This section covers Film City, Wardpark, Pentland, Studio City, First Stage Studios, PSL Saltersgate, Kelvin Hall, Pyramids Studios and Pioneer Studios.
Film City – Glasgow (2004 – present)
The creation of Film City was driven by Gillian Berrie, co-founder of Sigma Films. She was inspired by a visit to another ‘Film City’ in Denmark in 2000 whilst being fully aware of the demand for a similar base for independent Scottish film and TV companies. Govan Town Hall had been used for location filming several times before but when she worked there she realised that it was the perfect spot to take over as a permanent base for the local industry. £3.5m was raised from various sources to refurbish the building and provide it with the necessary facilities. It opened in phases from 2004.
The building contains a Dolby post production theatre plus a Foley stage, ADR suite, dubbing theatres and 9 edit suites. There are also picture grading suites.
Currently, the old Victorian building provides office, meeting room and the post production facilities mentioned above but it also has the original 5,000 sq ft performance hall complete with audience seating on a balcony. This is described by Film City as a ‘build space’. There is sufficient flat floored area in front of the seating to construct reasonably large sets with ground-support truss for lighting but it could not be described as a typical sound stage. There is no acoustic treatment on the walls for example. These facilities have been used for School of Silence (CBBC), Iron Chef UK (C4) and T4’s Transmission amongst others.
In May 2013 it was announced that Creative Scotland had ring-fenced £1m for further development. The intention was to redevelop some existing buildings close to the Film City HQ in Govan Town Hall and create 15,000 sq ft of production space. There was also the prospect of two purpose-built stages, at least one of them around 20,000 sq ft, being built on open land between Film City and the BBC’s studios. £10m funding was sought from various partnership sources. Unfortunately, no development has so far been forthcoming.
Wardpark Studios, Cumbernauld (2013 – present)
For the past decade or more there has been much discussion about the provision of large studio space in Scotland. They have seen TV series like Game of Thrones being made in Northern Ireland and many dramas being filmed in Wales and would quite rightly like some of that kind of work too. Some ex-industrial properties have been used on occasion for filming – most notably the international TV drama Outlander that has been filmed in Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld since 2013. This former Isola factory offers 65,000 sq ft of facilities.
In March 2016 the studios announced that they were working with the Film Studio Delivery Group (comprising Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish government) to secure funding to enable the studios to expand. Planning permission for 2 new stages totalling 30,000 sq ft was submitted. However, no stages were subsequently built.
As of October 2017 the studios offered the following:
4 sound stages of 13,000 sq ft, 12,000 sq ft, 11,500 sq ft and 11,500 sq ft. There are also workshops, cutting rooms, wardrobe/make-up facilities and production offices.
In November 2017 it was announced that the studios would after all be expanding in 2018. They acquired two industrial blocks adjacent to the ‘planned new stage.’ So, in fact only one new stage of a modest 5,000 sq ft was built. The industrial units were converted for use as support facilities such as workshops, production offices, prop storage etc.
A fourth season of Outlander began filming in the autumn of 2017 and a fifth season was made in 2019. Season 6 commenced filming on 7th January 2021, despite the limitations of working under Covid conditions. There are 12 episodes of what is thought to be the final series.
In November 2021 the press reported that Wardpark had been taken over by US investors Hackman Capital Partners and Square Mile Capital Management. They also own MBS – the company that hires lighting and other equipment and manages film studios worldwide. The same combination of Hackman Capital Partners and MBS are building and operating the new Eastbrook Studios in Dagenham and the Apple Studios near Aylesbury. No development plans have yet been confirmed but they are said to be looking at the potential for expansion. This is very good news for the future viability of these studios, especially with the filming of Outlander drawing to a close.
Between 2010 and 2020 the Scottish government and its agencies produced many reports on the necessity for more TV drama/film-making facilities in Scotland to build on the success of the UK film industry. Sadly, very little actually happened. Meanwhile in Wales, Northern Ireland, Bristol and Manchester they just got on with it. Not to mention the brand new stages at Leavesden and Pinewood, ‘new’ studios at Arborfield and announcements about dozens of new stages being planned in Belfast, Liverpool, Shepperton, Elstree, Ashford, Dagenham, Shinfield, Bray etc.
