Sunday for Sammy has become a North East institution, and this year’s show, held last week, celebrated 20 years of the popular stage show with a behind the scenes documentary, created by graduates and students from the University of Sunderland.

Sunday for Sammy, which was staged at Newcastle City Hall for 16 years before moving to the Newcastle Arena in 2018, is one of the ‘must-see’ events in the regional entertainment calendar, with over 10,000 fans seeing some of the region’s most popular and successful performers on stage.

This year, to celebrate 20 years of the charity event which supports the Sammy Johnson Memorial Fund in memory of the actor who died suddenly in 1998, organisers decided to create a behind the scenes documentary on the making of the show.  They called in students and graduates from the University of Sunderland to create this unique one-off celebration.

Lindisfarne founder member, and administrator for Sunday for Sammy Ray Laidlaw, said:  “After twenty years the Sunday for Sammy show has now become an extravaganza of music, comedy and dance. It takes a big team of us to plan and deliver the show.

“As part of the 20th Anniversary celebration it was decided to invite University of Sunderland media students to film the preparation, rehearsals and general behind-the-scenes activity and create a documentary film, ’The Making of Sunday for Sammy’.

“I was mightily impressed with the calibre of the students, it was good to have them around, particularly as the whole reason for Sunday for Sammy is to encourage and enable young creatives from our region.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the results of all their hard work.”

Sunday for Sammy director Geoff Wonfor added: “Having the media students from Sunderland brought a great energy to the Sunday for Sammy rehearsals and it was a real gift to have the process documented by such a professional and enthusiastic group.

“Striking the perfect balance between getting on with the job in their own way, while being eager to draw on the vast experience of the Sunday for Sammy team and crew, they really have been a treat to have around. And hats off to the two cameramen who more than rose to the challenge of shooting two three-and-a-half-hour live shows in quick succession!

“We’re really looking forward to seeing the finished documentary – as long as they only use the footage of my good side…”

2019 BA Digital Film Production graduate Rob Kilburn directed the documentary, after he was approached by University of Sunderland senior lecturer Sue Perryman.

Rob says: “I was thrilled at the prospect of being able to work with Geoff Wonfor, so I couldn’t resist.

“Covering a massive event like Sunday for Sammy was a learning curve for everyone involved. While we had a team of graduates who I have worked with on a number of documentaries the prospect of having more crew was a welcome idea. Sue put forward some current Sunderland students as candidates, and we went from there.

“I knew how tricky big events like this can be, and the importance of having everything right with it being live. Everyone involved was brilliant and I look forward to working with some of them in the future.”

Hana Walsh, 18, Wideopen, is in the first year of BA Film Production at the University of Sunderland. She says: “I was filming backstage. The most useful and enjoyable part of this experience was observing and filming the director in the directors room, as it helped me to gain insight into what the role of the director is during a live show.”

James Rowe, 23, from Cramlington is in the first year of his BA Media Production degree. He says: “The most useful part for me was to see exactly how a live show is produced on the day, and how preparation really is the key to ensure a show goes off without any troubles or mishaps.”

Second year BA Media Production student Hannah Chyriwsky, 19, from Darlington, says: “I went to band rehearsal, show rehearsals and filmed backstage at the live show. It allowed me to develop my skills but also gain an insight to how a show is made.”

Fellow BA Media Production student Demi-Leigh Hughes, 20, from Trimdon, added: “This was a whole new experience for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing how much hard work goes into creating such a successful show. I managed to meet so many amazing people and it was an experience I will never forget.”

Sophie Willox, 20, from Newcastle is in the second year of her BA Media Production degree.  She says: “My mam and dad had already surprised me with Sunday for Sammy ticket, so when I was offered the chance to work back stage I jumped at the chance. Sitting back stage with all the celebs made me feel like a real professional. All the cast were so kind and Johnny Vegas, Chris Ramsey and Jimmy Nail gave up their time to chat with me.

“I really hope to have this experience again in two years’ time!”

Senior Lecturer in Media at the University of Sunderland Sue Perryman helped organise the documentary crew.  She says: “We really wanted to get students behind the camera, but it made sense to get graduate film maker Rob Kilburn involved.  I knew he could mentor our students, and that worked out really well for everyone.  It was an incredible opportunity for our students to learn from a professional crew.

“We had a fantastic time.  As young film makers our students learnt a lot and they all had a wonderful experience. They all said they felt really privileged to be there.”