Feature: Scottish Cinema

Scotland has always had an affinity with cinema.  There are more cinema screens per person in Scotland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and Scottish people go to the pictures more often than those in any other part of Britain.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that in recent years, instead of just showcasing cinema, Scotland itself has increasingly become a subject in several films.  More specifically, Glasgow has found itself in demand as a popular shooting location.  Its mixture of old and new buildings, the grid style street pattern which allows it to double for other cities with relative ease, as well as the cheap tax rates and incentives it offers have made it a popular choice for many film productions.

Who, among those of us who saw it, can forget when George Square underwent a silver screen transformation in August last year for upcoming zombie flick World War Z?  The city centre practically ground to a halt when Brad Pitt and co came to town, turning a number of busy streets into replicas of a Philadelphia downtown financial district.  I even went along to the open casting call for extras for the big action sequence which was being filmed during the production’s time here.  Didn’t get picked, but whatever.  Not bitter.  The screen’s not big enough for both Brad and I to be in the same picture anyway.  Probably didn’t want me stealing focus.  Or something.

The news that Glasgow had been chosen as a shooting location for a film about zombies initially led to the expected jokes.  You know the ones.  “Oh, they won’t need to do much to turn it into a zombie wasteland, eh?”, “Are the locals going to be the zombies, no make-up or acting required?”, “So if they’re filming in a ruined city, I suppose they’ll just go to the top of Sauchiehall Street, set up a camera and start filming then?”.  I could go on.  All kidding aside though, we must have done a good job, especially since just a few weeks later, another major Hollywood production was in town.

Cloud Atlas, based on the bestseller by David Mitchell (not that David Mitchell) and co-directed by the Wachowskis (not really a big deal, they only wrote and directed The Matrix films, for goodness sake) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), landed in Glasgow for a brief shooting schedule in September last year.  Stars such as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry were spotted filming in the city, before moving on to sunnier climes, including Majorca.  Alright for some.  Clearly I am in the wrong racket.

Before they jetted off to the sun, however, they did randomly stop off in Alloa.  Eagle-eyed viewers will be able to spot the then-recently built Clackmannanshire Bridge (doubling for 1970s San Francisco, of all places) in the film’s teaser trailer.  The bridge was used for a car chase scene, with the road closed for four hours while filming was completed.

Of course, Alloa is not the only place in Scotland to have attracted cinematic attention.  Under the Skin, based on Michel Faber’s novel, was filmed in November last year.  Scarlett Johansson, who plays the main character (Isserley, an alien from another planet who picks up male hitchhikers so they can be fattened up then harvested by her fellow extraterrestrials, don’t ask) literally brought traffic to a standstill as filming took place south of Loch Ba in Glencoe.

Aside from offering Scotland as a location the chance to shine on screen, this influx of Hollywood productions has also given Scottish talent an opportunity to join in (no, I’m not talking about me again, though the offers never seem to stop pouring in).  Under the Skin’s studio released a call for male Scottish actors to come and audition for parts alongside Johansson.  You can be sure they all only tried out because of the great writing and the film’s wonderful message about um, humanity or something, rather than the idea of being within ten feet of Scarlett Johansson.  Yeah.

In a strange BAFTA-related coincidence, Paul Brannigan, Scottish BAFTA winner for Best Actor for his performance in Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share will appear as Andrew alongside Johansson in the alien flick.  No doubt he’s chuffed about that, as well as about winning the BAFTA.

Fast & Furious 6 was recently partly filmed in Glasgow, just as it emerged that money generated from films shooting in Glasgow helped boost the city’s economy by just over £20,000,000 last year.  Yes, it seems that Scotland is doing alright for itself on the film front.  With the success of films set in Scotland – Neds, The Angels’ Share, Disney Pixar’s Brave – and those just filmed here – The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, among others – it seems we’ll be in demand for a while.  Now, speaking of being in demand, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to the phone.  These offers don’t answer themselves, you know.

By David Rush

(Originally published in Edition Three, December 2012)} else {