Film: The Scottish are coming

From a shallow grave to a thriving cultural centre, Glasgow's southbank has been chosen as the site for Scotland's first film studio
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The Independent Culture
IT IS a riverside wasteland clearly ripe for development. Across a footbridge on the opposite bank is Glasgow's shiny new Clyde Auditorium, fondly nicknamed "the armadillo" because of its overlapping, Sydney Opera House-style roof, and the adjacent SECC that plays host to bands like M People and Boyzone.

But the southbank Pacific Quay has been left virtually fallow since it hosted the city's Garden Festival a decade ago; its lush, gold-green meadow grass the only hint of its previous use. Noticeboards flanking the overgrown site hint at millennial dreams of a national communications centre and business science parks. The decision this month to base Scotland's first film studio at the Quay heralds tentative steps towards its development.

Only the location is finalised thus far, and a full project appraisal and design for the studio complex remain necessary to attract further finance. "We're seeking public funding from European regional funds and the National Lottery," explains John Archer, chief executive of Scottish Screen, the organisation heading the project. "A film studio at the Pacific Quay represents an important cornerstone project for Scottish Enterprise, who wish to see the site used."

Archer is keen to neutralise concerns that public support is dwindling for National Lottery financing of film projects. "Film is the only beneficiary of the National Lottery ever expected to make a return on investment. Elsewhere, the money is essentially a grant."

He also dismisses the rumour that there is a backlog of British films gathering dust as they await distribution deals. "Perhaps it would be better if there were fewer but better budgeted films made. But Scottish Screen has a very good track record. Only A Life of Stuff is yet to be distributed, and that is perhaps too experimental to find its niche. Some films take a while to prove their worth. But, anyway, we are seeking money for capital funding, not production," he stresses.

The British film industry is presently in a healthy state, but the infamous and premature Eighties cry that "the British are coming" is surely not too distant to be a warning that success can fizzle out?

"Obviously we wouldn't want to be left with a white elephant, but this Government is strongly behind our industry. We're seeing a 20 per cent growth in film production each year, and so there is a desperate need for studio space. There are companies queuing up to use London's facilities, so we would hope to attract productions to Scotland instead."

Other sites across Scotland were considered before Glasgow was selected for the studio. Given that its Highland scenery so often sells the nation, there have been some grumblings from northern development agencies that a booming southern city has been rewarded. "Glasgow isn't like London, within 20 minutes, you're in the countryside. Yet the Quay is close to the airport and the city's nightlife. And our most successful indigenuous productions are Shallow Grave and Trainspotting - both urban dramas," Archer says.

Echoing the continuing growth in Scottish confidence, Archer views a Glasgow studio both as a boon to Scottish producers and crews, and as eventual competition to its neighbours. "The tax breaks in Ireland that lost us Braveheart are now effectively cancelled out by higher costs. We'd hope that a Scottish Parliament would support us in giving us the edge over England, Wales and Ireland. But that is some way off."