Prudhoe may seem a long way from Hollywood, but a shop selling film props in the Tyne Valley is out to prove that the North East has stronger links to the silver screen that many of us may realise.
The Movie Prop Warehouse is a collection of genuine, screen-used film props, costumes and memorabilia, all original items from some of the biggest blockbusters around. Founded in 2009 by local collector John Page, The Movie Prop Warehouse has a particular commitment to celebrating the North East’s rich film heritage, and keeps a special look-out for props and memorabilia that have originated from those films either created or based in the North East.
‘The initial basis of the business was to help local people own a piece of a film, because we understand that’s what everybody gets excited about,’ explains John. ‘Then we started an archive; we looked into the films and TV shows that were made in and around the North East, visiting and documenting all the locations that you actually see on the screen. There are films like Alien 3, the Harry Potter movies, they filmed the burning of the heretics at the start of Elizabeth at Alnwick Castle, the last Transformers movie was filmed on Grey Street, and even in Last Action Hero, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, there’s a scene in Bamburgh Castle. Once we started looking into it, it was incredible to discover how much the North East is involved in movies.
‘The North East is sometimes a bit forgotten. I don’t even think your average person from the region realises how involved in Hollywood we are. I’m a born and bred Geordie, so I love going somewhere that has been used as a film location. There’s a beach down in Seaham where they filmed the start of Alien 3 – they CGI’d the background, but you can still see it’s Blast Beach. I just find it fascinating.’
Promising ‘Hollywood in your home’ by sourcing original props, costumes and memorabilia from private collectors, official auctions and industry professionals, John’s Movie Prop Warehouse has strong links within the film industry and is a proud member of the Movie Prop Association – meaning that every one of their items can be sold complete with a Certificate of Authenticity. Born from John’s lifelong passion for films, it has remained important to him that visitors to his Warehouse are forging a genuine connection with their favourite movies through the items on display – just as he has always done.
‘I’ve always been a collector,’ smiles John. ‘Throughout my youth I collected all the Star Wars figures. Then I saw an advert in a magazine from somebody selling an original prop; it was a Mars dollar bill from Total Recall – you actually see Arnold Schwarzenegger pick up a wad of this bright red currency “from Mars” – and the advert was selling a single note from that wad. I remember when it arrived I was blown away that I had something that had been handled by Arnold Schwarzenegger! That was where it all started. As you build up contacts within the industry, you start getting offered more and more items, so it got to the point where I was getting offered stuff left, right and centre. They weren’t props that I would personally want, but I could see that they might be what somebody else could use to start their collection. At the time I think there was only one other dealer in the UK, so I built myself a website and started selling the odd bits that I was getting in.’
Born in Ryton and now living in Prudhoe, John’s passion for film and prop collecting seems to naturally lend itself to his pride in the North East, and his locations archive is not the only development he has made to his business in order to reiterate the links our region has with Hollywood. Throughout 2019, The Movie Prop Warehouse will be running a series of ‘An Evening With....’ events: inviting industry professionals to talk about their career in film to local audiences.
‘We’ve just had Trevor Butterfield up, who actually played seven roles within the Star Wars franchise,’ says John. ‘For me, as a lifelong Star Wars fan, that was just amazing. He was also head of special effects on the Harry Potter movies, so he was telling us all about filming at Alnwick and Durham. When we first got to Newcastle we had some hours to kill before Trevor could get into his hotel, so I suggested going for a coffee, and he was like: “nah, can we go for a pint?” So I ended up going to Wetherspoons for this absolutely bizarre experience of sitting with a guy who was Bossk the bounty hunter in Star Wars, just having a pint in town! I was in overload.
‘We get asked a lot about who we know, given the items that we sell. Everybody thinks we go up to Brad Pitt and ask if we can have his suit, but it doesn’t work like that. So we thought the next step for us would be to bring some actual film professionals here who could share their stories about the famous people they know and what it’s like to work on set. We recognised there was a bit of a gap in the North East for doing something like this.’
Aiming to have four guests throughout the course of the year, John hopes that by attracting these speakers to the region he will help to reinforce the North East’s significance within the film industry. And for John, the business of selecting which professionals he is inviting is very much a family affair.
‘I try to get my kids involved as much as possible,’ says John. ‘My son (being my son) is a massive Star Wars fan, and he’s been helping me choose guests. Top of his wish-list was a Jedi, so we’ve actually got a Jedi coming up! Most of our events are geared around adults, but there’s obviously the understanding that Star Wars is massive for kids too, so one of the next guests we’ve got coming was in The Phantom Menace – he was Liam Neeson’s stuntman. Liam Neeson can be a bit lumbering, so when he was supposed to be doing the lightsaber fights with Darth Maul, this guy stood in. Now he runs a Jedi training academy. He gets all the kids together, they all get a lightsaber, and he goes through a few routines that they used onset, and it ends with them all doing the complete fight sequence from the film. So as I’m telling my son this his jaw is on the floor!’
John reveals some of the most exciting props that have passed through The Movie Prop Warehouse
• ‘The most expensive thing we ever sold was a lightsaber used by Ewan McGregor in The Phantom Menace, that went for £26,000. But I’m not rich – unfortunately, that was a commissioned item! It was still pretty cool to have.’
• ‘There was also a set of Stormtrooper armour that went up for auction – it had been gifted to these kids who visited the Star Wars set in 1977, and they’d just worn it like a costume that you’d get from Asda, so it was all bashed and scraped. That set went for £450,000. When Trevor was here – because he played a Stormtrooper in The Empire Strikes Back – he was telling us that if you even got a scratch on your armour, you would just go to the Prop Master and he would chuck it in the skip and give you a new piece. So Trevor could have made five or six full Stormtrooper costumes with all the broken bits that were just cast aside!’
• ‘We used to have a display of Harry Potter props at Alnwick Castle – as you went into the gift shop, there was a glass cabinet and we had a Hufflepuff school uniform, we had a wand used by Harry, there was a Death Eater wand, there were some really cool things. We had them all custom-framed so they were all lit up, it looked amazing.’
• ‘We got an email about two years ago from a Prop Master called Duncan Wheeler. He was going into retirement and had this workshop which was just an Aladdin’s cave. There was a film called 51st State in which there’s an assassin played by Emily Mortimer, and she rides this huge motorbike. After the film wrapped in 2001, Duncan bought the bike off the production company and was just tootling around Yorkshire on it. Then he had a hip operation and couldn’t drive it anymore, so that was just buried in the corner of his warehouse.’
• ‘Duncan also had Craig Charles’ guitar from the very first season of Red Dwarf. The prop industry has changed because back in the day, and even when I first started selling, there was no real value attributed to props, they were just seen as junk. That was the case even in the early ‘80s, when Red Dwarf started, so trying to find anything from the first series is pretty much impossible. Duncan had just kept hold of it because it was a guitar.’
For full details on The Movie Warehouse’s upcoming guest speakers, visit www.moviepropwarehouse.com