For Hollywood read Holyrood

Forget 'Trainspotting' and 'Small Faces' - Scotland's B-movie industry is on a roll
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The Independent Online
A chortling bad guy, a doe-eyed love interest, fake blood, pat dialogue and a visibly alive corpse - here comes the new Scottish cinema.

Not the award-winning urban realism of Trainspotting, you understand, but Scotland's very own B-movies. They contain the basic elements of every B-movie ever made but have their own distinctive flavour. The Tartan Western, or as the producers like to call it, the Scottish epic on a mini budget, has a historical setting, quite a lot of tartan and investors who appear as sword-bearing extras.

Slated by the Scottish press, and virtually disowned by the publicly- funded Scottish film fraternity, Tartan Westerns are gaining momentum as one of the most profitable and prolific cinematic forms in Scotland.

Two Edinburgh producers are behind them, one the money man, one the writer- director. With no feature-film making experience and an approach which was originally amateur in the extreme, their efforts are blindly ambitious but astutely conceived: Chasing the Deer, based on the Battle of Culloden and The Bruce, which starred Oliver Reed and Brian Blessed, show the way forward.

"We went for historical drama because it's the genre that's successful," says the money man, Dave McWhinnie of Lamancha productions. "We will trade on the back of Braveheart [Mel Gibson's story of William Wallace]. If you take it to America or Europe, they understand what it is. Our premise is to run a business, not to experiment in cinema. But maybe by our fourth of fifth, we'll make an okay movie."

McWhinnie has a cigar habit - 15 five-inch Havanas a day - a fast-talking manner and a business head that is welded firmly on to his shoulders. He also admits that he has based his entire output on the notorious cult American producer, Roger Corman. "It's a Cormanesque idea," he says. "Make them cheap and make lots of them. Get a crew who know how to work with each other and use young talent who will work all the hours that God gives us for not a lot of money."

His partner, Bob Carruthers of Cromwell Productions, is the writer-director component of the duo, breaking every artistic convention as he goes along. "Take to the hills!" and "He was a dog, he deserved to die," are only two lines from The Bruce, which is so full of clanking cliches it almost topples. Coupled with some of the most leaden acting ever seen on screen, it is surprising that the Tartan Western ever manages to haul itself off the cutting room floor.

But it does. Everybody who works on the productions is paid; and although the film's cinematic release in Scotland is modest, international sales on video and to TV channels around the world will make the companies and the investors money.

"Chasing the Deer had more bad reviews than good reviews but it was the 6th most successful film in Britain in terms of box office," says McWhinnie. "It might not be a creative or an artistic success, but as far as our investors are concerned it's much more important to have made it a financial success. Braveheart cost pounds 50 million. We're trying to do a historical drama for half a million. Obviously we've had to cut corners."

By far the most creative skills that McWhinnie and Carruthers have is in their money raising and marketing drives. Both come from commercial backgrounds and run highly successful historical documentary production businesses. After 10 years in the broadcasting industry, they know how to sell an idea, make a profit and retain autonomy.

"About 300 people put pounds 1,000 each into the films," Macwhinnie says. "The investors could choose how they got involved. They could either spend a day helping with production or they could be an extra. It's trying to find an alternative way of funding films. We don't want to be dependent on any public funding and at the end of the day our films are Scottish films."

The Scottish Film Production Fund are currently subsidising the development of a whole range of films including Kidnapped and Grey Friars Bobby. McWhinnie, however, claims that the Scottish film-making clique have done everything they can to stop him.

"We get a lot of animosity, a lot of people sticking the boot in," he says. "Sabotage, the Scots are like that. To make a bad film in Britain is one of the worst possible things you can do, people go ape-shit, as if you've broken a law of the Universe - not that I'm saying I make bad films."

The director of the fund, Eddie Dick, is supportive in theory but maybe misses the point. "The innovation is in the deal structure, not in the films," he says. "If they move forward in the way they might by using young writing and directing talents, and by using material which fits their approach - and I'm not sure that historical drama does - they might be on to something."

"We've got no fear," McWhinnie says. "You mustn't be frightened of what people are going to say. If you make a sci-fi movie and it's the worst sci-fi movie ever made, then good, because it's more important that you made it than you didn't."

The Tartan Western, with its Scottish scenery, lots of action filled battle scenes and a soundtrack of swelling synths, has a certain kitsch appeal. And then there are the fortunate accidents which no amount of pre-planning and big budgets could allow for.

"We filmed one scene of Chasing the Deer, in a snowstorm," McWhinnie says. "It was wild but we had to get the shot that day. It was probably the best scene in the film. Hollywood would have paid a fortune for it."