Scotland: North of the Border


North of the Border

With unrivalled scenery, a wealth of rural and urban locations and dedicated creative and financial support, Scotland has much to offer filmmakers setting foot on its soil…

Filming Elizabeth: The Golden Age at Burghley

What do directors Ron Howard, Shekhar Kapur, Brian De Palma and Stanley Kubrick have in common—apart from being multi award-winning talents, of course. Despite being very different filmmakers, they have all recognised and utilised the huge benefits of shooting in Scotland. Howard used the country’s stunning Rosslyn Chapel in the denouement of his 2006 adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code; the striking outline of Eilean Donan Castle was used to depict Fotheringay Castle, which imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots in Kapur’s Oscar-winning Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007); the climactic cross-channel railway sequence of De Palma’s Mission: Impossible (1996) was actually filmed on stretches of line between Annan, Dumfries and New Cumnock; and the surface of Jupiter seen in Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was, in reality, tinted shots of the island of Harris, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

Although this is just a tiny cross section of the films shot in Scotland, it’s a solid indication of just how versatile the country is for filmmakers. The fact that the sequences mentioned above can still be seen in the mind’s eye of their audiences is testament to just how vibrant and dynamic the Scottish landscape is, but, although the unique scenery is undoubtedly one of the country’s most enticing strengths, it isn’t the only thing that should persuade savvy filmmakers north of the border. Indeed, production activity in Scotland is the highest in the UK outside of London, attracting £20–25m of location spend each year. Here’s why…


Glenfinnan Viaduct as seen in Harry Potter

Although Scotland makes up 37 per cent of the UK’s land mass, it houses just 8 per cent of the UK’s population, meaning there is more open space and wilderness than in almost any other European country. Within that space is a huge array of unparalleled natural landscapes, including the highest mountains and deepest lochs in the United Kingdom, as well as large and accessible forests and unspoilt moorlands. There’s also an astonishing 6,000 miles of stunning coastline, with a mix of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches, plus 790 islands dotted along the shoreline. And the fact that Scotland has the longest daylight hours in the UK, boasting up to 18 hours of light during the summer months, also makes it a practical choice for directors like Neil Marshall, who shot his Roman epic Centurion throughout the Highlands in 2010, and Nicolas Winding Refn, who filmed Valhalla Rising there in 2009.

“Scotland proved to be exactly the right place to shoot this film; it was able to offer all the different locations we needed for a story which takes place in several different countries. The thing that really shapes the character of the film, in terms of creating its visual quality, is the locations. So shooting here was a win-win situation.” – Nicolas Winding Refn, Director, Valhalla Rising (from Screen Scotland’s Made in Scotland, 2009)

Inland too, Scotland has much to offer, with a vast number of period buildings including castles and mansions, small, quaint villages and vibrant, buzzing metropolises. Two of the most exciting and film-friendly of Scotland’s cities are Glasgow and Edinburgh, both offering different opportunities.

Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess in One Day, directed by Lone Scherfig in Edinburgh.

Perhaps the most familiar of Scotland’s cities, Edinburgh has a strong relationship with the industry thanks to its hugely popular annual film festival, and it strives to make the location process simple for productions shooting in the city. The local authorities have tasked local organisation Edinburgh Film Focus to promote the Edinburgh, Lothian and Scottish Borders region for on-location film, video and television production, and their advice and support is free to producers and location managers.

It’s no surprise, then, that films like Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996), Richard Jobson’s New Town Killers (2008) and urban horror movie Outcast (2010) have been shot in Edinburgh and surrounding areas.

“I’d spent some of my early teenage years in Craigmillar and remembered a feeling which I think is particular to these types of council estates. They’re isolated from the town and can have a heavy, dark atmosphere…. When we first arrived… we wondered what we might be letting ourselves in for. As the shoot progressed… we found that the locals were actually very helpful. They seemed really buzzed-up that a film was shooting in the area, and keen to learn a little about the film industry for themselves.” – Colm McCarthy, Director, Outcast (from Made in Scotland, 2009)

Glasgow doubles for Philadelphia in Marc Forster’s zombie apocalypse, World War Z (2012)

Well known for its dynamic architecture, Glasgow boasts medieval spires, Victorian sandstone, art nouveau and the familiar glass and steel of the contemporary cityscape. And, like the rest of Scotland, the city goes out of its way to accommodate filmmakers from around the globe. In 2009, the Glasgow Film Partnership was established; a collaborative organisation between over 30 creative industries—including BAA Glasgow, British Waterways Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and Hilton Glasgow—and public and private stakeholders most affected by their activities, it aims to ensure a network of cooperation and support for those shooting in the city. This builds on the work of the Film Charter for the City of Glasgow, signed in 1997 by Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Police, which ensures that productions have the full cooperation of filming liaison offers.

