EDINBURGH, Scotland — Next week the Edinburgh Film Festival marks the 20th anniversary of the start of production on “Braveheart” with a special screening, which coincides nicely with the run-up to September’s referendum on Scottish independence. Both the film and the campaign for independence focus on the issue of “freedom” for Scotland, but also prompt the question: “And then what?”
For a film that is about Scottish nationalism, it has always irked the industry in Scotland that “Braveheart” was largely shot in Ireland, due to that country’s tax breaks and the offer of 1,700 Irish soldiers for the battle scenes. This was raised again on Wednesday by Scottish film critic Siobhan Synnot, who was speaking in Edinburgh at a Scottish film industry summit titled “The Future of the Scottish Film Sector, Post Referendum.” Synnot pointed out that the debate that “Braveheart” ignited when it premiered in Scotland is still going on today. Two of the central questions are: How can Scotland’s film biz attract more funding? When will a major film studio facility be built in the country?
Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland, a public body that oversees funding for the film industry and other arts, touched on these and other points in her keynote speech at the summit Wednesday.
Creative Scotland has an annual budget of around £90 million ($153 million), but that has to cover the gamut of arts and culture from poetry to performance art. Funds for film development and production total £4 million ($6.82 million), which has been used to back films like “Sunset Song,” “Starred Up” and “For Those in Peril.” In her speech, Archer acknowledged that this was not enough to support film production in Scotland. “We, like everyone else in the film industry in Scotland, would like to see more funding available,” she said.
Archer also pointed out that Creative Scotland works with other public bodies to draw international productions to Scotland, including “Skyfall,” “World War Z” and Starz’s TV series “Outlander.” Together with its support of other film initiatives such as regional exhibition programs, film education and festivals, Creative Scotland’s direct support for film approaches £8 million ($13.6 million) a year.
“Our job is to unlock potential and embrace ambition. The unlocking potential bit includes unlocking new resources,” Archer said.
Culture in Scotland is already devolved, and, as such, is the responsibility of the Scottish government, so independence in itself won’t change film policy.
“We do not expect any significant change to our funding or operational arrangements as a result of the referendum, whatever the outcome,” Archer said.
The Scottish budget as a whole is being cut by close to 11% between 2011 and 2016, so film cannot expect to receive any extra funds.
“With this in mind, we need to find innovative ways of sourcing and using public funding in all aspects of public life, including the arts, screen and creative industries,” she said.
Although film funding is stagnant, Creative Scotland has made changes to its approach to the industry. For the first time, it has appointed a dedicated director for film and media, Natalie Usher, who is an entertainment lawyer with a strong track-record of working with Scottish producers.
“After just weeks in post she is already bringing focus and leadership to the work of our film team and I know she will be pivotal in strengthening the way we support film and work with the industry in the future,” Archer said.
“With this focus, Creative Scotland will become more of a driver and an advocate for the film sector than we have, perhaps, been in the first three years of our existence.”
Usher’s first task is to take “the feedback and ideas that we have gathered from our dialogue with people working in film – including many of you in the room today – and turn this into a cohesive, action-led strategy for film in Scotland,” Archer said.
She added: “Be assured, we are listening to the views of the industry and our partners in preparing this strategy, and we will set out our vision for the future, and how we intend to achieve our ambitions. In other words, spell out what we are going to do and when we are going to do it — in addition to what we do already, of course.”
Funding will continue to be an issue, she admitted.
“We need to put our efforts into finding different and new sources of funding for film, and to working with other partners in Scotland to achieve this,” she said.
One of the routes could be through European funding, she added.
The other major issue, as mentioned before, is the proposed major film studio for Scotland.
“We hear, loud and clear, the desire from the film sector for a major facility in the central belt,” she said.
Bringing “Outlander” to Scotland led to the creation of a 140,000 square foot production facility at Cumbernauld, but there is an urgent need for more production facilities.
Following a feasibility study, a studio development brief was issued by the Scottish government with a deadline for submissions of May 2. These submissions are now being considered. Creative Scotland has put £1 million ($1.7 million) aside for a film studio development, and the government is committed to the development of a studio, and is also encouraging inward investment for film and TV production, she said.
On Thursday, representatives of the film industry met with Ken Hay, the Edinburgh film festival’s chief executive, to reach some conclusions about the industry’s needs, drawing on the views expressed at the summit.
Its statement read: “Film is an integral part of the cultural, economic, social and educational life of Scotland: film is for everybody. At a time of momentous change, and irrespective of the result of the referendum in September, there are huge opportunities for the sector to develop and grow, but this needs both the sector and the Scottish government to work together in achieving this.”
Its recommendations included:
— The sector will develop a manifesto for the development and growth of all aspects of the Scottish film industry, based on film being for everybody.
