Stage works: Scotland’s studio challenge

Scotland’s failure to establish a purpose-built studio is once again in the spotlight after years of government delays.

It’s been a turbulent few weeks in the ongoing saga of the Scottish studio that somehow can’t manage to will itself into being. 

While the Scottish government apparently still busies itself with efforts to develop a publicly-funded studio, a somehow more tangible plan for a privately-funded facility – named Pentland Studios – outside Edinburgh has met with delays and local opposition partly on environmental grounds.

Thrown into the mix is the wrath of renowned first assistant director and co-producer Tommy Gormley. The Glasgow-born veteran of the rebooted Star Wars and Star Trek franchises recently penned an open letter to Scottish politicians berating them for the general lack of studio-building progress.     

Creative Scotland has since reiterated its commitment to a studio. Still, the organisation’s director of film Natalie Usher reminded BBC Radio Scotland that the process is “notoriously difficult”, which is unlikely to reassure Scotland’s industry.

Usher voiced her support for Pentland Studios but planning permission for the facility has been delayed partly by concerns about the environmental impact of building on green belt land. 

Pinewood Studios near London had a similar issue when it tried to expand. The facility spent several years struggling with local authorities over its plans. The studio was quickly forced to scale down ideas for growth but the UK government eventually decided Pinewood’s increased capacity was in the country’s best economic interests.

Pentland Studios will need a similar vote of confidence from Scottish authorities if any progress is to be made in the coming months. (On the subject of the environmental concerns, it’s worth noting that the main purpose of green belt land is in fact to prevent urban sprawl – if it happens to look great as well, that’s really just a happy bonus).   

If local authorities give Pentland Studios a firm thumbs down, the publicly-funded alternative is looking increasingly like an elusive back-up plan. At worst a pipe-dream that remains a Scottish fantasy for another generation. 

In all likelihood, the government-supported facility would involve expanding the Cumbernauld stages built specifically for the fantasy drama Outlander (pictured). This runs the risk of further alienating Scottish production professionals looking for a shiny new studio doggedly developed from the dirt up.  

Production in Scotland is generally restricted to short schedules for projects with bigger budgets as there’s no studio to be used as a base. The country’s stunning visuals have helped steer its production industry to modest growth in recent years, but a studio would enable Scotland to truly reach for the stars.


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