The Hollywood Glasgow Double Bill: Grant McPhee
A: The Curious Case of Glasgow City Council and the Missing Hollywood Millions.
B: Supporting Feature: The Damaged Local Businesses and The Mysterious Lack of Glasgow Film Crews.
BBC News Headline, 26 January – ‘Film and TV Productions generate £42m for Glasgow’
Question: Where did those millions of pounds ‘generated’ for Glasgow come from and where did they go to?
To answer this we need to first take a look back at the late 2021 headlines heralding an announcement that Glasgow City Council had awarded US film studio Warner Bros £150,000 as an incentive to film an entire production in Glasgow.
My initial reaction to this was ‘That’s a bit odd. Why are Glasgow City Council paying one of the biggest film studios in the world £150K to film there? Shouldn’t film studios be paying them?’
“Warner Bros Film in Glasgow to Bring Jobs Bonanza as Hollywood Heads For Scotland”
This excitement-filled headline was from September 2021. The Daily Record article stated:
Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, said: “While it’s great fun for a lot of people to see film and broadcast productions in Glasgow, this is very much an economic story – production of this size brings millions of pounds to the city’s economy.”
This statement seemed very grand and the more I looked into the series of GCC’s further claims regarding this money, the grander and stranger those claims would become.
However, there was a distinct lack of detail regarding the how’s and why’s of this initial ‘economic story’ so I began to research the fine print. As I was doing so, in January 2022 I was surprised to see that much of the local press had now stepped up a gear. Further new and exciting ‘Hollywood Glasgow’ announcements appeared on the news-stands and online. These latest headlines claimed that £42m had been ‘generated’ for Glasgow from Film Productions during the previous year. Again, there was no actual detail to what this entailed other than that this money had simply been ‘generated’ for Glasgow.
Was this really an economic story that brought millions of pounds to the city’s economy? I was very sceptical.
Part of this scepticism came from a memory of an article in ‘The Ferret’ which revealed that through a Freedom of Information request that Glasgow City Council had only made £35,000 from filming in 2013-2017 –
(it) prompted criticism that Glasgow residents are not being sufficiently rewarded for the disruption caused by film companies, some of which have multi-million pound budgets.
And additionally, a similar 2019 article mentioned that the City of Edinburgh Council admitted that it had not made any money from Hollywood filming.
This seemed very far from £42 million.
To me, there seemed to be some form of collective Hollywood frenzy occurring that was somehow clouding reality. From having an understanding of film budgeting, these new statements just did not seem to be possible and that intrigued me. Films simply do not and cannot bring this amount of money to the local economy of where they were made. I wanted to understand how these figures being bandied about in the press were actually calculated. In theory this should have been simple. After all, £42m is a huge, huge figure and as it had already been ‘generated’ it would then surely have its own identifiable paper trail to demonstrate where it all went. However, there did not appear to be any trail whatsoever to evidence the claims so I was forced to set off to uncover the actual real-world detail of the ‘£42m for Glasgow‘ and ‘£150K Warner Incentive‘ stories. What I found was baffling…
PART 1 – Why am I writing this?
I like to use what I call ‘evidence’ to back up arguments, claims or counter-points of view. I’d like to primarily use this opportunity to accurately argue why I think Glasgow City Council’s claim of filmmaking generating over £42 million pounds for Glasgow’s economy is not just a nonsense but a harmful appropriation of an industry that in reality requires Government assistance. And that the £150K ‘incentive’ to Warner has not resulted in any clear benefit to those it was intended for other than those who made the claims, and to Warner itself.
Secondly, as they are so interlinked, I would also like to use this investigation to counter the claims made by Glasgow City Council, The Scottish Government and Screen Scotland that suggest certain crewing opportunities and training obtained from these Hollywood films are a ‘success’. Those claims and proclamations brought about by these films is misguided, often incorrect and again, likely harmful not only to Scotland’s film industry but to the economy of Glasgow which directly contradicts Councillor Aitken’s claim that they bring ‘millions’ into Glasgow.
And to end, I would like to offer what I believe is a tentative solution to ensure that residents, local business, local filmmaking and crew working on future incoming Hollywood productions can all benefit more than what is currently being offered. There is much hopeful and positive news regarding Scotland’s Film Industry but there is also unfortunately a lot of work which still needs to be done.
PART 2 – Hollywood Glasgow
A little history.
The £150K incentive was offered for very specific reasons which will shortly be covered in that promised finer detail. It was not given simply because of a wild Glasgow City Council claim that it generated ‘millions’ towards a city economy, it was given to support Glasgow itself and also Scotland’s film industry, especially after Covid Lockdowns. £150K is never just given away by a council – justification from multiple sources is first required and additionally, specific criteria must be met. At least this is the theory.
One of the areas of support to be offered by the incentive was local crewing opportunities: the ‘jobs bonanza’. A subtitle to this investigation refers to the missing local film crews being involved with these Hollywood Productions. A such, Glasgow and Scotland have long been used as filming locations for Hollywood and as many industry practitioners have witnessed over the years, local crew have historically been mostly ‘overlooked’ for crew arriving from other areas.
I was lucky to have been involved in an earlier ‘wave’ of Hollywood Glasgow excitement when around 10-15 years ago productions such as the Brad Pitt movie ‘World War Z’, Tom Hanks’ ‘Cloud Atlas’ and the George Clooney produced ‘The Jacket’ all rolled into town. It was certainly an interesting and rewarding experience for me, however it raised some significant questions regarding benefits to Scotland’s Film Industry..
These movies open doors, offer amazing opportunities and provide a skills learning experience that is second-to-none, and which can really only be achieved from working on movies of this size. The experience allowed me to work on a series of similarly large movies and Television productions that greatly benefitted my early career and which I would simply not have been able to achieve otherwise. I am acutely aware that there are many in Scotland who would also like to reap these same benefits offered by these films and I would love to see our industry and practitioners – and city residents and economies – benefit fully from the ‘incoming films’ which I don’t think they currently fully do.
Working on these films in Scotland was eye-opening – primarily due to the previously mentioned lack of Scottish-based crew being hired for them and for the overall lack of any real opportunities for Scotland’s Film Industry to grow. Unfortunately, I still don’t see that much has changed over those 10-15 years despite these ‘new’ announcements in the press, and this is something which upsets me. We deserve better and more than what we are currently being given.