Meanwhile, in 2014 a developer came up with a proposal just outside Edinburgh that seemed ideal…
Pentland Studios – Straiton, near Edinburgh (abandoned project)
Whilst the great and good were having important meetings and writing reports about the future of film making in Scotland, in August 2014 a developer (PSLL) announced an actual plan. This was very ambitious and would provide the facilities that Scotland desperately needs. It consisted of a group of stages, workshops and support facilities to be built in phases as part of a much larger development containing housing, retail, a hotel, business park and power station. These studios were intended for features and high-end TV dramas which could also of course make use of Scotland’s spectacular scenery for location shooting, only a short drive from here.
The plans included two 15,000 sq ft ‘studios’ (did they really mean fully equipped TV studios? I doubt it.), two 20,000 sq ft stages and two 30,000 sq ft stages. There was also a 45,000 sq ft ‘water stage’, two back lots totalling about 30 acres and 55,000 sq ft of workshop space. The plans included a film academy and student accommodation.
Following public consultation in October 2014, a planning application was submitted in May 2015. The local council were due to determine the application by September. Unfortunately, yet again the Scots seemed unable to take a decision regarding the building of film studios. In December, the developer asked the Scottish Government to call in its planning application, claiming that the local Midlothian council had taken too long to consider its proposals. They had hoped to open the studios early in 2017 but that timetable had obviously slipped.
Things took a turn for the worse in February 2016 – it was reported in The Scotsman that planners had insisted that the scheme should be thrown out as it would cause disruption to local residents, was unsuitable for green belt land and would hamper the growth of the Edinburgh Science Triangle development.
I was contacted by someone who strongly opposed the plans and he pointed out the environmental concerns of building on this particular site. He claimed that the plans were misleading as they failed to show the visual impact of the proposed power plant, amongst other things. Well, I can’t really comment on these concerns as I don’t know the site and how it would impact locally. His worries seemed genuine and were shared by many local people. However, I do know that Scotland desperately needs a studio centre like this.
The studios were finally given the go-ahead in April 2017. As for when the studios would open – the developers had previously mentioned 2018 but they now refused to give a date. They had to go through the legal process of evicting a farmer, a road had to be re-routed and they had yet to submit a detailed planning application. Some were saying that all this could take 4-5 years.
In October 2018 it was announced that unfortunately, this development was basically dead. The farmer whose land makes up half of the site had always made it clear that he didn’t want to sell. (How such an ambitious scheme could have been planned and progressed knowing that this was the situation is a mystery.) Anyway, he won his court case against eviction so the studios could not go ahead.
Scottish film makers must have been be spitting feathers at the continuing lack of facilities, when new stages were springing up all over the rest of the UK with no apparent problems over planning or funding.
Studio City Scotland – Dundee (abandoned project)
Another proposal for a studio site was revealed in January 2015 – this time in Dundee. It had the name of Studio City Scotland and was planned to be built on land next to Claverhouse Industrial Park. The scheme had the backing of actor Brian Cox and producer Barrie Osborne. Curiously, according to press reports, Creative Scotland said they knew nothing of the project when it was announced.
It seems that the planning for this project was carried out in great secrecy but according to the press, in May 2015 the funding and backing for the project was in place. Figures of £80m or £120m were quoted in various reports and the studios were going to be the ‘greenest’ in the world. No details of the stages or other facilities were revealed but the American architects were said to have a long track record in designing studios. The project was also intended to support the local games design industry.
However, according to Companies House, the company was dissolved in July 2018 so sadly, like other plans for studios in Scotland, this scheme came to nothing.
First Stage Studios, Port of Leith – Edinburgh (from 2021)
On 7th December 2018 yet another Scottish proposal was announced. This one at least looked like it had a chance of success as it was an adaptation of an existing facility, rather than designing new studios from scratch. It had the backing of Screen Scotland – in fact, they acquired the site and invited private companies to take over and develop the facilities. They were expecting detailed proposals by February 1st 2019! So that’s about 7 weeks, including Christmas and New Year.
This request did unfortunately have the whiff of a rushed job, following the collapse of the proposed Pentland Studios development. Indeed, the Association of Film and Television Practitioners Scotland raised these very concerns. They stated that the tender document ‘lacks significant detail regarding the physical requirements of the studio facility, yet demands that a massively detailed financial and logistical proposal be prepared in an almost impossible timescale by potential bidders.’ I can’t help thinking that they did seem to have a point.
