Comment: The pandemic has shown us exactly what the government thinks of the creative industries
Scotland should be in the same league as Hollywood as a creative industries powerhouse. A bold statement, but one I believe to be true. We have so much talent here in Scotland, so why aren’t we recognised as such?
The successful Scottish film and TV practitioners – whether they be writers, directors, assistant directors etc – tend to leave Scotland, for London or the US.
Not necessarily because they want to, but because that’s where the work is, and where they are celebrated. I believe that exodus is because the talent here isn’t properly nurtured.
The ones that make it leave, and the untapped talent that is here is actively discouraged from working in the film and TV industries.
Sometimes because they believe it’s too volatile, which is fair and needs to change. Other times it’s because they believe there isn’t space for them.
As a screenwriter, I found it impossible to break into the Scottish industry until I did my MA in Screenwriting at Screen Academy Scotland. From the outside, it looks tightly shut.
Growing up, people aren’t encouraged to have a creative career and therefore very rarely think of trying.
Have you ever had a careers adviser at school tell you, “Hey, you seem really interested in films, have you considered a career in it?” Or, “This is a list of the different sorts of jobs in film and TV and with your interests you can look more into this.” No.
More often than not, when a student has creative ambitions, careers advisers actively steer them away from it. I’ve known so many creatives who put their true ambitions to the side to pick up a more “stable” career.
I was one of them, until my mother encouraged me to do it. And let’s face it, in the year of our Lord 2021, we all know this: nothing is stable.
We all know now exactly what the government thinks of us in the creative industries. We were one of the last to get help when COVID hit.
The archaic nature of the system hit freelancers hard. And then Rishi Sunak reiterated what most of us perceived from our careers advisers with that ridiculous ‘retrain in cyber’ ad featuring a ballerina of colour.
Quite apart from the fact that the government allegedly stole the photographer’s work to use for the ad, it was incredibly insulting.
Film and TV alone contribute a sizeable amount to the economy and if the government were to follow the money, they would want that to continue to expand and be a big part of global creativity. Why don’t they see that?
So how do we plug the creative brain drain and cultivate new talent?
Firstly, I believe it should start from a young age. Talent and ambition need to be nurtured from childhood.
I believe no child has had a fully rounded education without exposure to the arts – writing, singing, playing instruments, drawing, etc.
It’s no mistake that these are being cut for the children of the not so wealthy. To be able to grow creatively is a big way to challenge the world we live in and to visualise a better world than the one we know.
Children of wealthy parents are free to grow creatively and fearlessly. Children of working class parents, or migrant parents, refugees, disabled children, etc are just left by the wayside.
How many of us can do freelancing jobs with no safety net from the bank of mum and dad? That inequality needs to change.
The arts are meant to be an expression of self and holding a mirror up to society. It’s as basic to human development as eating and breathing. It’s criminal to take that away from anyone. And yet, when there are cuts, the arts are always the first to go.
Secondly, there must be a financial safety net for freelancers that doesn’t require a degree in advanced maths to navigate.
This is a great way to invest in up-and-coming talent. Investing in talent means the gate keepers must be fully inclusive and do the work and bring together people with creative ambitions without making it a tick box exercise to please the statisticians.
Scotland has lots of filmmakers doing their own thing, particularly in short films, as a way to break in. Disabled people, neurodivergent people, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, older people, etc.
All their stories are worthy of being told. But marginalised people in general tend to put their dreams on the back burner because we all need to pay our bills and rent.
The lack of a proper infrastructure for freelancers who aren’t wealthy, able bodied or neurotypical means less time is spent on developing their craft. A majority of them then push their ambitions to the side. Another level of inequality in the arts that needs to be addressed.
Scotland’s industry is really opening up and getting more and more investment, and this has to positively impact Scottish creatives.
We have a chance to be the new and better version of Hollywood, with proper equity and access across the board for all. The place dreams become a reality.
We might be a small nation, but our potential to have global impact for decades to come is anything but.