As I write, I am looking at a ‘Crew Unit List’ for the Warner Production that the incentive was given for. Screen Scotland’s Isabel Davis was recently interviewed by BBC Scotland regarding concerns raised due to claims that the amount of local crew used did not match those in the GCC proposal. In her interview she was quoted as stating the crew employed “people predominately from Scotland, some are from the south, but most are based in Scotland”.
This quote does not bear the scrutiny of the reality of the unit list. This is sadly a story which is repeated again and again within Scotland’s Film Industry despite assurances of change. And £150K ‘incentives’. I’m surprised about Isabel’s lack of awareness of the Warner crewing situation. Other than it being expected and relatively easy for her to prepare correct information before a major interview, another senior Screen Scotland staff member (who was one of their initial Warner contacts and has a strong working relationship with Glasgow City Council) has been given temporary leave by them to take up a senior crewing position on the said Warner production, despite already being a full-time employee at Screen Scotland.
While we have since taken huge steps forward in slightly smaller-sized productions such as Outlander and The Rig – and ironically now struggle to fully crew many of these similarly-sized productions – it is important to realise that there is a vastly different crewing experience between these huge Hollywood productions currently passing through. I don’t think this difference is fully understood by Glasgow City Council, Screen Scotland or The Scottish Government, which is something I will cover later. This failure to understand the differing sizes and types of production, and the opportunities available and lost because of this misunderstanding, is fundamental to our industry growing and taking advantage of our missed ‘chances’. We have recently grown our film industry to benefit Scotland in many of its interlinked areas which is to be lauded but we are missing one of the most lucrative – the Hollywood Movies, which would truly set Scotland on the road as an internationally regarded filmmaking nation.
While any filming in Scotland is a positive I feel the ‘industry” is being let down badly when directly relating to these huge incoming films by organisations which have the means to improve but don’t. What is currently being offered is, I believe, completely unacceptable and is lacking of any clear vision for a strong and healthy Scottish Film Industry.
To properly understand these differences in production size and type I think it is important to offer a little background on how the film industry operates. This will allow us to understand the crewing issues involving these huge films, how to improve this and also offer some light onto the ‘missing’ millions ‘generated’ for Glasgow.
PART 3 – How The Film Industry Operates
Our film industry is multi-faceted. Much of the claims being made in the press consisted of differing public bodies, confusing references to film studios/stages and types of differing film production size that in my opinion does nothing but confuse a reader unfamiliar with some of these intricacies.
I think it then would be appropriate to begin by briefly describing some of these distinctions as I strongly believe this will help create a clearer path to addressing any issues which we will touch upon throughout. Think of it as a glossary:
The Thinking of it as a Glossary:
Glasgow Film Office aka GFO: Their website states: Glasgow Film Office was established in 1997 to provide for Glasgow City Council a “one stop shop” to support the logistical needs of film and television production … Glasgow Film Office is fully funded by Glasgow City Council.
Screen Scotland: Could be described as the closest entity Scotland has to a Screen Agency. It is a part of Creative Scotland which evolved into what is described on their website as ‘the dedicated partnership for screen in Scotland, delivering enhanced support for all aspects of Scotland’s screen sector’. They are funded by and ultimately responsible to The Scottish Government.
BECTU: The trade union for Film and Television Crew.
High End Television: Television drama that is typified by having cinema quality production values as seen on streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon. BECTU categorise this as BAND3 TV Drama at £3m p/h. BECTU have two lower budget bands for further Television Drama productions such as those typified on UK terrestrial Television. Scotland excels at many productions within this band – both from incoming productions and ‘home-grown’, as well as the majority of these being almost entirely locally crewed.
Major Motion Picture: High Quality Motion Pictures intended for Cinema such as those produced by Marvel, Disney, Universal and Warner which BECTU categorise as having a budget over £30m+. BECTU have a variance of 4 bands for film production which they distinguish by budget. This is their highest band. These are the productions that Scotland traditionally had not excelled at – in terms of being locally crewed and certainly not in terms of generating its on content at this level.
Service Production: A service production is generally a Hollywood production that shoots in another country to take advantage of ‘local’ benefits such as Tax Incentives or less expensive crew. When specific locations are not a requirement the purpose of most of these productions filming in another country is to simply save them money. These are often referred to as ‘incoming productions’.
Film Budget: Each film or television production is allocated an individual budget. The budget is the total amount of money an individual film has been given to spend on their production. For drama this can range from around £1m to around $250m depending on the scope, cast and of course, the money making potential.
BECTU use different bands to separate the varying levels of pay for an individual crew member working across the different levels of production sizes. An analogy could be made as being similar to that of a football league i.e. a defender in a fourth league team will be on a different level of pay to a defender in a team at the top of a premiere league. And much like with football, for the film industry’s premiere-league equivalent, the huge Hollywood films choose the ‘best’ for their team.
It is important to note that ‘best’ when relating to film-crew does have a very different meaning and set of factors which often relate to experience, the opportunity of experience and geographical location.
For the moment however, it is important to only be aware that there are different sizes of production currently operating in Scotland which use different crew, with different levels of experience and from different parts of the country.
Let’s get back to the main feature – the ‘missing’ Hollywood millions…
PART 4 – The ‘Economic Story’ – The Millions Being Generated for Glasgow
The £150K being awarded to Warner to film a feature in Glasgow rests on beliefs that these films bring in millions of pounds to Glasgow’s economy. The slightly later claims that £42m had already been brought into Glasgow from a previous year of filming is really just part of the same story. Let’s dig deeper…
It was fairly easy to discover the source for the claims. These newspaper headlines arrived via Glasgow City Council who had issued press releases to present a claim that filming in Glasgow had ‘generated’ them over £42 Million in 2020-21. The Glasgow Herald, who were one of the first to pick up on their story, boasted…
More than £40million was generated in a landmark year for Glasgow City Council’s Glasgow Film Office. With several Hollywood blockbusters and TV shows filmed in the city, it helped to generate £42.4million for the city’s economy over that period, a record figure for the city.
