Filming in Shetland

What attracts them? Well, our hundred or so islands offer stunning scenery but we have appealing town and village settings too.

Shetland has always attracted film-makers. For example, Michael Powell chose Shetland to make one of the early classics of British cinema, The Edge of the World (1937). The BBC has filmed several wildlife documentaries in the islands, including the ground-breaking On The Tracks Of The Wild Otter (1983), by Hugh Miles, which drew 17.3 million viewers on BBC1. In 2010, Simon King made a much-praised documentary series about our wildlife, Simon King's Shetland Diaries (2010).

More recently, two seasons of the BBC's commissioned crime drama, Shetland, have already been transmitted and a third was filmed in Shetland in 2015.

Another recent production - much smaller in scale but with a worldwide impact - was a television and cinema commercial featuring 'Socks', a Shetland pony, which (last time we checked) had clocked up more than eleven million views on the internet.

There are lots of reasons to choose Shetland for your project and we’ve tried to capture them on this page. For one thing, we're a resourceful community that's used to meeting every kind of challenge, so our helpful and knowledgeable people can track down just about anything you might need. It helps, too, that our summers have more daylight than anywhere else in Britain. And, if you'd like to film a story that's actually set in Shetland, there are some great themes to be explored.

On other parts of this site, you’ll find lots more information about the islands. What’s more, the advice you need is only a phone call or email away.

While in Shetland, we were greatly helped with organising visits to locations that suited our needs both from an artistic as well as practical point of view. Thanks to all the help we received we have decided that, when the film goes into production, the Shetland Isles will be one of our favoured locations.

Great settings

If you've not previously visited Shetland, the islands will surprise you by their size and diversity. We have an astonishing 1,697miles (2,702km) of coastline, over 16% of Scotland's total. It offers many kinds of coastal setting, for example spectacular cliffs, deserted sandy beaches or dune systems. We have harbours at every scale, from intimate coves to two major ports.

Inland, we can provide many options: heather-covered hills, classically bleak moorland, rolling countryside, meadowland and - despite what you might have imagined - some areas of established woodland.

As Jim Brown, then mulling over possible locations for a project called Between Weathers, put it:

It's although this film was destined to be set in Shetland. Returning from LA, as I sat in Heathrow waiting for my flight to Aberdeen, I noticed on the monitor some of the most stunning scenery that I had ever seen in all my travels round the world. It turned out to be Shetland.

Village and urban locations are available, too. Settlements range in type from lonely cottages in spectacular settings to the historic centres of Lerwick and Scalloway. Lerwick's well-managed Outstanding Conservation Area may be particularly suitable for period productions. We can also offer private and social housing estates or immaculately-restored country houses. Other possibilities range from ancient iron age structures to a stunning modern arts centre housing the islands' cinemas, a music venue and a very stylish café-bar. We have nine modern swimming pools and sports centres. These are just a few of the possibilities.

All of this comes with a natural environment that's acknowledged as one of the most unspoilt in Europe, with a great range of flora and fauna.

Repeated visits by film crews testify to the strength and depth of what’s available. The marine and bird life really is exceptional.

Logistics and support

Shetland is a prosperous and notably self-sufficient place. Centuries of experience in meeting the needs of seaborne trade and four decades' involvement in the offshore oil industry mean that we're well used to meeting unusual, often highly specialised, requirements at short notice.

It's worth stressing that our tradespeople are up for any challenge and a wide range of equipment can be made available; for example, tracking down a large crane or a number of generators is not a problem. There are some great resources in the community, too. For instance, an impressive range of classic cars and motorbikes is carefully maintained by enthusiasts in the islands. Local fixer are expert in finding houses, vehicles, boats and extras to fit very specific requirements and both the public authorities and local people are keen to help out in every way they can. That has included accommodating short-notice road closures at any time of day.

Transport both to and from the islands and within Shetland is good. Frequent daily flights link Sumburgh in Shetland with the UK mainland and there's an overnight ferry, every evening, in both directions.

Other facilities are all that you'd expect and more. Telecommunications have recently been enhanced with a fibre-optic cable to the UK mainland. We have sound and video recording and editing suites in our recently-completed arts centre, Mareel. Locally-based aircraft and helicopters can be chartered. There are also good medical facilities, including accident and emergency services, should you need them.

