IN a huge industrial unit three miles from the centre of Edinburgh, a dead god, ghostly figures, fantastic creatures and wild beasts will soon be brought to life.
The setting in Bath Road, in a former wave power plant, is about as far from the glitz of Hollywood as it’s possible to get.
And it’s further still from the African and Caribbean tales which inspired author Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel Anansi Boys, a story that spans dysfunctional families, features killer birds, dark prophesy and mystical powers.
Overlooking a dock is the 8.6 acres site that houses FirstStage Studios, run by BAFTA-winning producer Bob Last and actor/director Jason Connery, son of Sir Sean, soon to become the setting for Gaitan’s bestseller – just one of a long line of productions being stamped ‘made in Scotland’.
Until recently the studio, with its five soundstages and 100-ft high space, provided the North Sea location for Amazon’s new supernatural thriller The Rig, starring Mark Bonnar, Martin Compston and the first Amazon Prime Video series to shoot exclusively in Scotland. While just a short drive along the M8 in Bathgate’s Pyramids Business Park – perhaps even less likely a location than Leith – BBC Studios is preparing to begin work on the second series of Amazon’s fantasy comedy series, Good Omens, with David Tennant and Michael Sheen.
In Glasgow, the buzz created by two of the box office’s biggest heroes – Indiana Jones and Batman – is only just dying down in time for Britbox’s production of Irvine Welsh’s missing-person thriller, Crime, starring Dougray Scott, filmed in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to hit the screen.
It could all be dwarfed if Amazon plumps for Scotland as the location for its Lord of the Rings series, a production which UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden last week predicted would support and create “thousands of high-quality jobs” with a £330m budget and potential to create a tourism industry of its own among fans.
From Outlander – now filming series six at locations around Scotland and Cumbernauld’s Wardpark Studios – to the latest James Bond featuring scenes filmed in the Cairngorms, on the big and the small screen, Scotland’s star as a film location is firmly on the rise, bringing with it a host of benefits from soaring demand for crew, training opportunities, income and, increasingly, tourism.
But it’s not just modern productions that are raising Scotland’s profile on the global stage.
Streaming and on-demand services have transformed how viewers around the world access content – with a potential knock-on benefit as a new generation discovers film and television programmes which showcase Scotland.
According to tourism chiefs, Highlander, Local Hero and Braveheart are still cited by tourists as reasons to visit Scotland while productions with a historic edge have been credited with opening the door to better understanding of Scotland’s history.
Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism at Historic Environment Scotland, says: “Screen tourism offers a fantastic opportunity to showcase Scottish history and heritage to new audiences across the globe.
“Our properties provide awe-inspiring backdrops for all kinds of filming and many of our sites have seen increased interest from visitors over the years thanks to associations with popular films and TV series including Outlander and Outlaw King.
“The benefits of screen tourism also continue long after films and TV shows are released.
“Doune Castle, for example, has for decades attracted fans of Monty Python after the site was featured as a location in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Having always had the scenery to attract film makers seeking a stunning backdrop, a combination of funding packages, increased studio infrastructure – Kelvin Hall is among the latest, with £11.9 million spent to create a television studio and drama production space – high-quality talent and crew and a growing reputation for coming up with the goods has put Scotland on the movie map.
At Screen Scotland’s Screen Commission, staff are said to be busier than ever with enquiries from national and international productions looking to come to Scotland.
And once here, production companies are spending more than ever: in the past decade, spend is said to have risen by more than 300%.
Around one in five visitors to Scotland are said to be motivated to travel after having seen Scotland on the big and small screen – a figure which may rise given the scale of new productions in the pipeline – while 18% of American tourists say they take part in specific film or television related activities while on holiday in Scotland.
It can be a starting point for exploring more of Scotland’s history, says Professor David Martin-Jones, Film and Television Studies, University of Glasgow.
“Screen tourism keeps alive Scotland’s heritage, the value of which for cultural identity is beyond measure.
“Children may not necessarily be enthused about the architectural marvel that is the Glenfinnan Viaduct, but they may well want to see the iconic route of the Hogwarts Express. Prompted by the Harry Potter films they can begin to learn about Scotland’s rich heritage.” The National Trust for Scotland has reaped the benefits of film and programme makers’ interest in Scotland as a location.
Its locations have formed the backdrop to everything from the Antiques Roadshow at Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire, to James Bond’s Skyfall in Glencoe, Susan Calman’s Secret Scotland series – and, of course, Outlander.
Anna Rathband, Filming Manager at National Trust for Scotland, said having a strong film sector brings a range of extra benefits.
“We make upwards of £70,000 a year for NTS properties as a whole, then there’s added spend of visitors and the benefit of being able to have our properties and our people on BBC or Channel 5 or ITV,” she says.
“It would cost us millions of pounds to have that advertising, and the fact we able to have our people and our places and often the causes closet to our charity’s aims and hearts to be able to talk about them to our target audiences is hugely beneficial.”
In some cases, film production has had a direct impact on improving NTS sites: when a water wheel at Preston Mill in East Linton which featured in one Outlander episode, broke, fans rallied to help cover the costs of repairs.
“All the income from filming and photo shoots goes directly back to the featured properties,” she adds. “It’s fantastic if there are film tours on top of that the property is then able to continue to benefit from that it’s not just the initial location spend, it’s the ongoing film tours and related income that they can generate.”
A spokesman for VisitScotland said Scotland’s starring role in film and television is likely to have an impact on future tourism.
“It’s an exciting time for screen tourism in Scotland with a real boom in major film and television productions.
“Not only do these productions boost the local economy in the short-term but are a shop window for the country’s amazing landscapes, heritage and culture, which has a knock-on effect for the Scottish tourism industry.
“Visitors have long been attracted to Scotland having seen it on the big and small screen – with around one in five motivated to travel here because of those appearances – and with online streaming platforms making old and new productions more accessible, this could further boost tourism as it increases the opportunity for these Scottish-set productions to reach new audiences.
“Screen tourism benefits are long-term, with visitors continuing to cite films such as Braveheart, Highlander and Skyfall long after their initial release, meaning the effects will outlast any current travel restrictions and could help in the industry’s recovery.”