From my then partially conducted research regarding that £150K incentive to Warner, I already knew that these £42M figures had been wildly exaggerated or misunderstood and that the actual real-world figures generated for Glasgow’s economy by filmmaking was certainly tens of millions of pounds short of what was being quoted in the press.
This reality did not seem to stop Glasgow City Council from further re-quoting their ‘success’ in the press. Bolstered by this, it even reached the pages of UK-wide paper, The Guardian, where the newly appointed Scottish Government Culture Minister, Angus Robertson, chimed in with some extremely bold proclamations himself:
Scotland is now at a critical mass of screen production, both for television and cinema, (…) they will be able to work throughout their lives in film and TV production in Scotland.
As I have earlier mentioned in the ‘glossary’, there are differing levels of film and TV production throughout Scotland. Some of those productions are working extremely well due to earlier excellent and pioneering work by producers, independent from Government or Public Bodies such as Outlander. This area of the industry has been so successful, despite the initial lack of public body involvement that many of the smaller productions now struggle for available crew while others, such as the huge Hollywood films barely use any local crew. There is a huge, huge imbalance of work within the varying sizes and types of film production that does not seem to be being acknowledged adequately. It is my belief that despite being the Culture Minister, Mr Robertson is completely unaware of these differences and how they affect our future Scottish Film Industry. Making claims which suggest to the public that all aspects of our industry are healthy is, in my opinion, harmful.
As my intended original article on the initial £150K headlines was quickly being out-dated with the frequency of emerging new articles on the £42m fervour far faster than I could update, I decided to bring some of my research to Twitter. I made a series of threads calling for further investigation into the £42M and £150K figures being quoted, with the principle reason being that I believed that they were not actually benefitting the film industry in any way close to that which was being celebrated by the public bodies.
BBC Scotland followed one of my threads up with an item on Reporting Scotland TV, their daytime radio show and also on their website where Glasgow City Councillor, Ruairi Kelly, was questioned by them on where this £42m actually went to, to which he responded with a now slightly less firmer sounding answer than earlier replies: “Where does the money go? “It’s hard to say exactly,” says Councillor Kelly.”
PART 5 – Why Do Glasgow City Council Believe Filmmaking has ‘Generated’ The City £42 Million Pounds?
“It’s hard to say exactly…”. It’s really not … or in theory it should not be if you are part of a team that signed off £150K and has issued press releases to claim that £42m has been generated for their city economy.
In my intended original ‘£150K Incentive’ investigation I discovered GCC believed that in years prior to the £42m figure being announced that filmmaking in the city had ‘generated’ a then equally staggering £19M over a previous year (2018). I wanted to know what caused Glasgow City Council to believe that millions of pounds was being brought into the economy by these visiting Hollywood film productions.
Luckily, the answer to this question is the same as it is for the £42m question. That incredible £42m figure being promoted only makes the basic misunderstanding of how it was being calculated even more extraordinary to me.
Glasgow Film Office (see glossary) do a fantastic job, as do all the other local film offices in Scotland. It is GFO who provide Glsagow City Council with the key figures they use. These figures are referred to by GFO, officially, as ‘spend’ and they are recorded in precisely the correct way as they are required to do so. Effectively, they do their job well.
Spend … Spend … Spend.
However, by using these figures we then enter a world of semantics. The word ‘Spend’, and its interpretation is the most fundamental aspect within this investigation. This word, I believe, is the root cause of what I call GCC’s ‘misunderstanding’ of how much money has actually been ‘generated’ by or from Glasgow filmmaking. Much like with the legal world, a word that has common everyday usage in one industry often has a different meaning in another. ‘Spend’ within a film budget can have a different meaning outside of that world. It can be easily interpreted by some as ‘generated’ or as phrases such as ‘brought into’.
From a Freedom of Information request I received the minutes of the Glasgow City Council meeting and their subsequent report regarding the £150K Warner Incentive. During this meeting the councillors present agreed that due to their perception of a vast income being brought into Glasgow’s economy from these visiting film productions they believed it would therefore be a good economic idea to pay a Hollywood film production to shoot an entire movie in Glasgow.
This is what was discussed in the meeting and proposal from their own reports:
We can extract bullet points of what they almost certainly believed from their report and meeting. With the above extracts as evidence it seems quite clear to infer that during and after their meeting, Glasgow City Council were of the belief that:
- This production was going to have a daily ‘spend’ of between £750,000 and £1m.
- The ‘spend’ the production would generate would have a major economic impact on the city.
- The project would be employing between 250-300-1000 local crew ‘where possible’
- After ‘lockdowns’ this would be a boost to the hospitality and retail industry in Glasgow.
- There would be some form of undefined opportunity for locally-based above and below the line talent and crew, facilities, residents and production companies.
I will later demonstrate that very little of these assumptions, claims or benefits were correct or even materialised.
However, those inferred assumptions almost certainly led them to ‘sign-off’ a contract to award Warner Bros £150K. This is what was signed off:
The signing-off on this ‘deal’ lead directly to them issuing a Press Release which would be sent to the local news Press for those September 2021 Press articles which had initially caught my attention.
I wanted to be sure that what was being quoted in those Press pieces, specifically regarding the ‘spend’ and the claims of the economic benefit to Glasgow, were actually attributed to the source, i.e. to Glasgow City Council and not an interpretation by any journalist reporting on the story.
The source of the £150K announcement to the press was indeed Glasgow City Council, as is still on their website:
“This council grant will provide opportunities for locally based above and below-the-line talent and crew and see the use of local production facilities and services, studio and built space as well as the use of office space. Providing opportunities for Glasgow residents and production companies is a condition of grant, and options to develop traineeships and work placements explored.”
“Councillor Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said: “While it’s great fun for a lot of people to see film and broadcast productions in Glasgow, this is very much an economic story – production of this size bring millions of pounds to the city’s economy. What is significant about this support is that it allows the entire production to made in Glasgow – a first for the city – and confirms our place as a location of choice for major productions, and one that can compete with others in the UK and abroad. During this time of economic recovery and renewal, this economic activity is both welcome and important.”
