Scotland Independence: Film Biz Weighs Options of Break From London

It’s been 20 years since the shooting of “Braveheart,” when Mel Gibson, playing Scottish warrior William Wallace, cried, “Freedom!,” articulating the desire among many Scots for independence. On Sept. 18, they will get their chance, as they vote on whether to break from the United Kingdom and establish their own country, with polls suggesting it could go either way.

Speaking to Variety in May, Creative Scotland chief Janet Archer — who oversees state support for film — claimed that independence would make little difference to the movie industry as control of culture was handed to the Scottish government several years ago. But most film producers are unhappy with the status quo, and the consensus seems to be that independence would help.

“When you look at independent small countries around the world it seems to me that there is much more of an emphasis put on culture,” said Gillian Berrie of Sigma Films, whose credits include Scarlett Johansson starrer “Under the Skin” and David Mackenzie’s “Starred Up.”

While Scotland produces five or six films a year, neighboring Ireland produces around 20, Berrie said. Next year, Ireland will increase its tax incentive to 32%, compared with the U.K.’s 25%. While Scotland has £4 million ($6.44 million) for film development and production, Ireland invested €7.5 million ($9.67 million) in producing local films last year.

Berrie said the film industry in Scotland is in crisis. “There needs to be a quick fix because there are only a handful of film producers left, and all of the companies are operating on a hand to mouth basis,” she said.

Creative Scotland is in charge of all types of culture, from dance to poetry, but Berrie said the film industry needs its own dedicated government agency. Scotland is the only country in Europe without such a body, she said. The Scottish film industry has been neglected for several years, she added.

Sigma was one of 40 production companies that formed the lobbying group Independent Producers Scotland last year. Among its aims is to introduce a 20% levy on movie tickets, replacing the Value Added Tax. This would contribute $37.3 million to a new film production fund, IPS claimed.

Berrie said other priorities include a new film studio in Scotland and a national film school.

Chris Young, who was one of the producers on “The Inbetweeners Movie,” one of the most successful U.K. movies of recent years, said the Scottish film biz is underperforming compared with other small countries, like Denmark. “We’re punching way below our weight,” he said.

Young, whose company Young Films is based on the Scottish island of Skye, added that many talented Scots move to London to further their careers.

“There is a drain of talent down to London because there is so much more opportunity there,” he said.

Independence would make a big difference. “There is no doubt in my mind that should the yes vote win that would be a potentially transformative moment not just for Scotland, but also its film industry,” he said. “Independence would make a very significant difference. We’d have to sink or swim at that point, but I think we would swim.”

Young added that Scottish producers will need to adopt a more international outlook, and forge more partnerships with European producers. “It is an international business and as filmmakers in Scotland we do have to cut it on the big stage because films have to travel.”

He said production companies can’t survive on film alone, and so support for Scottish TV drama is also important. He points to the boost that the local biz received from production of Starz’s “Outlander” in Scotland, for example.

He said U.K. public broadcaster the BBC should be doing much more.

“There is a ridiculously small percentage of indigenous production coming out of BBC Scotland. They are still much more slanted towards London than they should be.”

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