotland and it is essential Scotland keeps up with the rest of the UK.

“We need the people to back it and the belief that we can do it.”

One hurdle, the Scottish Government and Scottish Enterprise have said, is the EU’s rules on state aid – that is, its strict rules against states distorting the free market by pumping public money into private business.

A film studio in Spain backed by public money, Ciudad de la Luz in Alicante, had to close after legal challenges from commercial rivals.

But after Brexit, will this hurdle be removed? Not likely, it seems.

This week, a spokesman for the Brexit Department at the UK Government said the state aid strictures are likely to continue after next March. He noted: “The UK’s proposals for the future UK-EU relationship include committing to a common rulebook on state aid, to be enforced and supervised in the UK by the Competition and Markets Authority” and “the UK has been a leading advocate of the development of the EU state aid and competition regime, and has much to gain from maintaining disciplines on subsidies and anti-competitive practices”.

Two purely private efforts have led the way in recent years in Scotland –the well-documented Pentlands Film Studios, which wants to build on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and the little less-known Guardhouse plan, which, its chief executive Surya Iacono, maintains, is still on track.

Both have, in recent weeks and months, hit obstacles.

The Pentlands plan, to build on land at Straiton, took a blow legally. The Scottish Land Court ruled a tenant farmer could not be evicted from his land which the developers want to use for the studio.

PSL Land, which wishes to build the £200m film studio on the land, said it respected, but is disappointed by, the decision and is now considering its options – although it is not clear what these are.

Guardhouse had initially wanted to build a studio on land owned by Heriot-Watt University but now it is looking elsewhere, near Edinburgh and in Fife. However, a statement from Guardhouse says it is waiting to see how the potentially calamitous Brexit process unfolds.

It said: “While these plans are very far advanced, a decision on the final scope of our investment into Scotland will very much depend on how Brexit unfolds and in particular on how the decision to exit the European Union will impact on the financial viability of our studio business models.

“Issues include the continuation of the UK’s successful incentive programme, the financial implications of any new tariff regime on the high-tech equipment imported to establish the studio, and our ability to seamlessly move management and production staff and crew between our Italian studio and our Edinburgh operations as required.”

BREAK OUT: The studio rivals to Scotland around the UK.


Pinewood Studios, Wales.

In Cardiff Bay, the studio is part of the major Pinewood company and has 70,000 square feet of shooting space, and the same amount of production space.

Also in Wales: the BBC's Roath Lock studio, Dragon International Film Studios, near Bridgend: Merlin and film Ironclad have been filmed there.

Enfys in Cardiff also has two studios, Bay Studios in Swansea is another facility, and Bad Wolf Studios is one of the largest studios in the country.

Northern Ireland:

Belfast Harbour Studios, has two 32,000 square feet sound stages.

Titanic Studios, which includes three major sound stages.

The Britvic facility has three sound stages, close to central Belfast.

The Linen Mill, half an hour from Belfast, has a total of 77,000 square feet.


Church Fenton Studios, based in Selby District, is managed and developed by Screen Yorkshire.

It as three stages, and Stage One, 34,500 square feet, was used for shooting ITV's Victoria.


The centre of film making in the UK, with Pinewood Studios, Shepperton Studios, Twickenham Studios, and numerous others.


Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld: currently home to the Outlander series.

A series of spaces which can become temporary studios, including Assumption Studios, Glasgow, Cadzow Business Park, the Pelamis Building in Leith, Edinburgh, the Pyramids Business Park in Bathgate and the The Shed, Glasgow, among others.


The Scottish Hollywood producer Iain Smith on the potential of streaming drama for the Scottish film and TV industry.

"There is Netflix, there is Amazon [streaming video] coming up fast, and there is Disney, coming up fast - they are preparing their own streaming channel.

"It is all moving to streaming, or SVOD as we call it, Subscription Video on Demand. Consumers have control now. We got so used to how we would see one episode on a Saturday night and then wait a week for another episode, we were indoctrinated to the control of broadcasters.

"This is not a golden age, I don't think, but it is great period for creators of content: Netflix are in 190 countries, 125m subscribers, and all in seven years.

"From a content point of view, its very good news - but Scotland is not ready for it, it does not have the capacity.

"Netflix are looking for a hub in the UK, and they are looking to the nations and regions."

Mr Smith said: "Hopefully with the new Screen Scotland, we are going to see something about economics."

He added: "My reading of the Scottish situation is that the MSPs do get it, they understand the big picture, but where I feel the problem is, is in officialdom."

Mr Smith noted: "Scotland seems content to have a few crumbs off the table, and it cannot afford to be like that.

"If this country is going to be in any way self-sustaining, then it needs to get its economy sorted. And for £1.5m, or something like that [in a studio], they could see some significant improvement."