Film funding in the North East- "our little company, is evidence that things are starting to change"

In October, Fullwell 73 cofounder Leo Pearlman called upon the government to back plans for a major studio complex in Sunderland describing the film industry of the North East as being ‘utterly forgotten.’

To find out more about the state of the film industry in the North East, I reached out to Connor Langley, cofounder of Red Stamp Productions based in South Shields.

Having originally met at the University of Sunderland, Connor, alongside co founders Michael Rowlands and Michael Lambert decided to found Red Stamp Productions after winning the World Television Society’s award for best comedy. However, when Covid brought their momentum to a halt, it wasn’t until the group received £30,000 worth of funding from the government that they really got into action.

When asked if he felt the North East’s film industry was underfunded Connor commented, “I had to go to Manchester to find my start. There just wasn’t a film and TV industry up here at all aside from Geordie Shore and The Dumping Ground. I felt like unless you’re within those families you couldn’t break in.”

However he says that in recent times he has noticed that change might be coming, “our little company, is evidence that things are starting to change. £30,000 pounds might be a drop in the ocean to big production companies in London, but the fact that a fairly new indie can wrangle that kind of money up here with no strings attached shows that.

“There’s a lot of people around here who’ve got a video production company ‘quote, unquote,’ […] I think that’s what the North East’s got a big problem with. It’s hard to find the legitimate (companies) amongst the illegitimate stuff. There’s a lot of amateur stuff which is great. But professional work is very tightly guarded.”

In spite of ‘legitimate’ production companies being few and far between in the North East, larger production companies are starting to look further North to create satellite bases. “Kind of like how it was when Media City was built in Manchester, a lot of companies want to set up a northern branch to be close to that action. I feel like a lot of (production) companies here have pride in themselves, because even if it’s not here, right now, it will be very soon. They’ll want to get in while the rents are cheap,” said Connor.

Media City in Manchester isn’t the only area to be hit with a gold rush of film opportunities. In Northern Ireland, a film industry seemingly boomed overnight when the Game of Thrones crew came to town. By 2018, Northern Ireland Screen’s chief, Richard Williams estimated that the film industry in the country was worth £270m.

Connor argued that what is holding the North East’s film industry back is a lack of infrastructure. “What the North East is really lacking, which is always going to be its downfall, is a lack of supporting infrastructure.

“There’s very few post (production) houses here. It’s something that needs to be built, otherwise, we’re just going to be caught in the same situation we are now where pre production is done in London, a little bit of filming up here, and then back down to London for post production. So unless we can start building those facilities to a world class standard, we’re never going to have the foothold that we want.”

Having received their big break from the government’s Innovate UK scheme, Red Stamp Productions are excited for their future. As of recent, they’ve been working with the BBC and the BFI and seem set for continued growth.

Having studied Film and TV production at Northumbria, I had the pleasure of witnessing incredibly talented filmmakers from the North East learn their craft. And much like Connor, for those who stayed within the film industry, many had to leave the North East to find work. Whilst the region’s film industry might not have had its gold rush yet, it’s clear that the talent here will know what to do when it comes.

By Mark Adair – Correspondent, Bdaily

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