Councillor Aitken is clearly quoted as saying ‘production(s) of this size bring millions of pounds to the city’s economy.’
From reviewing the ‘source’ we can be clearly satisfied that no press article misquoted or misconstrued GCC’s press release and we can safely assume that the councillors present at the ‘signing off’ were of the belief that they thought this Warner production would bring millions of pounds and other similar tangible and intangible benefits to the city.
But why? What made them think this? The sheer amount of money being quoted still made no sense to me: how can a film possibly generate millions of pounds for a city?
In my FOI request I asked what reports or investigations they had conducted to evidence their beliefs. They replied that in evaluating their evidence for the £150K Warner Incentive, they hadn’t conducted a single report themselves and that all their economic evidence was based on what they interpreted from the reports that Glasgow Film Office generated and gave to them.
I asked if they could provide me the source for Councillor Aitken’s ‘millions of pounds’ quote but they told me they could not as they don’t hold that information. All they could suggest as to where this money was to have come from or go to was to ask Glasgow Film Office. This seemed a very simple and quick request, so I did… and I got some very surprising answers. While I still don’t hold any source for Councillor Aitken’s quote, despite personally asking her on social media, I do now understand where the missing millions are. The short answer, as I was increasingly coming to believe, is that there never was any. Millions had not been generated for Glasgow by Hollywood filmmaking.
PART 6 – Glasgow Film Office
I had long suspected that the broad figures used by Glasgow City Council – the totalled ‘spend’ for each year actually meant something very different to what Glasgow City Council believed they did.
This is the extent and detail of what Glasgow City Council sent me regarding the ‘spend’ from years prior to 2020. No other calculations, audits, itemised figures, just these simple figures:
Glasgow Film Office would provide far more useful information.
This is the exchange between myself and the good people at Glasgow Film Office:
Grant: I’m wondering if you would please be able to send me something more detailed about how these figures are broken down? GCC seem quite vague regarding what this spend is ‘going on’. What I’m looking for is the sources of how these spends are broken down and, ideally, examples of what the biggest figure in the spend is on, please – i.e. from the 165 productions which were recorded in 2018, were crew costs included in these figures? Are cast costs also included? For clarification, I mean that, if a production was based in Glasgow, would the crew salaries be included in the overall spend figure that’s reported? Or is the spend specifically money productions are spending in the city – i.e. accommodation?
This is their reply:
GFO: Firstly, productions can complete a local spend report which breaks down the amount of money they spend locally, according to a number of categories. Please note all cost headings below relate to money spent in Glasgow and indicate the areas in which economic impact is generated (items in brackets indicate subcategory headings):
A. Pre-production costs
B. Production Costs
Regional Cast & Crew (actors, extras, crew and technicians)
Local Travel & Transport (car hire, van hire, taxis)
Accommodation (hotel, serviced apartments, etc)
Production Equipment (camera, lighting, etc)
Production Facilities (vehicles, catering, etc)
Production Goods and Supplies (costume, materials, etc)
Parking and traffic management
Production office hire
A. Post production (editing, ADR, etc.)
A. Financial, legal, insurance
Completion of the local spend report is a condition of funding from Glasgow City Council and provides the most robust stats.
Secondly, we will try to ascertain local spends with locations departments and/or line producers on large scale productions who are not in receipt of funding from GCC and, therefore, are under no obligation to complete a local spend report.
Finally, for all remaining productions, a standard daily spend estimate (devised by Creative England and used throughout the UK) is used with specific amounts relating to the type of production e.g. low budget feature film, mid budget TV drama, TV light entertainment, documentary, children’s TV, etc.
This word ‘spend’ now seemed to take on a very different meaning to money being ‘generated’ for Glasgow. This seemed more like money was being ‘spent’ by the filmmakers on their production while they were based in Glasgow, a huge difference to what was being reported and repeated by Glasgow City Council.
What immediately jumped out to me was that the most expensive of these costs included in that ‘spend’ total was not money that actually could have been generated for Glasgow – i.e. payment to local businesses inconvenienced by filming or accommodation, and which was very clearly highlighted by GCC as a proposed benefit from their Warner Incentive.
By far, the biggest costs in a production within the ‘Spend’ total are Cast, Crew, Equipment, Costume and Post. To anyone unfamiliar with film budgets this clearly demonstrates that the vast, vast majority of money being ‘spent’ in Glasgow was what the production were spending on THEMSELVES while based in Glasgow and not actually money they were pouring into the city’s economy. With this insight it was inconceivable that £19m could have been ‘generated’ for Glasgow in 2018 and which puts the quoted £42m in 2020 into a whole different light.
What next jumped out at me was the potential that some of these costs were simply referred to as just estimates based on a ‘averaging’ calculation from a different country – not any real-world figures being recorded in Glasgow. If this was the case then there were some potentially further huge flaws and inaccuracies with the figures being quoted and used by GCC and their councillors.
One such potential flaw I saw from being a crew member for over 20 years, was that it was incredibly common to be asked to ‘make yourself local’ on a production. ‘Being local’ has multiple meanings, and regardless, for a production traveling through many different cities and countries such as one of the Hollywood productions quoted in the £42m spend – it is incredibly difficult to accurately break down some of the costs in the regional breakdown based on which city they are currently filming in, especially regarding crew and equipment. Generally, the same equipment is used for the duration of the shoot and hired in one single place – for huge productions in the UK this almost certainly means London. I know of one excellent Glasgow-based camera equipment company who made only £45 from one of these huge productions that is recorded as contributing to the local Glasgow spend. I also know of only a very small handful of local crew who were used on these productions. Something was certainly not adding up.
It is not a simple task for a production to accurately record spend figures, despite their ease at being reported publicly and I wanted to know a little more on how their accuracy was being established. Surely if they were being used to provide evidence for £150K incentives then the recording of these spends would be 100% robust?
I spoke to GFO again and I asked them for more specifics about what films were included in the 2018 £19m figure and for the accuracy of the figures provided to them, especially in light of the difficulty of breaking some of them down to a specific filming location:
Q: For the remaining productions which use the Creative England devised estimate, are they included in the figures used by Glasgow City Council? i.e. the £19m figure for 2018? Or is that figure devised specifically from the productions that have contacted you? i.e. as Indiana Jones and Batman hired some Glasgow locations their Glasgow spend would be included in this year’s figures?
