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Shooting the breeze

As Hollywood paid a visit to Glasgow to make zombie film World War Z, Eddie Harrison asks what it means for the city

W orld War Z may be over, but Glasgow is still hoping to emerge an unexpected winner as a film location.

The production of World War Z, an adaptation of Max Brooks’s best-selling account of a zombie apocalypse, brought parts of Glasgow to a well-documented standstill last month. With the City Chambers standing in for Philadelphia’s City Hall, Glasgow finally got to take centre-stage in a blockbuster, and one starring an authentic Hollywood superstar to boot.

OK, so we saw Brad Pitt. Did that impress us much? The crowds of onlookers who gathered in George Square through rain, shine and crashing helicopters suggested yes in no uncertain terms. It seemed everyone in Glasgow had a Brad Pitt story, whether being duped by the look-alike Brad on his arrival at Central Station to tracking down where he bought his sandwiches. George Square was transformed into a working definition of organised chaos, with bin-lorries flipping parked cars, speeding family saloons smashed into ambulances, and armies of zombies battling armed troops.

A visit to most film-sets is a definition of dullness, but the World War Z shoot, by dint of its sheer size, offered Glaswegians access to a 120 million dollar, three-ring circus of film-making on an industrial scale, and Glasgow Film Office deservedly took credit for a mighty coup in bringing World War Z here.

But what will this vision of celluloid creativity

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mean to Glasgow, and to Scotland? The upswing headlines revolve around future projects; a three-day shoot for the Wachowski brothers’ adaptation of David Mitchell’s sci-fi novel Cloud Atlas, starring Halle Berry; the second unit of Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises has been sighted in Scotland; and then there’s the imminent shoot of Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel Under the Skin, with Scarlett Johansson exploring the hot-button topic of curvaceous yet carnivorous alien-women lying in wait for unwary male drivers on the A9. The counter-argument is that, Glazer’s film aside, these combined shoots barely add up to three weeks filming, and probably less than a total of ten minutes of cinema. Complete features Rob Roy, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting all shot in Scotland in a wave of enthusiasm, but nearly 15 years have gone by since a sizable critically and commercially successful film was shot entirely in Scotland.

What’s notable about the current phase of blockbusters shooting here is the fantastic nature of their content. The imaginative ideas and themes of these films are light-years from the drab, uncommercial local fare favoured by a decade of public funding schemes. No one would suggest that commercialism is synonymous with quality, but Scots have been guilty of making films that even they didn’t seem to want to see. Glaswegians love cinema. Glasgow used to have more cinema screens per capita than any city in the world, the Glasgow Film Festival is flourishing, and recent Glasgow Cinema City events at the GFT have refocused attention on the city’s role in features. But until there’s investment in local facilities, talent and ideas, Glasgow will always be a bit-part player.