This article was published on the City A.M. website on 21 December 2016 as part of Invest Edinburgh Talk.
Like a great actor, able to bring to life almost any character, the greatest film locations in the world all share certain characteristics: a breath-taking array of locations, quality of light, diversity, flexibility, a highly skilled crew base and local production support.
From the tense drama of The 39 Steps to the epic sci-fi Cloud Atlas, Edinburgh offers filmmakers all that and much more.
As one of the most photogenic and recognisable cities in the world, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Scotland’s capital has many hidden secrets.
The past 25 years have seen more than 4,000 productions filmed in and around the Edinburgh city region, including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Da Vinci Code, Shallow Grave, Chariots of Fire, One Day, Hallam Foe, The Railway Man, Sunshine on Leith as well as numerous TV productions such as Rebus and Outlander and Bollywood productions Yeh Hai Jalwa and Mausam.
In fact, research conducted by Film Edinburgh, which provides production crews with dedicated support, reveals the total economic impact of filming in and around Edinburgh over the past 25 years is worth in excess of £65m. Established in 1990 as the first film office in Scotland, Film Edinburgh exists to provide in-depth local knowledge of the vast range of locations available as well as guidance on local crews and facilities.
Breath-taking array of filming locations
Edinburgh offers a one-stop-shop for filming and production needs. The city’s medieval Old Town offers filmmakers cobbled streets, dark closes and an almost peerless historical atmosphere, while the Georgian New Town offers grand avenues and some of the world’s finest neo-classical architecture.
In 2015 alone, more than 350 productions shot sequences in Edinburgh, including The BFG, Tommy’s Honour and BBC drama The Secret Agent. Combined, filming activity generated £6.9m for the local economy last year – a new record.
There are now more than 2,500 places of interest registered with Film Edinburgh as potential film locations, while the region is also home to more than 300 freelance film industry professionals. The Scottish Government is currently reviewing a planning application to establish a six-stage, £135m TV and film production facility to the south of the city.
40 per cent of visitors to the UK express a wish to visit locations they’ve seen on film; where better to explore such a vast array of spectacular scenes in such a compact location? With set jetting an increasingly popular activity for many visitors, the chance to retrace that iconic opening scene, as Renton barrels along Princes Street to the tune of Iggy Pop, continues to attract people from all over the world.
And Edinburgh is about to take centre stage once again, with cinema-goers now eagerly awaiting the January 2017 release of Danny Boyles’ sequel to the 1996 wild and dystopian tale of friendship that was Trainspotting.
For filmmakers and film fans facing more choice than ever, two words of advice: choose Edinburgh.
Set jetting secrets through the decades
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
The University of Edinburgh features in a number of scenes from this 1959 James Mason adventure, in which an Edinburgh professor ventures into the heart of a volcano with surprising results. The Mound in the city centre is also featured.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Dame Maggie Smith at her finest, set against the backdrop of Edinburgh Academy, which featured as the film’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Henderson Row, The Grassmarket, Edinburgh Castle and The National Museum of Scotland all feature in this 1969 classic.
Chariots of Fire
Retrace the real steps of Scottish Olympian, Eric Liddle, featured in this 1981 classic tale. Enjoy a walk in Holyrood Park or a dinner in the Cafe Royal, both featured in the film. Or visit the Broughton McDonald Church which featured as the church of Scotland in Paris.
Edinburgh’s iconic landscape features prominently in this Oscar-winning 2010 animation, in which an out of work French illusionist travels to Scotland. Director Sylvain Chomet set the story in Edinburgh after visiting when his film Belleville Rendez-Vous was showing in the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Arthur’s Seat provides a stunning backdrop, while The Barony Bar and Jenners department store also appear.
Climb to the top of the Salisbury Crags and hold that someone special even closer, as you re-enact scenes from this adaption of David Nicholls’ tale of Dex and Emma. The film opens and ends in Edinburgh, with scenes shot on Arthurs Seat, Warriston Close, Parliament Square and Victoria Street to name but a few.
The Railway Man
Scenes from this moving World War Two tale, inspired by real life events and starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, were shot on Calton Hill.
To discover more about filming in Edinburgh, East Lothian and the Scottish Borders visit the Film Edinburgh website.
Video: My Old Town by @SalhabWalid