A: The figures used by Glsagow City Council are provided entirely by Glasgow Film Office – they represent the enquiries to our database and the values attributed to each production either by a completed local spend report, anecdotal evidence from the production or Creative England estimate. It is derived from projects that have contacted our office and created an enquiry in our database. So projects like the above mentioned will be included – Batman in 2020’s figures and productions that shot over the summer will be included for 2021 (usually published in January of the following year).
Q: Which leads me to my next question. When you are given budgets by a line producer is there someone who assesses them? For example, if there was a production who gave you their local spend report is there someone to actually check that all the crew were based in Glasgow / equipment was hired locally?
A: Simple answer is no – they are not scrutinised to that level. Completed local spend reports are received by productions in receipt of a grant from GFO/GCC and as much as we would love all productions based in Glasgow to complete a report for us, those who do not receive a grant are under zero obligation to provide any information to us… The majority of projects that availed of this grant had either local producers, line producers or accountants who completed the reports and we relied on their knowledge, accuracy and honesty when attributing spend to Glasgow-based crew, facilities, services, etc.
What this tells us is that the huge films quoted in the £42m headlines likely formed the huge increase in ‘spend’ for last year and were based on an estimate, one in which they likely included the majority of overall crew, cast, equipment, costumes and post used while filming in Glasgow. Additionally, even if they had made a local spend report there would not be anyone to scrutinise it for accuracy as it was received on ‘honesty’.
PART 7 – A Further Refining of the Figures and GCC’s Response to claims that the £42m figure was exaggerated.
The BBC reporter, in their article on the £42m spend asked Councillor Kelly where the money went to, Councillor Kelly stated “It’s hard to say exactly,” but went on to qualify it with:
There’s a lot of commercially sensitive information but it’s things like vehicle rental, catering, even extras, it all benefits the wider economy of the city.
I’m still astounded that one of the people in charge at GCC when knowing he would be asked this in advance during a BBC interview is unable to even partially or accurately account for where £42m went to in the city. Vehicle rental, catering and ‘even extras’ cannot possibly even come close to totalling £42m.
We can accurately estimate the amount that Councillor Kelly quoted to the BBC as benefitting the Glasgow economy. As you might expect, it does not even come close.
Catering is provided by a production to film crew on a daily charge per crew member. Depending on the size and type of production, this can range from between £10 to £20 per person, per day. Let’s use £20 as an example. If you had £20 for 60 shooting days that would cost a production £1200 per crew member over the course of a production. If you had 300 crew members this would then cost a production something in the region of £360,000. Not taking into account that some of the productions included in the £19m or £42m ‘spends’ only shot in Glasgow for two weeks, this is still considerably far from approaching £42m. These rough calculations do not take into account that many of these productions would be using catering companies not from Scotland. I’ve worked on a production in Glasgow where the catering company was shipped in from LA. It is certainly very common to use catering companies from outside of Scotland, far less Glasgow.
Councillor Kelly mentioned Extras as being one of the other economic benefits to Glasgow. An extra earns around £100 a day. If we take into account that the ‘extra agencies’ which hire them, with their associated costs to production and the extra safety of a PCR test each, this would still amount to a cost of around £300 per day spent by a production on hiring an extra. Taking this to wild extremes, if a production wanted to remake Ghandi with 300 extras per day, every day, over 60 days that figure would still only be in the low millions. Of course, the reality of those productions included in the £19m and £42m figures were hiring vastly less extras over significantly less shooting days.
Simply put, the £42 Million figures quoted by Glasgow City Council do not hold up to the most basic scrutiny. Even hiring crew their own individual transport, which is unheard of or ‘putting them up’ in hugely expensive hotels is still going to be in single digit millions. The only way that £42m can become a figure-based in reality is when you add in what the production spends on itself – i.e. cast, crew, equipment and costumes. It is not hard to see that a huge amount of the cast, crew, equipment and costumes used on these Hollywood productions are not permanently based in Glasgow. This is not money being ‘generated’ for Glasgow’s economy.
The reality is that the figures quoted as ‘spend’ in Glasgow were almost certainly NOT money generated predominantly for Glasgow. The income generated by these productions for Glasgow was, abundantly, vastly less than what has been quoted by Glasgow City Council.
PART 8 – How could this then happen? ENTER: Screen Scotland
The report used during the Glasgow City Council Warner £150K meeting and subsequent decision to award the payment includes the following paragraph:
It can certainly be argued that councillors do not understand the intricacies of film budgets. However, if, as is suggested in this report extract, they were working closely with Scottish Government and Screen Scotland they certainly should have received advice and guidance from those bodies. This advice should have ensured that any misunderstanding of these figures did not happen. If the advice was given then many of the failings surrounding the Warner production would not have happened.
We do know for certain that Glasgow City Council worked with Screen Scotland on a training venture. i.e. Screen Scotland paid Warner to have local trainees hired as crew members.
This venture is via ScreenNETS, an incredibly valuable training resource and one in which I have worked many times. They do excellent work and they secured employment for a number of entry-level crew members on the Warner production. Via ScreenNETS, Screen Scotland pay 25% of a trainee crew member’s salary to Warner.
There is however a failing with this incentive when related to films of this size, one that should be made clear is not the fault of ScreenNETS. As seen in our glossary, there are many differing types and sizes of production. While it is fantastic that trainees are being used on the Warner production, they enter an unfortunate situation when the production finishes. As so few key crew are used on these huge productions compared with the slightly smaller ‘High-End TV’ productions, they encounter a glass ceiling. Their future opportunities await in the hope that more key crew are used for future Hollywood productions shooting in Scotland but most likely, and has been evidenced from earlier productions, their future lies in having to move to London or work on smaller productions in Scotland.
Moving back to the payment from Screen Scotland to Warner, we can see that Glasgow City Council and Screen Scotland have given them a significant amount of money to film in Glasgow. What then does Glasgow and Scotland’s Film Industry get from this in return?
PART 9 – THE £300 MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION – What IS Warner giving to Glasgow in return?