Director Peter Mullen (NEDS)

Such an atmosphere of cooperation led to the Glasgow Film Office recording ‘approximately £10m of local spend in 2010’, according to their last annual report, which also stated that ‘271 enquiries came through the office, of which 78 per cent went on to shoot in the city’. Such productions include Andrea Arnold’s Red Road (2006), Peter Mullan’s NEDS (2010) and TV miniseries Single Father, starring David Tennant.

“When projects do come here, it’s not just because Scotland offers some attractive locations. It’s also because of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, making sure that the crew are properly catered for and the individual locations are tailored to the needs of the production. So no matter what sentimental feelings people have shooting in Scotland, ultimately they won’t come unless we have the right deal to offer.” – Belle Doyle, Location Manager, Scottish Screen (from Made in Scotland 2009)


In addition to its stunning natural landscape and vibrant, accessibly cities, Scotland boasts over 80 first-class production companies and more than 300 facilities, which generate a turnover of £1.3bn per year. There are several dedicated studios throughout the country, from the regional hubs to the northern islands, ensuring that crews have access to the latest technologies wherever they may be shooting. These include:

Dumbarton Studios
This BBC studio offers 50,000 sq. ft. of studio and build space in two buildings, plus a full-size backlot and workshops, storage, offices and canteen. It is located 30 minutes west of Glasgow city centre, and just 20 minutes from Glasgow Airport. Productions shot at Dumbarton include The Eagle, The Deep and Hope

Edinburgh Film Studios
This soundproofed studio is situated 20 minutes from Edinburgh Airport, and features a production office, make-up, green room, green screen, kitchen, infinity cove and full blackout. Productions shot at EFS include numerous music videos, commercials and large-scale stills photography.

Studio Alba
Located in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, just 10 minutes from Stornoway Airport, 40 minutes’ flight from Inverness and one hour’s flight from Glasgow, this studio boasts motorised lighting and scenery hoists, full DMX grid, story props, production offices, HD post-production and subtitling. Productions shot at Studio Alba include programmes for BBC Scotland, commercials and films.

You’ll find a complete list of Scottish studios at

In addition to its dedicated studios, Scotland is home to a plethora of filmmaking spaces. Creative Scotland’s location team also keeps updated lists of the country’s empty warehouses, potential build spaces and office spaces. You can also obtain further details of empty commercial properties at

Regional Support
As well as its national bodies, Scotland has a wide range of regional film offices tailored to provide specific, local help, advice and support. These include:

Ayrshire Film Focus
Clackmannanshire Council
Edinburgh Film Focus
Glasgow Film Office
Scottish Borders Film Focus
Scottish Highlands and Islands Film Commission
South West Scotland Screen Commission
Stirling Council Film Liaison
TayScreen, Dundee

“The whole experience has been delightful. The people of West Lothian and Scotland made us feel really welcome. The crew and locations available are great. The fact that we have shot a war sequence that took place in Iraq and used Bangour Village Hospital to double for a psychiatric hospital in rural Vermont, all within an hour of Glasgow, is a great testimony to the ability of film people to create believable environments in practically any place in the world. It seems to me that there is almost no limitation to the kind of picture that can be done in Scotland.” – Peter Strauss, Executive Producer, The Jacket (2004)

Crew and Creative Industries

On location filming The Eagle (Dir, Kevin MacDonald)

As around 18,000 people are employed in Scotland’s screen industries, any production is certain to find talented and enthusiastic crew members with an invaluable knowledge of the local area. A good place to start is Film Bang (, a dedicated Scottish directory with information on a wide range of personnel as well as production companies, workshops and facilities. The large number of Scottish creative industries contribute over £5bn to the country’s economy each year, and offer complete support throughout the production and post-production process. One such company is special effects powerhouse Artem, who recently set up a dedicated Glasgow office to work with films shooting north of the border, such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising.

“The Scottish team is developing its range of services and skills. We have plans to expand further now that we know from our clients what services they need most from us.” – Mike Kelt, Artem Scotland


Although the area of UK film funding is in something of a state of flux following the dissolution of the UKFC and the increased role of the BFI, filming in Scotland certainly comes with some financial advantages—not least because its versatile landscapes and weather systems mean it can stand in for virtually any country and time period, for any genre. Creative Scotland invests money, including National Lottery funds, in the development and promotion of Scotland’s screen industries, and investment strands include funds for content development, content production and talent development.

Additionally, Scottish Screen invests just over £5m in the development and promotion of the country’s screen industries every year, including the distribution of £2.2m of National Lottery funds for production and content development. Their specific funding areas include production company growth, short and feature film development, freelancer and company skills development, experimental, alternative and interactive digital screen content, formats and platforms and distribution initiatives.

“Scotland delivered the perfect mix of ancient and modern. Its breathtaking scenery was easy to find and easy to shoot. All-weather crews, modern facilities, epic locations and world-class cities to return to in the evening. Why would I shoot anywhere else?” – Kevin Macdonald, Director, The Eagle (shot throughout The Highlands in 2010).

For more information about filming in Scotland, visit
• Creative Scotland
• Glasgow Film Office
• Scottish Screen Locations
• Location Scotland at


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