A combination of the BBC’s regions policy, more high-profile drama shoots and a greater collaborative effort has created an upbeat mood among Scottish facilities. By Michael Burns

Scotland’s facilities sector appears to be doing rather well for itself. Business is buoyant among the big players in video and audio postproduction, while rental companies are reaping the benefits of the BBC delivering on its promise to produce more shows north of the border.

“The health of the industry in Scotland has also been helped by more high-profile dramas and features being shot up here,” says Eileen Byrne, manager of VI Rental (formerly Visual Impact Scotland). “We’ve seen a steady increase in all sizes of production since our Glasgow office opened in 2007. We’ve been involved in everything from student shorts to supplying feature films, as well as longer-running dramas such as River City for BBC Scotland. Hopefully this growth is set to continue.”

The year has also got off to a great start for 422.tv in Glasgow, according to managing director Brian Suttie. “We’ve just delivered 15 x 45-minute episodes of Countryside 999 to the BBC and are doing six episodes of Vinnie Jones: Russia’s Toughest [Tern TV for Nat Geo] in HD with full 5.1 surround sound,” says Suttie.

“Investment this year has included Dolby E encoding and loudness measurement, upgrading our Symphony suites, considerable additional media storage, and the addition of another two Avid Media Composer edit suites.”

Capacity is also increasing at Serious Facilities, which is doubling its offline edit suites and adding another online suite with grading capabilities. It has also dramatically increased the capacity of its SAN and data backbone, and added an automated LTO offsite back-up system.

It’s been the busiest year on record for the facility, with 20 edit suites constantly ticking over for a range of drama, comedy, factual and children’s TV. “We are increasing our edit team and grading continues to go from strength to strength,” says managing director Simon Cull.

“Over the past few years, we have seen a lot of well-known companies come and set up a Scottish arm, which we have welcomed,” adds Cull. “Objective Scotland has contributed greatly to the Scottish market and we have been lucky enough to work with them since they started here. These types of companies have added to the output up here, as has the BBC with its regions policy.”

Audio post has also benefited, and not just in broadcast. Recent TV work going through Glasgow-based Savalas includes series six of M.I. High (Kudos, see box), series two of Case Histories (Ruby Television) and series two of The Field Of Blood (Slate North). “It’s kept us very busy,” says mixer and managing director Kahl Henderson. “Growth in video games has been incredible too. We’ve just finished an extended run on the Halo 4 Spartan Ops series for 343 Industries: 10 x 5-minute episodes of sci-fi space drama, with the technical and creative expectations of a feature fi lm.”

Rage Music in Glasgow has also been very busy, with work on films (Limitless, Dredd), TV (Blockbusters, 1001 Things You Should Know, A League Of Their Own) and commercials. Rage now plans to work on more video-game projects. “Our team has continued to grow, both office based and in terms of composers and producers,” says head of music Caroline Gorman. “Having a studio in LA has also given us the opportunity to expand our work in the US market.”

Optimistic environment

Edinburgh’s Freakworks, meanwhile, is increasing its capacity for production as well as working on a sizeable post upgrade. “We’re putting in a facility-wide 10GB network, increasing our central storage, adding new deep archive and an overarching MAM, while upgrading three finishing suites,” says creative director Hamish Allison. “In the past year, we have seen a big rise in the projects coming to us from outside Scotland, both from the UK and internationally. This is something we will be looking to encourage even more of in the coming months.

“The environment feels a lot more upbeat and optimistic than it did a few years ago,” he adds. “We’re excited to be seeing motion graphics play a bigger part in all sorts of media and spreading across a wider variety of functions than relying purely on the media channels with which it is more traditionally associated.”

To bolster and highlight the attractions of Scottish facilities, a group of companies and sole traders banded together as a collaborative confederation last year. Screen Facilities Scotland (SFS), as it is now known, received a £10,000 prize for business development from Co-operative Development Scotland in October.

Assistance has also been provided by Creative Scotland and BBC Scotland, and a group presence at London’s BVE show earlier this year was used to promote the range, experience and values of the member companies. SFS doesn’t yet represent all Scottish facilities (Serious is among those that haven’t joined) and the members are still strongly independent. But the benefits of membership have already been seen by some.

One is Rage Music. “Running a music-based business in Scotland can be challenging, so any way of joining together with similar companies working in fi lm and TV, facing similar issues, is always welcomed,” says Caroline Gorman. “The benefits of joining together have already shown themselves, even though the group is in its infancy: knowledge sharing, events, networking, training, the list goes on. I’m excited to be part of SFS and to see what the future brings as the group continues to grow.”

VI Rental’s Byrne adds: “SFS is a new body, but our profile has definitely benefited. There are companies and facilities available in Scotland that I wasn’t aware of and, likewise, there are companies that weren’t aware of us. As a result, we are picking up business within the Scottish industry already, and I’m very confident that this will feed work further afield.”

Freakworks is also a member. “As yet, we haven’t seen a big difference, but we are very optimistic about the relationships and benefi ts it will bring,” says Allison. “We are doing as much as we can with the group and we really feel it’s a great chance for us to show what Scotland has to offer. It’s also important for us to demonstrate that Edinburgh can be a driving force alongside Glasgow and outside Scotland.”

Savalas was heavily involved in the inception of SFS. “As a resource and a forum, groups like SFS are essential,” says Henderson. “We, as an industry, spend a great deal of our time cocooned in studios and edit suites and never get a chance to look outward. With SFS and groups like it, we can discuss and develop ideas with other local industry professionals. We also have the combined strength to be heard at a government level.”

M.I. High: Collaborative Success

A good example of the increased activity in the Scottish facilities sector is CBBC show M.I. High, the sixth series of which aired in early 2013.

As well as Glasgow based Serious, many members of the Screen Facilities Scotland group worked on the series, including Savalas and 422.TV.

“This was a major drama project with a huge dependence on visual effects, the like of which I don’t believe has ever been done in Scotland before,” says 422.tv managing director Brian Suttie.

“We completed more than 1,300 VFX shots on the series, as well as all the onlines, grading and deliverables, including the international versions. We know we exceeded the client’s expectations – producing work that surpassed previous series.

“Director Richard Senior, who has previously worked on series such as Doctor Who, said he thought this was brilliant and he was thrilled with the quality and scale of what we had achieved.”