— An annual summit to be held during the Edinburgh Film Festival, along with a series of events and activities through the year that will drive the development and growth of the sector.
— The sector will work with the Scottish government to support our ambitions for the development and growth of all aspects of the Scottish film industry.
Hay said: “The summit provided a breakthrough forum to bring together all aspects of film from production through to exhibition and education, enabling a realization of the collective strength within a small but thriving and passionate community.
“We are excited about the future prospects this new found collaborative spirit and understanding across the entire Scottish industry will bring, and that specific questions like tax breaks or the position of film in the curriculum can now be addressed with the Scottish government within a broader context.”
All of which is laudable, but the central question remains: how can funding for the film industry be increased? If “Braveheart” were made today, would it be shot in Scotland? Ireland recently increased its tax incentive for production to 32%, compared with 25% in Scotland and the rest of the U.K., giving Ireland a clear advantage.
Speaking exclusively to Variety following the Edinburgh film industry summit, the movie biz reps were a little less diplomatic in expressing their frustration with the status quo.
As producer Eddie Dick pointed out, whether or not Scotland votes for independence in September, Scotland will gain power over taxation policy, which it does not have at present. Both major U.K. political parties — the Conservatives and Labour — have committed themselves to this. So Scotland will have the ability to up the film tax incentive, and Dick said Thursday that Scottish producers would be pressing for a rise in the tax incentive to match the Irish tax breaks. In theory, the government could also raise taxation, and up public spending, including film funding.
The fact that the strategic direction and funding for the Scottish film industry is controlled by Creative Scotland, which also has to manage all other sectors of the arts and culture, remains a bone of contention for some.
“We are in a situation where Scotland is the only country in Europe without a dedicated film agency, and I think that it is appalling that a nationalist administration should be responsible for continuing that situation,” Dick said, speaking as an individual. “We have to then make sure that we have operational autonomy as much as possible with a clearly dedicated, ring-fenced budget for development and production of film in Scotland, and if that has to be under the administrative aegis of Creative Scotland, then so be it. But that for me is a continuing debate.”
The screenwriters at the summit, led by Andrea Gibb, saw the Danish industry as a good model as it was “very holistic,” with creative talent placed at the center of the production process. “We were talking about the need for a larger and more supportive development culture here in Scotland where writers could flourish, and that would feed into all the other areas (of the industry),” Gibb said.
Prospects for young screenwriters, directors and producers in Scotland are poor, Gibb said. “There are some fantastic screenwriting course in Scotland, but when they come out — because of the lack of opportunity — it feels like there is no strategic development for them after they’ve graduated… It is quite perilous for a lot of people. They may be feted at graduate level, attending labs at Edinburgh, Berlin or Toronto, but then end up in Scotland unable to move their careers forward.” For many the solution is to move South to London to advance their careers.
Jonny Murray, senior lecturer in film and visual culture at Edinburgh College of Art, added: “The Scottish situation is one where the question is not ‘Does higher education produce the kind of graduates that the industry needs, but is there a Scottish industry that can enable the amount and the caliber of graduates that we are producing to have a realistic chance of pursuing careers that either take place exclusively or predominantly or just a significant part in Scotland. At the moment the experience for most of our graduates is that the answer to that is no.”
Until an injection of cash, an improved tax incentive or the construction of a major studio facility intervenes to turn around the fortunes of the Scottish film industry, the best hope for the local biz may lie in uniting and taking matters into their own hands.
“One of the things that we are in the process of trying to achieve — and this should happen relatively quickly — is a new collective for film production companies in Scotland,” Dick said.
The formation of such a “collective” may mark a turning point in the Scottish industry’s fortunes.
“The exact shape of that remains to be seen as we have commissioned someone to write the business plan, and once it is written we will debate it,” Dick said. “But let’s say that it operates as some kind of collective. So instead of there being 40 little isolated film production companies that are haphazardly making films in quite difficult circumstances, we’ll have one collective that speaks for those 40 companies, that provides all kinds of administrative and functional support for them, and for the first time offers an opportunity for Scottish Enterprise (the arm of the Scottish government devoted to encouraging economic development), for example, to engage properly with the industry, because we will have made ourselves clear in a way that hasn’t happened in the past. Now that, linked to the studio, linked to the pressure that that group in turn will create on tax breaks, begins then to make a coherent shape for the kind of future that we might expect post-September, irrespective of whether it is yes or no (at the independence referendum).”
Summing up the experience of the Scottish film industry summit, Hay said: “What was very clear yesterday is that there is a shared passion and commitment from across the sector to seeing the whole sector to grow and develop in the future.” He said that the next step was to “develop a manifesto and an action plan for change and development, and how we can both work together as a sector but also work with the Scottish government and its various agencies in making that change happen.”