A clear answer is not as much as they should be and certainly not the extent that was promised by Glasgow City Council.
Let’s break down some of the areas which were to benefit from the £150K incentive from Glasgow City Council.
i) CREW – Why were local crews not being used sufficiently?
The Unit Crew List for the Warner Production very clearly shows that the majority of crew employed were not based in Glasgow. Glasgow’s contribution to the crew were mainly periphery positions which were not part of the core shooting crew. This was not what Glasgow City Council’s incentive to Warner was given for. As I touched upon earlier, this has almost always been historically the situation when Hollywood comes to town: local crews being used as ‘extra hands’, in most cases. And seem to still be. It is important to understand why such a small amount of local crew were used but it is also a little complicated.
Many of the major Hollywood productions travel from location to location, city to city and country to country. Within this structure it is important to maintain core crew consistency. If a new crew was used for every geographical location then valuable time would be lost waiting for a crew member to familiarise themselves with the many differing dynamics of a particular shoot.
Crew teams are invaluable to a production – the cost of accommodating a crew member pales into insignificance when compared with time lost on a shoot. Familiarity, trust and a proven track record for working within a particular team is an incredible asset.
Movie-making is a business and this core-team system saves productions money. In general, periphery crew to the core-team are employed as productions change geographical location to facilitate necessary ‘extra hands’ and this is what historically forms much of the crew used on the Hollywood productions filmed in Scotland.
However, while a production is entirely based in a specific area, it opens up the possibility to change this system, although it would still be expected for certain Heads of Department to retain elements of their preferred core-team and for them to be brought in. The Glasgow-based crew I spoke to who worked on the Warner Production iterated that the department heads were allowed to bring their preferred teams.
I don’t believe this lack of using more Glasgow-based crew was down to the Glasgow-based production team. Instead, many of the crewing decisions had been made prior to the temporary ‘office space’ moving to Glasgow. Certainly, when initial discussions happened, I believe Glasgow would have benefited significantly more had a strong Screen Agency chosen to enforce the Glasgow City Council stipulations for their £150K incentive.
When Outlander came to Scotland they ensured that a huge, huge majority of Scottish based crew would be used within all positions, not just the usual expected entry level positions. This bold move of self-belief in his industry cemented a UK wide belief that Scotland could work at the highest levels of High-End TV. This belief allowed Scottish based crew to walk from one High-End television production to the next, at the same level. This section of the Industry is of course booming and it is absolutely to Outlander’s credit that this has happened. The core-team dilemma did not apply as the entire production was based in Scotland, as is now the case with other similar-sized productions which followed in Outlander’s path.
The Warner production offered an opportunity to a) break the core-team being brought in dilemma and b) through their £150K incentive offer an opportunity for Scottish-based crew to work on a Major Motion film in positions beyond entry-level or ‘extra hands’ positions.
To change this it needed someone from either Glasgow City Council, Screen Scotland or Scottish Government to be as bold and have the same belief in their industry as Outlander and to say ‘you can come here but we expect you to use local crew for the majority of positions’.
Everybody would understand that writers, producers, directors and other Above-The-Line crew would be in a different position.
The Glasgow City Council meeting and proposal clearly stated that this would employ 250-350-1000 local crew. Of course there was a ‘where possible’ clause which immediately offered a ‘get out’ for them. Whoever added this qualifier destroyed any bargaining opportunity and has damaged the Scottish Film Industry.
I asked GCC what discussions were had to ensure ‘if possible’ would not be used as a loophole to not using local crew and their response is below:
As noted earlier that when Screen Scotland were interviewed by the BBC regarding how much local crew were being employed, they responded with, ‘Batgirl received £150,000 from Glasgow City Council as an incentive to film here. Isabel Davis says she’s unable to comment on the specifics but she does say any production given public money is expected to hire locally.’
She says that’s “people predominately from Scotland, some are from the south, but most are based in Scotland”.
It’s terribly confusing to hear this from the Head of what is sometimes referred to as Scotland’s Screen Agency. As noted, even at a very best totalling of local crew employed on Batgirl, it is a 50/50 split, and far less when taking trainees and peripheral crew such as Covid Marshalls out of the equation. This can in no way be considered ‘most’, as Screen Scotland stated to the BBC.
The only explanations for this discrepancy is that Screen Scotland are a) incorrect in their figures, b) that they are calculating them in a different way to everyone else or c) they are correct.
From the evidence obtained from crew members and unit lists is seems to be incredibly unlikely that Screen Scotland are correct in their statement. What baffles me the most is why had they not collected accurate figures for the BBC – they knew in advance that they would be asked this question and it is not difficult to obtain these answers.
I am reminded that Isobel Davis was also quoted by Variety, in an earlier discussion on Hollywood Service jobs in Scotland as saying Scottish crews were second to none. It feels like Screen Scotland are unaware of the actual reality of the industry they are paid to represent and oversee.
ii) Benefits to Glasgow Residents, Businesses and Production companies.
The report and meeting to award Warner the £150K incentive also discussed that there would be benefits to Glasgow’s residents and businesses.
‘Retail industries’ are one of the areas highlighted for the production to bring a ‘welcome boost’. The report does not actually specify what particular benefits are to be offered. While no ‘boosts’ to the retail industry have been discussed publicly so far, the feedback from some of these retail businesses during January and February’s filming seem to have taken a considerably negative form:
There seems to be a potential misunderstanding here around when crews are filming 12-hour days in Glasgow.
Vanessa Taffe from STV News reported that ‘Robert Chambers, who runs clothing and printing shop Social Recluse, said the experience has been far from the glitz and glamour expected from a Hollywood production.
Instead of welcoming increased footfall, the King Street premises was forced to close during filming due to low customer numbers caused by road closures.
Mr Chambers told STV News:
‘The shop had to close for about a week. “We had to close, just nothing was moving in the street, and I would probably describe the whole experience as a shambles.” Like others in the surrounding area, the business received compensation from the film’s production company, Warner Bros. However, Mr Chambers said it averaged at around £30 a day and is now calling on work to be done to avoid similar problems with future productions … Mr Chambers said: “The council say
this is great for the city and it’s bringing in money, but that can’t be to the detriment of local businesses. If it is bringing in money, it’s not doing it locally.”
