JAMIE Robson appeared in his first professional role as an actor in 2018, when he starred in the Sundance nominated Blue Christmas.

Despite being a lover of all things cinema from a young age, he admits that he only fell into the profession by chance.

Since the release of Blue Christmas, which was made by Aftersun director Charlotte Wells, his career has continued to grow.

His films have screened at renowned festivals including the BFI London Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, he’s a Bafta Breakthrough nominee and is the patron for the Edinburgh Short Film Festival (ESFF).

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In an exclusive interview with the Sunday National, Robson spoke about the Scottish film industry, why short films deserve attention and which Scottish stories he’s keen to see told on screen.

Getting started

“I started my career very much by chance,” Robson says.

Robson’s isolated childhood was illuminated by a local video rental shop that became a “library and sanctuary” for the future actor.

“I’d grown up with a love of cinema, having access to a unique list of old movies, foreign films and retro television but never thought about being an actor.” 

Things changed very quickly however when he was helping out Scottish filmmaker Peter Marsden who, as Robson puts it, simply “needed me to act". Having caught the bug, Robson (below) soon met casting directors Simone Pereira Hind and Anna Dawson who helped him to start acting professionally.

The National:

Since then, he’s starred in other successful short films including Tim Courtney’s My Loneliness is Killing Me, which picked up a Scottish Bafta and BFI Flare award.

He then played the leading role in his debut feature Spin State by Ross A Wilson, which likewise went onto find success throughout the festival circuit.

Robson also assisted Wells with the casting process for Aftersun and explained that they’re hoping to collaborate again in the near future, this time on a project featuring a “historical figure” at the centre although he isn’t able to say much more.

Although the success of Aftersun naturally catapulted Wells to a new level of fame, Robson says it hasn’t done him any harm either.

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“Blue Christmas was her previous film, so with the success of Aftersun, people started to look at what she did before, then they see my work,” he explains.

Film Festival

Although Robson acknowledges that most people don’t watch short films, he is keen to stress their importance, especially given his role as the patron of Edinburgh’s own short film festival.

“They demonstrate ability prior to a filmmaker developing their debut feature which can be a huge leap. Shorts can help draw attention to new filmmakers and provide a safe space for experimentation," he says.

“They’re like sketchbooks - before there’s a Mona Lisa, there are preliminary works that are valuable in their own right because you see the processes leading up to the primary work”

“Films I’ve featured in have garnered notable success including a Special Jury award at SCAD Savannah Film Festival, BIFA nominations and best actor awards. These accolades have been the building blocks for the early stages of my career so I feel they deserve much more attention.”

Indeed, not only were they crucial for Wells and Robson, but Scotland has a rich history when it comes to short film directors.

Peter Capaldi (below) won an Oscar for his short film Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life in 1995 while the likes of Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Peter Mullan also have a number of successful short films to their names.

The National: Peter Capaldi (Matt Crossick/PA)

Given Scotland’s rich history in this area, what’s the best way to raise greater awareness?

"Local cinemas could show short films before every feature and have regular programmes dedicated to them," Robson explains.

'Heroin & Shortbread'

The Scottish film industry is something of a mixed bag at the moment. Starting with the positives, a report released last August showed spending in the sector increased by 55% between 2019 and 2021.

Major blockbusters from The Batman to Indiana Jones were partly shot in Glasgow while Edinburgh served as a location in Avengers: Infinity War – a film which has grossed over $2 billion to date.

The future looks bright in that regard too, with hit Amazon Prime series Good Omens set to film its third and final season here.

But there’s one thing that all these projects have in common – they aren’t really telling authentically Scottish stories. It’s a point which has been raised recently with the controversy over the absence of Glasgow from Poor Things – an adaptation of Scottish author Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel.

“The Scottish industry needs to be celebrated. They shoot scenes here for Fast And Furious, we’ve had big Marvel movies come in and we do that very well,” Robson says.

“But I’d like to see further support of local filmmaking, particularly lower-budget features that hark to a John Cassavetes or Kelly Reichardt perspective on how films can be made”.

Specifically, the actor believes the current state of the international industry means projects are more likely to focus on those that will “draw the widest audience”.

“The four-quadrant approach pressurises projects to return the most money or bag the biggest stars but that can stifle risk-taking, diluting the voice of the filmmaker.

“More regionally, there’s perhaps somewhat of a fixation on a particular view of Scotland which tries too often to be in tandem with the tourism industry.

“We’re a metropolitan country. There’s more to Scotland than heroin and shortbread and that deserves to be explained in our storytelling.”

'The Future'

During an interview at the San Francisco Fan Expo in November, Scottish actor Ewan McGregor was asked which Scottish story he wanted to see adapted.

His response was Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, and when posed with the same question, there is one particular period which springs to mind for Robson.

“I think there could be a historical drama or a television mini-series about the Western Enlightenment and how Scotland was a melting pot for philosophical and intellectual transformation,” he said.

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“Scotland’s currently in a strong position within the worldwide film industry. There are wonderful and passionate people in our organisations such as Screen Scotland and Creative Scotland and I have the pleasure of calling some of these figures mentors and friends.

"I’m confident that we’ll continue to strike the balance between welcoming large international movies whilst championing small local films. I’m excited to participate in it all”.