“Made in Southwick”- How a New local Film Studio aims to forge Sunderland’s Place on the Big Screen

Pictured: The team of New Enterprise Studios in 2021, including Wayne Madden, alongside former Mayor of Sunderland Henry Truman and his wife, alongside Lola Louise, who is making Drama Monday Blues

Hollywood is a spectacle of human dreams and imagination. The US film industry has decisively shaped and influenced global popular culture, touching the interests and passions of almost every person. While many individuals have dreams and fantasies of being actors or directors of films, the reality is such an industry is extremely “aloof” and even out of reach but for all but the luckiest of people.

So what if instead, we were to take the wonders of California and place them in… Southwick? This humble settlement in Sunderland on the north bank of the River Wear is probably in real terms, as distant and polar opposite of somewhere like Beverley Hills as you can possibly imagine. Yet, why should the world of movies and popular creators have to be the sole reserve of a very specific region in America? Why can’t the dreams of film production and acting be open to the wider world, and to places like Sunderland?

That is precisely what New Enterprise Studios (NES), strives to achieve. This Southwick based company, located just off North Hylton Road, has positioned itself as a platform for aspiring film and project makers in the North East of England to achieve their own vision, and to inject our region with high quality, yet affordable, filmmaking expertise from a team of dedicated and experienced professionals. The company was funded as a partnership between Wayne Thompson (A Sunderland local), Wayne Madden (Originally from Ireland), Henry Thompson (from Florida, USA) and Dawn Crute.

The friendly, down to earth and approachable nature of this team is highly refreshing, especially for an industry which can otherwise be intimidating and even brutal in its pursuit of business. Take for example, if you are a young creator with your own TV or Film idea, how many established production companies are going to listen to you if you get in touch? This is where NES stands out from the crowd. Take for example, how the studio has assisted 23 year old Lola Louise, from Doxford Park, in laying the foundations for her own drama series Monday Blue and are helping make her dream a reality.

The company has also received growing confidence from authorities too. NES recently won a £53,231 grant for ‘Ferries of the Tyne’ by The National Lottery Heritage Fund to create a documentary about the Ferries of the River Tyne. While of course, NES is not the only regional film production company, and there are others who equally deserve praise for their work, such as for example “North East Screen” (Now based in the Beam, Keel Square), it has nonetheless emerged as one of the most dynamic production startups Sunderland has seen yet.

The North Star: Sunderland’s Big Moment?

If everything goes to plan, the coming year or so is set to be a big moment for Sunderland and film, all of course thanks to NES. In conjunction with Sunderland Global Media (SGM), NES will be producing The North Star, which will be the first ever epic fantasy and “superhero” style film ever created for Sunderland and the North East of England. The film follows the journey of Sophie Scott, from Thorney Close, who finds herself anointed as a legendary Northumbrian hero of the film’s title, and must save the North East from an ancient evil.

NES have took the lead in helping consult the film’s screenplay. Now, casting work is set to be held in the studio itself. Five finalists have made it to the final round, all who are locally raised aspiring actresses from the North East, including Sunderland itself, County Durham and Northumberland. Other characters are soon to follow. This only shows a glimpse of the opportunities NES are materializing for young people in Sunderland, which is not only challenging a “Hollywood Centric” rendering of the cinematic industry, but also in respect to Britain, a “London centric” one.

It was during these auditions that actresses commented that “to make it” on the UK scene, you had to be “based in London“, where of course the money, contacts and names are all consolidated. As such, the prospective idea of a fantasy film which so thoroughly disregards these norms and opts to set itself in Sunderland of all places is a big win for the city and region. It is something different, but it is only ultimately through the expertise, resources and supportive nature of NES that such an idea would be even possible.

Of course, that’s not to say there haven’t been locally based films or productions before, such as Purely Belter (2000), Netflix’s “Sunderland Till I die” or even the television series Vera, yet the message is clear that Sunderland the North East deserves more, not less, and in the midst of the struggles the region has collectively faced, every effort should be made to tell our story and broaden our appeal. The North Star in particular, is astonishingly unique because it is based on a highly original premise and represents a less than hidden ambition to try and replicate the model achieved by films such as Marvel and DC in a local setting.

While of course, the budget and scale of those pictures cannot possibly be matched, the message is nonetheless clear that NES is the one factor which brings it all together, and as such makes “Made in Southwick” a real badge of honour. It is an enterprise that can shape our city’s future for the better, and their work should be commended as such.