It’s difficult to determine what Glasgow City Council meant by benefits to Glasgow’s retail industry. The film crews would clearly be working during business opening hours, sometimes 12-14 hours per day and would not have the opportunity, or need really, to take advantage of the local retail industry.
The benefits to the hospitality industry are also similarly debatable. All dramatic film productions hire their own catering facilities and staff. Breakfast is made available onset, by the production via these facilities. Lunch, likewise is provided for the entire crew and extras by Productions. Snacks, coffee and drinks are also provided during the entire filming day so it would seem very unlikely that any crew members would be taking advantage of Glasgow’s local hospitality. The only opportunity for local hospitality to benefits from a production filming in Glasgow would perhaps be a very late evening meal or drinks in the hotel. It is difficult to imagine £42m being spent on late food and drinks by film crews.
Hotels may benefit from this Warner venture, ironically if local film crews are not being utilised. As much of this filming was taking place during summer, at the height of Covid-friendly ‘stay-cations’ hotels likely would have been full of tourists anyway. The irony would be that the very people who would contribute to Glasgow’s retail and hospitality sectors – tourists – would have been replaced by film crews.
It seems that the vast majority of claimed benefits to Glasgow’s economy, cited in the Glasgow City Council’s £150K Incentive report have not been fulfilled and the reporting of them is, I believe, causing our industry and Glasgow’s economy harm.
I asked Glasgow City Council, in a FOI request to provide evidence for benefits to the economy. They responded that they did not hold that information.
There is little evidence that Glasgow residents have benefited in any meaningful or purposeful way from the Hollywood productions. ‘Production Companies’ appears to have been thrown into the equation without any meaningful reasoning. I’m at a loss to understand what benefits would be brought to a local production company, a company that makes or facilitates their own product, by an external production company arriving in Glasgow. Of course, there should be benefits – i.e. a clear footprint being left – but GCC have made no plans, suggestions, documents, reports or conducted any research to suggest how this would occur in reality.
Another extract again re-iterates benefits without providing any detail.
Above-The-Line-Talent is an incredibly important and significant area for opportunity that seems to have been brought into the equation with no real thought or understanding of what it means. The phrase usually means ‘talent’ at the highest end of the creative food-chain within a film production – i.e. directors, writers, producers. I do not understand how local talent within this area can be facilitated by this production. It is abundantly clear that all the Above-the-Line-Talent used in the Warner production are not based in Scotland. It seems to be a nonsensical phrase that somebody added as it sounded good. Nobody appears to have asked how this would occur in any sense of reality.
PART 10. The Harm to Our Industry
Of course, any filming in Scotland is beneficial. It’s the exaggeration of its success which causes problems.
The concerns I have are that:
i) The public have been given a false impression of how successful our industry actually is. This impression results in politicians, councils and screen agencies believing they no longer need to prioritise further assistance. The fact that any financial assistance may still be needed will understandably cause resistance from the public. Why would the public be happy to see ‘their’ money being spent on areas of the film industry when they have just been told it has generated £42m, especially when they themselves are struggling with real day to day issues?
ii) Local business are not benefitting: something clear from the recent articles in the newspapers and online. This will surely cause resistance to further filming.
iii) Our industry will not be able to perform at this high level due to crews being brought in from other areas. Without being given the opportunity crew will not be able to gain access to this level of filmmaking and a catch-22 situation occurs, which has happened for decades.
iv) Local film-makers and filmmaking are being ignored at the expense of these huge productions. While it is essential to facilitate all aspects of the film industry, without any tangible results from Hollywood using Glasgow as a location it is a major concern that this hugely important part of our culture is being stepped over. Isabel Davis from Screen Scotland acknowledged that they were currently not focussing on ‘home grown’ filmmaking last year in Variety…
For Davis, the goal now is as much to nurture Scotland’s creative talent in addition to facilitating outside productions. “We know that Scotland has the creative firepower to be originating its own work,” she says. “And that’s the part of the economy that we want to see side by side with the flourishing service industry.
It’s my belief that future incentives should include a requirement that these visiting productions in addition to training opportunities leave a footprint for home-grown filmmaking.
PART 12. Solutions for working with Government and Agencies to address these problems
The clearest path to needed change would seem to lie with Screen Scotland and its relationship to Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council. It seems certain that Glasgow City Council do not understand, not just the intricacies of filmmaking but its broader brushstrokes. It certainly feels that if Glasgow City Council were working with Screen Scotland on these initiatives, as Scotland’s Screen Agency it should surely take the initiative in guiding Glasgow City Council. Something had obviously gone wrong here.
A portion of blame should also lie at the hands of Scottish Government. It has been inferred to me many times through this investigation that Scottish Government have high exceptions for results but do not necessarily understand the filmmaking process required to obtain them. Again, as Scotland’s Screen Agency, Screen Scotland should be guiding Scottish Government in these matters, not bowing to pressure to the detriment of the Film Industry. .
I believe that Screen Scotland are also telling the non-filmmaking communities confusion regarding that magical word ‘spend’ to their advantage too, albeit this time with seemingly more knowledge of the intricacies.
Their now very much out-of-date Business Plan – https://www.screen.scot/funding-and-support/research/screen-scotland-business-plan refers to a £69.4m ‘baseline’ ‘spend’ for 2016/2017 and increasing to £138.8m for 2022/23. Obviously this is also a fantasy figure but it can easily be made to seem like reality if it includes these Warner Productions as legitimate investment or economic generation for Scotland/Glasgow/Scotland’s Film Industry.
Part of the reality of what this spend actually entails is revealed in their small print, enlarged and highlighted below:
We can see that the sources for this calculation are combined which makes individual contributions very hard to accurately quantify. It could be argued that these combined figures benefit Screen Scotland more than the Scottish Film Industry.
I would strongly propose that the promised Screen Scotland update to their Business Plan break down these ‘spends’ to their core components – Screen Scotland-funded productions – and keep them entirely separate from estimates and the spend reports from the local film offices, which should also be individually reported. It should also be essential that all spend reports utilised within any of these Business Plans or Press Releases should be scrutinised to a high degree. Accountability and openness is essential to a healthy industry.
