Sir Sean Connery's son wins race to run Leith Docks film studio complex

The Scottish Government has given the green light to Sir Sean Connery's filmmaker son Jason and the Edinburgh-based producer of The Illusionist to run a major new film and TV studio in a vast former factory complex in the heart of Leith Docks.

Tuesday, 10th March 2020, 1:43 pm
Leith Docks is set to become home to a new permanent film and TV studio complex.
Leith Docks is set to become home to a new permanent film and TV studio complex.

Jason Connery and Bob Last, who joined forces to make golfing drama Tommy’s Honour, will be transforming the former Pelamis wave power plant into a new hub for “high value international productions” under a £1 million deal.

It is hoped the Leith facility, which will be managed, operated and promoted around the world by Connery and Last, will now become an “anchor” base for major film and high-quality drama productions to use while taking advantage of locations in and around Edinburgh.

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Screen Scotland, which had launched a worldwide search for an operator for the Leith complex, today hailed the deal as “a major step forward in Scotland’s ability to take advantage of the global boom in high-end TV and film production.”

Bob Last and Jason Connery pictured inside the former Pelamis wave power plant in Leith.

The complex, which is available for immediate hire, has already played host to Marvel Studios and Netflix for the blockbuster movie Avengers: Infinity War and Christmas movie The Princess Switch, Switched Again.

The 160,000 sq ft First Stage Studios, which will boast up to five sound stages between 50 and 100 ft in height, will be the second biggest in Scotland after Wardpark, in Lanarkshire, where the Sony-Starz series Outlander has been made since 2013.

Jason Connery has emerged as the joint operator of the Leith Docks venture more than 20 years after his father emerged as the backer of a publicly-funded studio in his home city of Edinburgh. The then owners of Rangers Football Club, David Murray, a close friend of Sir Sean's, offered a site for the studio at Hermiston, in west Edinburgh, but the idea failed to win enough political support to get off the starting blocks.

Last and Connery have secured backing to run the waterfront complex after a search for an operator triggered in December 2018 when the Leith Docks building was identified as the preferred site for a new film studio following a five-year trawl of potential sites.

The Screen Scotland agency hopes the new studio will attract productions which will also be able to use Edinburgh for location filming.

Last has made his name as a film producer over the last 20 years thanks to high-profile productions like The House of Mirth, which brought star Gillian Anderson to Scotland to film key scenes, and the adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel Sunset Song, which starred Agyness Deyn.

Connery, who shot to fame playing the lead role in the TV series Robin of Sherwood in the mid-1980s, went on to appear in more than 30 films and TV series. He has directed five films to date, with Tommy’s Honour winning him the best feature honour at the BAFTA Scotland Awards in 2016.

Connery said: “There is no question Scotland needs a film studio. I could not be more excited to be involved in bringing it to fruition.”

Last, who set up the groundbreaking record label Fast Product in Edinburgh in the 1970s, said: “We look forward to building on the strong interest already expressed by international and UK customers. We’re grateful to Screen Scotland for their commitment to an ambitious film and television sector.”

Jason Connery and Bob Last have unveiled the studio plans after previously working on the golfing drama Tommy's Honour.

Isabel Davis, Scottish Screen’s executive director, said: “We have put £1 million into the initial refurbishment, set-up and running costs of the building to allow First Stage Studios to be promoted and marketed to the industry as a full-scale facility. The longer-term refurbishment of the building will be very much driven by the private sector.

“The significance with this studio is the ability for Edinburgh to be able to host an entire production, as opposed to just location shooting. It allows a local crew to be hired from the off, which will really increase the opportunities for Scottish talent.

“This is the most significant facility that we have found in Scotland. We see it as much more than a warehouse - it’s an incredibly robust structure.

“When we did an extensive Scottish-wide search to look for a future studio it really was a needle in the haystack in terms of a building that was ripe for conversion into a studio.”

The former Pelamis power plant is set to be promoted as a production base for blockbuster movies and high-quality drama series.

Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This announcement represents a great step forward in Scotland’s ambition to drive growth across all aspects of the film and TV sector.

“Having a studio of this scale will provide a home in Scotland for film and high-end TV productions, generate significant revenue for Scotland’s wider economy and support sustainable careers across the film and TV industry from writers, producers and directors to those working in craft and technical areas.”

Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey said: “This is a very exciting boost for the creative industries in the capital and the Council is delighted to have been involved in this project throughout.

“With strong links to the film industry already – which is testament to the efforts of Film Edinburgh, our city’s film-friendly approach and annual international film festival – it’s fantastic that First Stage Studios will be running an internationally competitive studio in Leith.

“There will be even more benefits to the city when large-scale filming takes place, bringing great economic benefits to Leith and our whole city.”

Iain Smith, the Glasgow-born film producer, who currently chairs the British Film Commission predicted that the Leith studio complex would “bring massive benefits not only to the local screen sector, but also to the wider economy further bolstering the UK studio offer.

He added:”The UK’s screen industries are enjoying exceptional growth and it is crucial that Scotland continues to play its part in this by continuing to develop a world-class infrastructure, invest in skills development and provide as much studio space as will enable Scotland to compete more effectively for this valuable inward investment business.”

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