Meet the woman helping to bring blockbuster films and TV shows to Sunderland

North East Screen hopes to use the power of TV and film to showcase the region to a global audience.
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After helping to bring blockbuster movies including Indiana Jones and Dial of Destiny, 1917 and Dungeons and Dragons to the region, Sunderland based film development and support company, North East Screen, is hoping to play a pivotal role in turning the city into the Hollywood of Europe.

The company, which is based at the Beam in the city centre, plays a key role in training and sourcing the work-forces required to bring productions onto both our big and small screens.

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As well as laying the groundwork for some of the biggest movies in recent years to be filmed in the region, North East Screen has also worked closely with the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky to lay the foundations for the production of popular programmes including Vera, Angels of the North, 24/7 Pet Hospital and Charlotte in Sunderland.

However, with plans submitted and the prospect of a £450m movie studio being created on the banks of the Wear, North East Screen stands on the brink of helping to turn the dream of Sunderland being a major player in the movie industry into a reality.

Leading the way will be the company’s operations director, Gayle Woodruffe.

North East Screen operations director Gayle Woodruffe.North East Screen operations director Gayle Woodruffe.
North East Screen operations director Gayle Woodruffe.

She said: “I’ve been in this job for a long time, but this development is so exciting. It has the potential to change the face of not just film and TV in the North East but also the whole infra-structure.

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“There is no point in having a massive new film studio if you don’t have the expertise and workforce in place.

“The film studio will enable us to continue to do what we do now but on a bigger scale. Hopefully we will have an office in the studio itself. 

“As well as creating around 8,000 jobs, the studios will also need to hire local businesses for tasks such as catering and constructing film sets.

“Then you have all the hotels and accommodation where people will stay and spend money in local businesses.

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“We already have film and TV companies coming to the region for a short period of time but the film studios could really see whole big movie and TV productions being filmed here in the North East, which will benefit the region’s economy.”

But with the film studios set to be the biggest development to arrive in the city since Nissan, just how confident is Gayle that the proposal will go ahead?

She said: “An awful lot of work has gone into the plans and it all sounds very positive. We should find out for definite in March, but as far as I am aware all the private funding is in place and we are just awaiting confirmation of additional levelling up funding from the Government.”

An artist's impression of the proposed Crown Works Studios in PallionAn artist's impression of the proposed Crown Works Studios in Pallion
An artist's impression of the proposed Crown Works Studios in Pallion

North East Screen is funded by the 12 Local Authorities across the North East, stretching from Northumberland in the north to the Tees Valley in the south, with the remit of attracting TV and film productions to raise the profile of the region.

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Gayle said: “Movies and TV shows are a great way to showcase our region and it is a fantastic way of attracting tourists.

“Seeing the region’s locations is a chance to put the North East back on the map and showcase the region to a global audience.”

Another key role of North East Screen is to source suitable locations for movie and TV productions.

Gayle Woodruffe alongside some famous locations from across the region.Gayle Woodruffe alongside some famous locations from across the region.
Gayle Woodruffe alongside some famous locations from across the region.

Gayle said: “Sunderland and the North East is a fantastic location for film sets. Within a 20 minute drive you can go from castles, dramatic coastline and rural countryside to gritty urban settings.

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“We have a database of around 1,000 locations which we then apply to a wish list sent from prospective TV and film companies.

“Some of the most likely and dramatic settings in and around Sunderland include Penshaw Monument, which is very unique, the marina, Roker and Seaburn beaches and the many rural landscapes we have in and around Sunderland.”

So why Sunderland?

North East Screen located in the Beam in Sunderland in April 2022, but with 12 North East local authorities funding the enterprise, just why did the company choose to base its headquarters in Sunderland?

Gayle said: “If you look at a map, Sunderland is geographically actually quite central for the area we cover.

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“Sunderland City Council were also very keen for us to be part of the city and in the end it was a bit of a no brainer.”

Being born and bred in Sunderland, Gayle was also keen for North East Screen to be part of the city’s regeneration.

She added: “You just have to look around to see how the skyline of the city is changing and the riverside development which is taking place.

“It’s very exciting and important for North East Screen to feel part of this regeneration.”

Anyone looking to get into the TV and film industry should contact North East Screen via their website.

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