The Bute House Agreement between the SNP and Greens saw a cascade of headlines centred around the constitution, environmental policy, and how the philosophies of both parties would coalesce in government.

Little was written about one tiny paragraph thrown onto page seven, however, despite being a major commercial move for Scotland’s film and television sector.

The Bute House Agreement promised to “provide additional resources to Screen Scotland for the purpose of facilitating year-round engagement between the Scottish and international film & television industries, with a particular emphasis on the USA”.

International collaboration through Scotland’s burgeoning screen industries makes sense (Denmark is one country that has seen a rise in its film profile through this method) but the mission statement lacked any detail as to why this move would make a positive impact on the sector.

Yet now Creative Scotland is facing unprecedented cuts, with the Scottish Government having flip-flopped on a £6.6 million cut to its annual budget.

Thousands of jobs and a variety of arts organisations remain on the chopping block.

Wasn’t this “year-round engagement” between Scotland and the US film industry supposed to fill the coffers, by supplying labour and shoring up revenues brought about by major studio collaborations?

The short answer is, well, it didn’t.

The international machine

First, we have to ask: why would Hollywood studios be interested in using Scotland as a filming base given the resources they possess to film anywhere? What do they get out of it?

It might have something to do with the very generous terms set out for US collaboration. Screen Scotland’s Production Growth Fund was specifically designed to attract international production and ‘maximise spend in Scotland’, supplying £200,000 to £500,000 grants to studios to employ local film crews and ensure ‘major expenditure’ is spent towards local economies.

Already any idea that collaboration with US studios is for the health and benefit of Scottish arts and culture is in dispute. In its place is a half-filled calendar of temporary work and an additional prong to the government’s tourism sector.

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Creative Scotland has been neglected for so long that it now sees existential threat. A glance at the scope of Scotland’s screen industries shows international collaboration not to be a natural evolution of where the sector stands, but one that actively takes away resources, ticks bureaucratic boxes, and gives the Scottish Government another tool to prop up expanding tourism plans.

Scotland has little in the way of commercial studios currently, adding collaboration where basic infrastructure has not been built. Wardpark Studios, located in Cumbernauld, is the biggest production facility in Scotland and is often block-booked to accommodate the highly successful Outlander television series and other internationally recognised properties.

The Herald:
In 2021, Wardpark Studios was added to the portfolio of US-based property group Hackman Capital Partners and investment house Square Mile Capital Partners. Essentially, Scotland’s biggest studio produces a show that mainly draws in the tartan-goggled American market, enabled through US capital. This is business, not art.

The pressure to solidify and codify Scotland’s domestic arts and culture sector has loomed in the background for many years – but with little movement. In 1945, The Herald reported on plans for a national studio in Scotland as part of the post-war consensus. Many European countries went forward with these plans, helping to establish film movements that would become part of a national artistic identity and a part of film history. Scotland, in contrast, was left in the dust.

Glasgow or New York, what's cheaper?

The Scottish public is well acquainted with closed-off major streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh accommodating large Hollywood productions. At first, this was a novelty – the glamorous distraction of a big screen production on our doorstep – but slowly turned into a never-ending schedule of traffic diversions and inconvenience for the city’s workers.

Blockbuster sequel Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny saw itself planted in the surroundings of Glasgow city centre in the summer of 2021. Duncan Broadfoot, the supervising location manager of the shoot, pointed to two factors that led them to Glasgow: its aesthetic approximation to various major US cities, and the council’s willingness to assist.

The Herald:
He said: “Glasgow looks like a Victorian New York, Boston or San Francisco. The city centre primarily has Victorian architecture with red and blonde sandstone and the streets are laid out in a grid system which is very similar to most US cities. So aesthetically it ticks most of the boxes.”

Broadfoot buries the lead somewhat when assessing Glasgow’s aesthetics – simply put, it's the cheaper option for the studio. Authentic shots of New York City are the most expensive in the world, and the common alternative of Toronto has seen rising costs as production moves around. This is leading studios to look elsewhere to keep the lid on ever-expanding budgets.

He continues: “Architectural styles aside, Glasgow City Council offer huge support for filming. There’s only a handful of cities in the UK which would enable the levels of control required for such a shoot.”

Reading between the lines, this would suggest a council that is more than happy to bend to a studio’s will, where there is always more leeway to provide locations, labour, and raw materials than in other places where conditions for filming would be clearly defined and enforced.

A question of priority

This is not just a story of Creative Scotland cratering to the needs of international studios, but also a question of priorities. Creative Scotland has been neglected for many years and part of the blame can be squarely placed on its top-down managerial structure. While the public body struggles to make up a £6.6 million funding gap, the grants given to international studios far exceed anything given to domestic artists.

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The deal included in the Bute House Agreement has repaved a common, predictable path for institutions that trade in public money. Instead of funding a culture that is distinctively Scotland’s own and actively lifts the voices of artists who lack the resources to execute a vision, Creative Scotland is instead trying to compete as a commercial entity.

This is not what public funding of the arts should be about. Scottish artists are not trying to compete with Sony Pictures or Warner Bros. Do we really want our cultural institutions to act as a satellite state for Hollywood studios?

It’s time for artists to be placed at the centre of the conversation and for voices in the industry to be heard. Without that, Scotland’s artistic aspirations are left to the whims of managers. And they’re certainly not the creative ones.