My feeling is that Screen Scotland do not currently have the experience required to guide to the level required by our industry. The dual leadership currently consists of a public spokesperson who has trouble with detail and someone else who has no real experience of drama, far less the requirement of Hollywood level productions. Their expertise lies in small, parochial documentaries designed for local television. This is a significant problem that has clearly already caused Scotland’s film industry significant issues. In their appointment in this role lies a much greater problem: an entire infrastructure that does not understand the film industry.
It is abundantly apparent from the Culture Secretary’s comments that their department is unfamiliar with what reported ‘spend’ actually entails. The reporting of huge ‘spends’ by Screen Scotland to the Scottish Government is creating an entirely inaccurate representation of the health of this industry.
The appointments of the two most senior Screen Scotland members of staff being inexperienced in their positions leads to a level of insecurity within the institution. If they are insecure they will make weak choices such as not pushing for greater authority over Glasgow City Council and Scottish Government’s decision-making. We effectively have nobody in control of our agencies when we absolutely require strong decision-making.
To rectify this we immediately need more experienced staff with experience of productions of this size to take control, to ease pressure from Government funders and to offer strong and clear guidance to local councils. There must be assurances for local crews to be used beyond mere ‘canon fodder’. This is not asking for too much; this currently occurs in almost every other country or region.
There are enough benefits already being provided to ensure this occurs: if incentives are being paid the pressure can be increased. Ireland have fantastic quotas. I once worked on a production where every member of crew in my paygrade was phoned before I was allowed to fly over and join.
Scotland has a great future and many opportunities. Already, the high-end TV streamers are filming here and using local crews. It has been proven that Scottish crews can work at a high level. They are just not being given the opportunity to do so by the very people who have it in their power to request this.
The complex tax incentives which already exist throughout the UK wide film industry allow for cost savings already. Studio space within the UK is at overload. Productions willingly come here so there should not be a fear of them going elsewhere by insisting on what I see as basics: using a majority proportion of Scottish-based crew.
Of course, it cannot be expected that every single crew member will be local but there should be absolutely no reason to not expect a local crew on a Warner film when they are being paid for it.
If businesses are being told that they will benefit from these productions coming to Glasgow then they should. Likewise for Facilities Companies and local Production Companies.
It is not the local production that made these decisions. It comes from a higher source and as such should be the responsibility of Glasgow City Council, Screen Scotland and Scottish Government to insist and oversee that local crews are being used. And that all Incentive stipulations are 100% signed off, especially as Warner are now coming back to film again. This is a perfect opportunity to re-assess the failings and use the opportunity to the benefit of Glasgow and the Scottish Film Industry.
In brief, I would propose 8 key points which require addressing before the next Warner Bros production rolls into Glasgow:
1) A strong figure head for Creative Scotland. Someone who can clearly lead, inspire and push Scotland (and Glasgow’s) film industry needs to the fore when liaising with Hollywood Productions.
2) That Screen Scotland provide clear, concise, transparent and individually itemised figures for ‘Spend’ when reporting publicly. These figures should be 100% clearly audited and scrutinised for each and every individual production. This is essential for clearly addressing the differing areas of film production which may require assistance. It is not good enough that these figures are presented in Net form, especially if they include estimates or incorrect ‘local spend’.
3) Screen Scotland clearly lead any local councils such as Glasgow City Council when incentives are being provided for large filming infrastructures. Screen Scotland should also be leading and advising Scottish Government in any similar endeavours, something which currently is clearly not happening.
4) Glasgow City Council must 100% accurately audit and scrutinise all aspects of what was achieved by their filming incentive and steps must be made to ensure full accountability. Any proposals given to address mistakes should the achievements not match the initial proposals must be addressed, especially if and when further filming opportunities arise. Crew that are normally ‘based’ outside of Glasgow and have made themselves ‘local’ should not be included in local spend.
5) Clear and open steps must be undertaken to ensure genuine local crews and cast are used, especially when incentives are being offered. Adverts and campaigns on social media should be utilised, just as they were for the advertised trainee positions.
6) Local businesses should be adequately compensated for the disruption caused.Something which did not occur with Batgirl despite proposals it would.
7) A footprint is left by visiting productions to ensure ‘home-grown’ talent and filmmaking benefit.
8) Future incentives should be put out to tender so that local production companies have the same opportunity to benefit.
As it has been noted that Warner intends to use Glasgow to film further productions, this is now a perfect opportunity for the organisations involved to take on board any failings which arose from BatGirl and address them. Glasgow City Council need to provide full documentation to clearly highlight the entire process that resulted in the £150K incentive being offered, starting from who first suggested it.
It is acknowledged that it is incredibly attractive to visiting Hollywood level productions that Scotland can contribute financially. Unfortunately, while £150K would be a hugely important contribution towards a home-grown production it is a paltry sum in relation to a film with a budget of $300m. In many ways it is naive that anyone responsible for suggesting this incentive believed this would be a make or break moment to a system that benefits almost entirely from Film Tax Relief. This is a huge concern and brings into hard light Screen Scotland’s background of small, local television production. This is not a good look on a worldwide stage. Either Screen Scotland were working with Glasgow City Council on this proposal and they allowed GCC to misconstrue much of the detail, or Screen Scotland were not involved which brings into question their purpose.
What should have been a perfect opportunity to kickstart a major motion picture industry has had organisational setbacks. Luckily, if the organisations involved have the humility to address these failings for the betterment of the film industry – and Glasgow’s businesses and residents – we have a real chance to create an industry which can put Scotland and Glasgow at the heart of the ever-developing movie industry. This can happen and should happen and when it does we will all benefit.
A huge thanks to Dr Belle Doyle for her assistance in this investigation.
*Glasgow City Council, Councillor Aitken and Councillor Kelly were given this article and an opportunity of a right-to-reply to which they did not respond. Screen Scotland and Isabel Davis were also given this article and offered an opportunity of a right-to-reply to which they did not respond to. Glasgow Film Office, who have been incredibly helpful and open in gathering much of the information that forms this article did not supply a response for comment.
Edit: Screen Scotland have since replied to thank us for ‘giving them a heads-up’ regarding this article