As Brad Pitt World War Z comes to Glasgow this week, Screen looks at the city’s film-friendly attitude that’s also drawing in the likes of Cloud Atlas.
Glasgow may lack its own regional tax breaks (although it does qualify for the UK tax break) and financial incentives and financial incentives to woo international productions but its cooperative attitude seems to be working just as effectively. Paramount Pictures £80 million zombie epic World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, is currently using locations in the heart of the city to double as downtown Philadelphia [pictured]. The production will spend in excess of £2 million during the 16 days that it is scheduled to shoot in Glasgow.
In September, Warner Bros’ Cloud Atlas will follow, spending five days in the city using some of its more vertiginous streets to create the illusion of San Francisco in the 1970s.
Receiving a visit from one major Hollywood production might be considered a sign of arbitrary good fortune but a visit from two has to be more than mere coincidence.
“Obviously any kind of financial incentive would be a benefit particularly when trying to attract British productions,” concedes Film Commissioner Jennifer Reynolds from the Glasgow Film Office (GFO). “However, the city’s determination to be as film friendly as possible is making a difference. Cloud Atlas liked the rolling sweep of some Glasgow streets. It seems to have been the architecture and grid system of Glasgow city centre that convinced World War Z to come here. The fact that the council Roads Department and emergency services all responded so readily to the demands of the production made a huge impact.”
The Glasgow Film Office has been working hard to promote the city internationally and enlisted actor Gerard Butler as an ambassador for their ambitions in 2009. Over the past year, the GFO has dealt with 271 inquiries that translated into 666 days of filming. It is hard to imagine many cities being willing to experience a major part of its centre being closed down and placed at the disposal of a film unit for two weeks. Glasgow has agreed to extensive road closures and all the preparation that was required in terms of changing road signs, traffic lights, vehicles and buildings to create Philadelphia. CGI will add in a skyscraper skyline at a later date.
World War Z location manager Michael Harm had previously worked in Scotland on Sean Mathias’ film of the stage play Bent way back in 1996 but remembered Glasgow and the lay-out of the city centre. His initial interest brought director Marc Forster and key production members to the city in May when a final choice of location was made. Harm has expressed satisfaction with the response from the city and from the local residents keen to sign on as zombie extras for the filming.
“The positive feedback and support we are getting from all corners together with a real buzz of excitement around the city is terrific,” says Harm. “We had 7,000 people attending the open casting for background artists. We are really looking forward to making this a success for both the city of Glasgow and the film.”
Glasgow has a strong tradition as a flexible film location that stretches from Bertrand Tavernier’s futuristic drama Death Watch in the late 1970s to Terence Davies’ adaptation of The House Of Mirth in 2000 that transformed parts of the city into the New York of the early 20th century. Ken Loach has been a regular visitor to the city from Carla’s Song in 1996 to the recently shot Angels’ Share.
Peter Mullan has used the city extensively in his shorts and features including, most recently, NEDS. Gillian Berrie and her Glasgow-based production company Sigma Films have made a string of high profile films in the city ranging from WIlbur Wants To Kill Himself (2002) to Red Road (2006) and David Mackenzie’s apocalyptic romance Perfect Sense (2011), which also required the closure of some major roads.
“One Sunday we closed most of the city centre,” recalls Berrie. “We were creating the panic of a pandemic taking a grip on the city and had army on the streets, a stray horse galloping around and the attitude from the council, Creative Scotland and the GFO was just fantastic. There is a great infrastructure, it is friendly, they talk straight and they make it very easy to access everything from hospitals to roads, schools, emergency services. I think they also realise that the more images of Glasgow there are on screen the more potential there is for visitors. They just get it.”
Berrie acknowledges a competitive world market in which Glasgow may appear disadvantaged by the absence of financial incentives but she believes that may be about to change.
“I think there will be some kind of incentive fund in place within the next six months,” she explains. “Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise have been working together on a proposal and they know how important such a fund would be to encourage indigenous production and encourage inward investment and keep the local crews working at the level that makes them world class.”
Berrie is also at an advanced stage of expanding beyond her current Film City base in Govan. A 72,000-square-foot site has been identified with warehouses that would serve as sound stages. She hopes that the finance to undertake the project should be in place before the end of the year.
“We are trying very hard to expand into a bigger space which will be a studio and production village. I never imagined that Film City would be such a success but we are overwhelmend. We turn away two or three productions a week because we just don’t have the space. Sometimes even my own films can’t get in, because it is first come, first served.”
The combination of enhanced production facilities and a willingness on the part of the city authorities to go that extra mile could be what Glasgow needs to attract an even greater number of high profile productions in what is turning out to be a landmark year for film in the city.