Creative spirit provides entrepreneur with new way to make movies

Novelist, playwright, film maker and entrepreneur Mark MacNicol is on a mission. His dream is to breath new life into Scotland’s film industry while scaring his audience half-to-death in the process.

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His latest project, a supernatural horror movie called Night Tremors, is the only of its kind in Scotland currently funded by ordinary members of the public taking advantage of a government tax break to boost creative industries.

Mark MacNicol

Photograph by: Paul BoyleMark MacNicol

The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) was established by HMRC to stimulate investment in struggling business sectors and Mark believes it is ideally suited to give people an opportunity to support the Scottish film industry, hopefully make a profit, and have some fun too.

Compared to many other movie investments it is relatively low risk as by combining SEIS with film industry tax credits, and also VAT returns, investors are guaranteed a minimum of 75 per cent of their investment back regardless of the film making a profit or not.

“It is an unusual way of raising funds for a movie,” admitted Mark who has previously written two novels, several stage plays and two movie scripts currently in the hands of film producers.

“To my knowledge we are the only Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) project in Scotland at the moment.”

Already, with pre-production due to star in July next year, Mark, 44, has secured more than a third of his £150,000 target and is confident that filming will begin on schedule in and around Pollock in Glasgow, where he grew up.

Despite a relatively small budget, compared to Hollywood blockbusters, the supernatural horror genre is one of the most popular among film fans.

Paranormal Activity, which had a production budget of less than £10,000 went on to gross almost £71 million in the US alone. Although Mark is not promising the same level of success he is optimistic that anything is possible.

“I’m having lots of conversations with lots of people, some of them are high-end worth and some are not, and some are not the kind of people who would usually think about putting their money into movies. But, the SEIS initiative has given them the confidence to take the opportunity to invest in film.

“A lot of film makers, like me, have had to learn to find other ways to finance their projects. There is undeniably a lot of talent in Scotland but the amount of inward investment here compared to some other small countries, like Denmark and Sweden, is pretty embarrassing.

“The amount of money spent by overseas producers coming into Scotland, with the likes of Outlander, has risen dramatically, but for home-grown productions there is not enough funding from places like CreativeScotland to cope with the level of demand,” explained Mark.

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According to figures released by the Scottish Government film and TV producers spent a record £45.2 million shooting on location in Scotland last year, an increase of almost £12 million compared with 2013.

In recent years Creative Scotland has helped encourage a number of large productions to film in Scotland, including the much anticipated Sunset Song and Macbeth, The Legend of Barney Thomson, Iona, Sunshine on Leith, Under the Skin and Outlander, and current productions including Tommy’s Honour and Moon Dogs.

“This rise in production spend is a strong indication that film producers have a growing appetite to base their productions in Scotland,” said Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop.

“These productions generate significant income for Scotland through the use of Scottish talent, crews, locations, transport, accommodation and through the impact they have on tourism.”However, despite the growth in overseas productions there are still many home-grown projects which fail to get off the ground due to a lack of funding.

“There are not enough opportunities in Scotland for actors, writers, directors, crew, heads of department and such like. That’s why we are losing so much talent to London, Los Angeles or Berlin,” said Mark.

“My dream is that someday those people will start coming back and we will have an industry that can sustain all the talent we have. I don’t imagine my feature film is going to make much of an impact but it is a start. If there were another 10 people like me making SEIS feature films then there would be more opportunities. If I can succeed and demonstrate to other film makers that this model works then others will do the same.”

As part of his research for the project Mark – who went on a number of ghost haunts with paranormal Investigators, attended spiritualist meetings and had numerous private readings with mediums – has been left convinced that the human spirit continues after death.

“I set out to do research on the subject so I could do a good job with the film but there is no doubt that my own spiritual journey has been impacted by my experiences along the way,” said Mark.

“One of things that was interesting for me is the vast amount of people who have an opinion on life after death but have not done any of their own research. They seem to have no curiosity and very little interest in their own fate. Most people have an opinion on an afterlife, it’s a controversial subject and it does provoke pretty strong reactions.

“I wasn’t really a fan of ghosts or spiritualism before getting involved in this project but I am now 100 per cent convinced that I have had evidence that the spirit continues after physical death.

“That proof came from individuals, who couldn’t have known anything about me, but were able to provide personal details about my life and pass specific messages to me from deceased relatives about things they could not possibly have known.

“My hope is that after watching this film some people will be curious enough to go and do some of their own investigation and make up their own minds.”