Adapting an existing building does have the advantage of avoiding long, complex design and planning processes and is a relatively cheap solution but the end result will never be as good as a purpose built studio facility, where the stages are the size and shape you actually need and are equipped with proper grids. However, Scotland desperately needs studio space for filming features and TV drama so this is probably a good choice in the circumstances.
The disused factory is located in Leith docks, not far from the city centre and airport. It was built in 2000 for engineering firm VA Tech but closed four years later. It then became the HQ of wave-power energy company Pelamis. Sadly, despite the much needed possibilities of this interesting form of renewable energy, the sums didn’t add up and that company folded in November 2014.
The facilities occupy an 8.6 acre site with the potential for 5 sound stages totalling 160,000 sq ft, with an additional 27,000 sq ft available for workshops, offices etc. The empty building was used in 2017 as a location for Marvel Cinematic Universe movie Avengers: Infinity War.
Glory be! 15 months after the invitation to run these studios was announced, it was revealed on 10th March 2020 that someone had been found. In fact, two people – producer Bob Last and actor/director Jason Connery. Screen Scotland stated that their company, First Stage Studios, won an open tender process to operate the studio business. Screen Scotland invested £1m in the project – private investment was being sought to further develop the site. The initial amount of cash paid for the fitting up of sound stages and production offices as well as the marketing of the studios. In November 2020 it was announced that the first production to use the studios the following year would be supernatural thriller, The Rig. It was made for Amazon Prime. The next production towards the end of 2021 was reported to be Neil Gaiman drama Anansi Boys.
Saltersgate – near Dalkeith (current state of development unknown.)
Following the abandonment of the Pentland Studios project, Buccleuch Estates contacted PSL Land to offer them a new site about four miles from the original proposal at Saltersgate, near Dalkeith in Midlothian. There was reported to be a sale agreement in principle between the two parties. The proposed studio site occupies 48 acres. The new plans included 9 sound stages plus the usual workshops and offices. They were also planning a ‘media hub.’ In January 2019, PSL Land submitted an initial report to the local council’s planning committee for this new scheme.
Unfortunately, as of October 2021 I can find no further news about this interesting project. Can you help with any further information?
Kelvin Hall, Glasgow (from 2022)
Kelvin Hall is a grand and impressive building in the west end of Glasgow. Constructed as an exhibition centre in 1927, it has been used for many purposes over the years. During WWII it it was a factory constructing barrage balloons. Over later years it hosted sporting events, circuses, carnivals and music concerts. Between 1987 and 2010 it housed the collection of the Glasgow Museum of Transport. This was moved to a purpose-built home on the bank of the Clyde in 2011.
The building has struggled to find a real purpose in recent years as Glasgow now has excellent performance spaces and exhibition halls in the old docklands area near the BBC’s studios. Some refurbishment of the venue has taken place in recent years – in fact a £40m redevelopment was completed in 2016. This includes a home for Scotland’s official screen archive. Parts of the building now contain sports halls, museum collections, office space and a climbing centre. However, the main hall has failed to find a suitable use.
So in January 2021, Glasgow City Council announced a plan to convert the hall into a film and TV studio. £7.9m was secured from the Scottish government and £4m from the City Council to carry out the work. The go-ahead for the redevelopment was given in August 2021.
A ‘studio box’ of around 10,500 sq ft is being constructed – although one report states that the studio will be 98 x 92 ft, which is somewhat smaller. This will support trussing for lighting rigs. It will also form an acoustic barrier. The studio will contain retractable audience seating for 500 and there will be control galleries and edit suites. The facility will have the usual wardrobe and make-up rooms, production offices, green rooms etc. The main entrance is also being refurbished and a 500 seat restaurant created within the building.
Although this studio is apparently aimed at multicamera TV entertainment shows, many press reports have referred to this as a ‘film stage’ so it appears that the studio will also be used for single camera drama. In fact, during the summer of 2021 the hall was used as a build space for a 6-part drama called Screw. It was made by STV for Channel 4. The large available area enabled the construction of a 3-storey prison set. Shooting wrapped in August and building works commenced soon after. The steelwork went in during October.
