Scotland on film: How firms benefit from some celluloid magic

The Press & Journal – Peter Ranscombe 

Promoting the north and north-east as destinations for filming is essential to capitalise on the economic benefits of movies and television shows, writes Peter Ranscombe.

Turn on the gogglebox or open a newspaper over the past few weeks and it’s been nigh on impossible to avoid the second series of The Traitors.

Whether it’s presenter Claudia Winkleman’s outfits or the real-life stories of the contestants playing the “traitors” or the “faithful”, the BBC television programme has been splashed across everything from radio shows to magazine articles.

Both the UK show and its US cousin were filmed at Ardross Castle, north of Alness in Easter Ross.

Loukas Tsarmaklis, a director of Ardross Castle Enterprises, told The Press and Journal last year the first series led to the venue being “inundated” with inquiries to host weddings, with filming itself helping “local B&Bs, tradesmen, taxi drivers, cleaners” through extra trade.

The Traitors isn’t the first TV series or film to put the Highlands on the celluloid map.

Wind the clock back to the 1990s and the movie triumvirate of Braveheart, Rob Roy, and Loch Ness thrust Scotland – and the Highlands in particular – into the Hollywood spotlight.

That gave Willie Cameron an idea; after hosting film crews at Drumnadrochit Hotelhe set up Loch Ness Marketing in 1994. Since then he has been acting as a “fixer”, helping production companies to find everything from locations and extras through to accommodation and catering.

“Total flexibility is key,” explained Mr Cameron, known affectionately as “Mr Loch Ness” for his efforts over the years to promote the Great Glen.

He added: “You might be asked to serve breakfast at 4am to one part of the crew that’s going out early to film, while at the same time serving dinner to another part of the crew that’s just come back from night filming.

“Film crews aren’t like any other type of business because they have to film when the weather and the light are right.”

Gap in the market

Mr Cameron said that when he started his company the only film services in the Highlands were focused on the “premier division”, or feature films.

He spotted a gap in the market for “middle of the road” pop videos, documentaries, and adverts.

Over the years he’s worked with clients ranging from Blind Date and Comic Relief through to McLaren motor racing, covering an area extending from Glen Coe and Highland Perthshire in the south to Wick and Orkney in the north.

Site visits deliver ‘fresh inspiration’

“I always encourage them to come up and do a recce,” he said, adding: “It’s one thing to come up with ideas when you’re sitting in an office in London, but you get fresh inspiration when you come here and see what’s available.”

One of the businesses that’s benefited from working with Loch Ness Marketing is Moy-based Good Highland Food (GHF), which was set up by Yvonne Crook and her husband, Mike, in 2003.

The couple, whose catering company focuses on local produce, shared the ambassador of the year prize at last year’s Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards.

GHF has catered for the James Bond film franchise and last autumn’s Shrek-themed Air BnB promotion on Ardverikie Estate near Laggan – the location for the Monarch of the Glen television series – which featured singer Rita Ora and her filmmaker husband, Taika Waititi.

“You can see the huge value filming brings for the area economically,” Mrs Crook said.

Mr Cameron and Mrs Crook are both directors of Highland Tourism, a community interest company launched in 2021 to promote the region as a premium sustainable destination.

“From a Highland Tourism perspective, showcasing the Highlands as a destination for film and TV location work is one of the pillars for our brand in the future,” Mrs Crook said.

A Highlands and islands film commission was also founded in the 1990s and, over the years, morphed into the Highlands of Scotland Film Commission (HSFC).

Cannes Film Festival in its sights

It is run by Highland Council after the islands’ local authorities set up their own film offices.

Mr Cameron and Mrs Crook want to see HSFC engaging more with local businesses and becoming increasingly active in promoting the region on the world stage, including returning to the trade side of Cannes Film Festival.

HSFC helps production companies to find locations and services in the region, including Studio Lambert, which uses Ardross Castle for The Traitors.

Spin-off benefits worth millions

The commission calculated that filming generated more than £3 million for the Highland economy in 2022.

HSFC film locations officer Clare Piggot said: “Local businesses and local crew can create an account with us for free. Their entry will then be published on our database for production companies to see.”

Ms Piggot has also promoted HSFC at events run by destination management organisation Visit Inverness Loch Ness and the Highland Tourism Conference.

She added:“We’re looking to make our service more proactive – get more involved with the industry, help to grow it in the Highland region, and encourage younger people living here who are interested in the industry that they can work here and stay here.”

As well as the wider economic impact of making films and TV shows, Mr Cameron also pointed to the specific benefits for tourism.

He added: “The people who are managing the film crews – showing them locations – are exercising almost an indirect directorial control of what will be seen on screen.

“You’re actually advertising your country or location to the world.

“My old grandfather used to say ‘goods properly shown are half sold’.

“Then you get the spin-back when the film is shown, and people want to come here.

“The Glenfinnan viaduct in Harry Potter or Eilean Donan Castle in Highlander are perfect examples.

“So you get a second bite at the cherry; people are filming in the area and then tourists are coming to visit.”

A report by public body Screen Scotland valued screen tourism, known as “set jetting”, as adding £55m of gross value to our nation’s economy in 2019. It also supported the equivalent of 1,220 full-time jobs.

Recent productions visiting Scotland – such as film franchises including Avengers, Batman, Fast & Furious and Indiana Jones, as well as TV shows like The Buccaneers, The Crown, and Good Omens – may have grabbed all the headlines.

But national tourism body VisitScotland said older titles such as Braveheart, The Da Vinci Code, Highlander and the ubiquitous Outlander were still listed by tourists in surveys into their reasons for coming to Scotland.

Jenni Steele, VisitScotland’s film and creative industries manager, added the agency worked with film distributors to promote Scotland as part of wider publicity for movies.

The organisation also has content about film and television productions on its website that can be used by local businesses wishing to capitalise on opportunities in their area.

Ms Steele said: “We have industry relationship managers in each part of Scotland – local people on the ground who can help businesses.”