The Rig: Inside the Scottish studio behind new Amazon Prime series
Industry has always been at the heart of Leith, but only recently has the film industry set up shop in the area.
The big blue shed by the entrance to the Edinburgh port has been home to an engineering company, and a wave energy plant.
Now it houses First Stage Studios, which won a contract to operate the space in 2020. It is the biggest in a network of Scottish studios established to meet a growing demand from film and television makers.
After finishing work on two major Amazon Prime television series – North Sea thriller The Rig and fantasy show Anansi Boys – the film studio opened its doors to BBC Scotland.
Caroline Doney, who worked on the production team for both programmes, said the new studio has been a boon for those based in the east of Scotland.
“I’ve been here for 20 years and it’s brilliant to be able to work locally, rather than head down the M8 to whatever is filming there,” she said.
“Edinburgh’s a cultural creative city and it’s great to have this here.”
The studio in Leith had already been used temporarily by Marvel when they made Avengers: Infinity War.
Yet it was high-end television which provided new operators Bob Last and Jason Connery with their first business.
For The Rig, starring Martin Compston and Mark Bonnar, Amazon Prime wanted to shoot a supernatural thriller set on an oil rig in the North Sea. It is the biggest production the streaming giant has ever made in Scotland, and the first to be made entirely here.
Image source, Ian Johnson/IJPR
But with Covid making any location filming impossible, producers began to consider whether they could do the whole project in Edinburgh.
It was decided that an oil rig platform would be constructed in First Stage Studios, an 85,000 sq ft space.
“We built a full-scale helipad, which was quite a feat,” said head carpenter Gavin Smith. “And then they craned in a helicopter which was on wires.”
He added: “We’re always excited by a challenge. In our world, everything is structured in the same way so an oil rig is no different from what we last built.
“We worked with the designer Rob Harris, and we used a range of materials, containers to look like accommodation blocks and a lot of steel.”
The biggest challenge was getting supplies, and enough of them. At one stage the studio had all the three-by-one timber in Scotland.
The Rig was just one of three major productions made in Leith in its first 18 months.
Amazon’s Anansi Boys was next in line for the First Stage treatment.
The grey steel of the North Sea made way for Brixton, Florida, and The World Before Time.
Doney explained the biggest compliment is when viewers don’t realise it was all made in Leith.
“If people realise it’s a scenery, if it wobbles or doesn’t look real, I’ve not done a good job,” she told BBC Scotland. “It’s a compliment when no-one realises.
“I’ve had family members say it’s a shame, they’ve just gone to a location.
“No we didn’t. We made that. It’s part of the job.”