We can also offer reasonably priced accommodation, great food and wonderful spaces to relax. Shetland really does have everything you need for a successful production. We look forward to welcoming your team to Shetland and making it easier for you to create a great production.

If you're in the early stages of your project, we'd strongly recommend that you get in touch with the Film Liaison Officer at Shetland Islands Council; contact details are at the bottom of this page. The Council's staff can give you a fast, free, confidential and informative service to help you realise your project, whether it's a feature film or a stills shoot. They work closely with Scotland's regional film offices in Scotland and have lots of experience of helping to bring projects to the screen.

The Shetland Island Council offers:

  • An image gathering service
  • A free location-finding service covering the islands
  • Familiarisation trips and possible financial help with recces
  • Assistance with research
  • Knowledge of local services: for example car-hire, set builders, accommodation, diving services, wildlife guides - or even someone who can do hair extensions on a Shetland pony.
  • The Council, as local authority, is also in a position to provide other kinds of practical support, for example in arranging road closures and associated traffic management.

As well as the help provided by the Shetland Islands Council, there are local people who are thoroughly experienced in providing liaison and fixing services.

We try to be a very film-friendly place. Do we succeed? Well, here’s an assessment from the producer of the most recent Shetland series, Eric Coulter:

Having just finished the shoot for Shetland series 3, I must say it was a joy to work there.
We found the people very welcoming and supportive of the show and I don’t think we received a single negative request for any filming permission, be that from the local authority, the police or any individuals.
The infrastructure within the islands is strong and the road network is good. We based ourselves mainly in Lerwick, where we had a great temporary production office and where most of the crew were accommodated. Getting to the islands can be expensive but both the ferry and air transport is very good and reliable. Having people with local knowledge is incredibly helpful and our local Shetland Location Fixer, Davy Gardner, was an essential part of the smooth running of the shoot in Shetland.
The light in Shetland is amazing and the weather can be a challenge. But, shooting over a 3 month period from April till June, we only had one occasion when we had to revert to weather cover for a few small scenes. During the series we had 2 main unit shoots in Shetland, both of approximately 3 weeks, and on both occasions completed the schedule within the allotted time.
I look forward to shooting in Shetland again.

Climate and light

Because Shetland lies at latitude 60ºN, the summer months offer more light than anywhere else in the UK. At midsummer, the islands enjoy four hours more daylight than London; in fact, there is no proper darkness.

Summers are relatively cool, thanks to the influence of the sea, and are often quite dry. Winters are milder than in most places at this latitude; snow seldom falls to any great depth and doesn't usually lie long.

Annual rainfall, at 1,220mm (48 inches) is comparable with much of western Britain. Wind is a feature of the climate, with gales (and impressive storms) quite common outside the summer months.

From day to day, Shetland's weather is no more predictable than anywhere else in the UK, but the very long hours available for filming in the summer really do set the islands apart. Some would say that it's a very special kind of light, much appreciated by artists who work in the islands. The air is mostly clear and always unpolluted.

It's a great place for film-making.

Stories and themes

Shetland would make an excellent location for many kinds of drama but the islands are especially appropriate for some particular themes. Any story that requires dramatic coastal scenery or images of rural life in any era would be well suited to production in the islands. However, the BBC's 'Shetland' drama demonstrated that the island's main town, Lerwick, can offer excellent urban settings, provided that city scale is not required.

There may also be opportunities to develop projects based on Shetland's own history, because historical resources and buildings from every era since the Iron Age are available. Some specific human stories are there for the telling involving (for example) emigration, family drama or shipwreck, and there is undoubtedly an opportunity to explore the WWII tale of the Shetland Bus, an extraordinary enterprise involving Norwegian crews based in Shetland who provided support for the Norwegian resistance movement.

Contact us

If you are interested in filming in Shetland please contact the Film Liaison officer at Shetland Islands Council, they will be happy to help with any enquiries. The details are as follows:

Economic Development Service
Shetland Islands Council

3 North Ness Business Park

Telephone: +44 (0)1595 744960

Add to
My Shetland
Back to Live, Work & Study