HOLLYWOOD film studios have been falling over themselves to film in Scotland as the industry has boomed in recent years and one team of combat specialists from Stirlingshire has relished the limelight.

Combat International is a group of actors and battle re-enactment specialists who have cultivated a 30-year-long career establishing themselves as among the best in the business when it comes to authentic fight scenes in film and television.

From blockbuster smash hits like Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World, to Ridley Scott’s classic Gladiator, and HBO’s House of the Dragon, the 65-member-strong group has found itself featured on the big and little screens worldwide.

Charlie Allen founded Combat International in 1995 after he spotted a niche for skilled combat specialists in the UK film industry and it is now the go-to for most production companies.

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Allen started his career by pursuing an opportunity to be one of the first in the industry in this role, as he said: “I saw a niche in the market for more authentic fighting, based on actual staged fighting and combat, as stuntmen weren’t really into fighting much.

“They [stuntmen] are good at setting themselves on fire, riding horses and falling out of buildings, but when it came to fighting, being a martial artist, I could create a team that could do something more authentic and real for directors.

“A lot of our work comes through recommendations.

“We are proud of the fact we have a great reputation within the industry for delivering and being efficient on set.”

Allen’s ethos of prioritising safety and authenticity has been a real stalwart for Combat International's reputation as he said: “You don’t get hired as much as we get hired if you’re dodgy or dangerous.

"We don’t pull our punches, but we are safe, we’re not reckless.”

It wasn’t long until Allen made a name for himself and was picked up by legendary stuntman Steve Dent who got Allen involved in the six-part BBC One series Ivanhoe in 1997 which turned out to be his big break.

And he has not looked back since.


Not only has Allen created a highly sought-after combat team – he’s also established a training academy to help bolster his numbers and to give people the ability to learn how to fight using a vast arsenal of weapons.

Alongside Combat International, Allen established The Clanranald Trust, a charity that built and maintains a wooden medieval fortified village called Duncarron in Denny, Falkirk.

The village is used for location shooting – it has been heavily featured in the sci-fi historical drama Outlander as it was used as Fort Ticonderoga – and educational purposes.

Allen wanted to build something that could be used to aid teaching and said that at the height of its popularity before the pandemic, there were around 20,000 visitors and 300 schools a year visiting the fort.

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He said: “When I was a kid at school, we didn’t get our own culture or heritage taught to us.

“I travelled the world and realised that everywhere else I went, they taught their own culture and heritage.

“I wanted to set up a living history museum where kids could come and fully learn and immerse themselves in Scottish culture and heritage. Covering all aspects of visitors and invaders of Scotland.

“Providing worksheets and hands-on costumes, and weaponry, artefacts from the time, whether it be castle life, or Vikings, or Romans and Celts, we cover it all.”

Not only did Outlander shoot at Duncarron – a project Allen reckons cost around £3 million to build – but they also built and left some props of their own.

This included a huge bastion, where cannons sit and Sam Heughan’s character spends a lot of time on, some Cherokee huts, a tower and even a 3000 square metre car park.


Even Russell Crowe, who Allen worked with in both Gladiator and the 2010 rendition of Robin Hood, donated a battering ram to the village.

Allen believes the Scottish film industry is finally getting the recognition it deserves and that production companies now have a lot more respect for Scots in the industry.

He said: “The difference between now and when we first started is there is far more getting filmed up here [in Scotland].

“People take Scotland and the people a bit more seriously.

“They used to pay us the most insulting fees and wages, £40 a day, but now everybody is on equity rates, so the respect has grown.

“They don’t treat us as second rate anymore.

“People are now falling over themselves to come and film in Scotland.”

Stirling Council announced last week that it plans to build a £19 million production studio which it predicts could create more than 4000 jobs over the next 25 years.

This follows Screen Scotland’s announcement last month that it aims to boost the value of the film and television industry from around £617m to £1 billion in the next six years.

Allen was quick to highlight the opportunities that there could be with more production companies shooting in Scotland.

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One example he gave was the American production company Starz with Outlander which he said was great for giving a lot of people in Scotland their first start in the industry with internships.

He does have his reservations, but hopes the Stirling studios will be able to replicate this success, adding: “It’s needed, as at the end of the day, all the editing and all the post-production stuff goes down to London.

“People would do their job and then they are discarded at the end of it.

“I think with more and more being filmed in Scotland, it’s opening up a whole hive of new opportunities.

“We will if Stirling puts the money where their mouth is and if things actually start happening for real.”