Local politicians have rather coyly referred to an unnamed but very experienced studio operator being associated with the project, who will manage the facility once it is open. They are also involved with the technical fit-out of the studio. It is in fact widely known throughout the industry that this company is BBC Studioworks, which was confirmed by a press release in December ’21. They are the commercial business, not supported by TV licence payers, who run the 3 studios at Television Centre, 3 more studios at Elstree Studios and all the studios at the BBC Elstree Centre. They are also associated with the new TV studio being built by Reading University and in 2022 took over managing several of the stages at Roath Lock in Cardiff.
Early in 2021 it looked as though Studioworks might be brought in to run the two main TV studios at BBC Scotland’s HQ at Pacific Quay. This would probably have led to some BBC Scotland staffers being made redundant and having to go freelance, as Studioworks do not directly employ technical crew. This proved politically unpopular so the idea went away – but what we now have is two TV studios in Glasgow in competition with each other, even though they both have the letters ‘BBC’ associated with them. Very interesting.
Pyramids Studios, Bathgate (filming from 2017, new stages from 2024)
An announcement was made in December 2021 that London and Regional Properties had acquired the Pyramids Business Park in Bathgate, about 20 miles from Edinburgh. It is a 93 acre site with a building containing two giant warehouses totalling 140,000 sq ft and a large amount of office space. It was originally constructed in 1992 by Motorola, who used it as a phone manufacturing plant until they closed it down in 2001. HMRC then occupied part of the building until 2020. Other companies have come and gone in various sections of the building too, including CSL Sofas. In 2014, permission was granted to turn part of the building into a data centre.
Ashfield Land bought the premises in 2016 and refurbished the building, attracting new clients including some film and TV production companies. Features and TV dramas have included Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting, Outlaw King (Netflix), Shetland (ITV Studios for BBC Scotland) and series 2 of Good Omens (Amazon Prime). They have used the facilities here as a production base and ‘build space’ for interior sets. The area used as a shooting stage is reported to total 64,000 sq ft with a height of 30ft.
The new owners, London and Regional Properties, are changing the name to Pyramids Studios. They are keen to expand the site into a ‘world-class platform for film and TV production.’ They are intending to build 5 new sound stages in addition to the existing shooting spaces. A planning application was submitted in October 2021. If passed, construction will begin in 2022 and will take 18 months. Several press reports suggested that these studios ‘would rival Pinewood in terms of scale.’ Hmm. Pinewood currently has 24 sound stages and 3 TV studios, with 9 more stages under construction and plans for a further 6. With the best will in the world, these studios will not be a rival in scale to Pinewood, Shepperton, Leavesden or Shinfield. However, they will be a significant improvement on what is currently available in Scotland.
The cost of the new stages, landscaping, access and fit-out is estimated to be £22.8m. According to press reports, future long term developments are also being considered by London and Regional. The company has a worldwide portfolio worth £9 billion and owns the Atlas Hotels Group, David Lloyd Leisure and the General Healthcare Group.
This is excellent news and reinforces the investment in Scottish film production at Wardpark and Port of Leith.
Pioneer Film Studios – Stepps, Glasgow (from 2022)
The lack of suitable facilities for filming movies and high-end dramas in Scotland has been frustrating for many people over a number of years. In 2022 a team of local film-makers identified some industrial premises near Glasgow that would make very suitable studios with a little adaptation. It was originally a distillery, where ‘Black and White’ whisky was manufactured. The site is impressively large and offers 200,000 sq ft of shooting space, 90,000 sq ft of workshop space and 70,000 sq ft of office/ancilliary space. The first stage to open from the summer of 2022 is Stage 11 – it is 30,000 sq ft but can be split into two 15,000 sq ft areas. It has been soundproofed. There are also offices and workshops available.
The intention is to open more spaces over the next few years: stages 4 – 9 will open in 2023. Each of them measures 18,000 sq ft. and there will be plenty of workshop space with easy access to the stages. The team running the enterprise are keen to emphasise the excellent travel links, the 5 hotels nearby and the fact that they will be offering childcare facilities. There is also plenty of parking.
This looks to be a very welcome and timely addition to Scotland’s film-making resources and its sheer size should attract some major productions.