The Story of Spectrum Films, Australia's leading postproduction specialist - an epic and corner stone of the Australian film industry, set in place 45 years ago,

by Brian Davies

 

Spectrum Films was set up in 1963 and registered in 1964 by Hans Pomeranz, a teenage migrant boy from Holland who'd arrived in Australia with his family ten years before.

He started an apprenticeship in a printing firm in the Sydney CBD, but when Australian television began in 1956 he switched to a film laboratory. It was there he decided he should not be working where the films were processed but where the films 'happened'. He succeeded, in legendary fashion.

While still at the lab, for more than six months at weekends he hangs around the newsroom at ABC TV's temporary premises at St Leonards. A group of amiable journalists couldn't help but like the dark-haired young stranger, who could run messages, get them tea and coffee and cigarettes and collect rushes. It's television lore that when an editing assistant's job became vacant, the cry went up in the newsroom, "give the wog the job!"…and they did. Hans delighted in retelling the story.

His 'apprenticeship' was short-lived. His flair was remarkable, innate.. Although in the company of veteran film editors, within a few years Hans was the editor in demand on ABC TV's flagship program Weekend Magazine and 'on call' to edit other programs, particularly documentaries. Word and sight of his work also spread to the advertising world.

He leaves the ABC in 1963 to join several workmates who left and set up an independent production house Patrician Films. For a year he edits a wide range of programs including Patrician's many children's programs, 'art-house' features and animated cartoons, most for his old employer, ABC TV.

In 1964, in his mid-twenties, he goes it alone and opens Spectrum Films at North Sydney, a one unit editing suite - set to struggle, but confident of success. His reputation is his reference; his energy is not limited solely to editing.

Hans is also a bustling producer and investor. To veteran film-maker, David Elfick, before there were any film commissions or similar to assist Australian filmmakers, there was Hans Pomeranz and Spectrum; that back in the late sixties, it was Hans who supported surf movie makers like Bob Evans, Paul Witzig and Albe Falzon with facilities, finance and his own editing skills. Basic bills were sometimes paid straight out of the previous night's box office.

"He could rarely if ever say no to anybody needing help," Elfick recalls… an early glimpse of another of Spectrum's most consistent qualities: Hans' great generosity, extended to young filmmakers needing a break or risky support; or for battlers, invoices might be tossed away; and friends in trouble could count on Hans for help.

Spectrum's presence is prominent. He produces dramatised promotions for semi-government instrumentalities like the Productivity Council of Australia, corporate tapes for commercial companies engaged in national infrastructure projects, or bustles off to the Mexico Olympics with Herb Elliot and crew to make a documentary of the games which TCN 9 buys and screens.

Spectrum Films becomes the preferred post house for leading agencies and producers. Commercials as nostalgic as Louis the Fly, Uncle Sam, Rolph Harris and British Paints and "Oils ain't oils, Olly', are a few of the ones that took shape in post at Spectrum Films.

Hans' clients included, among others, Connaghan and May, Leo Burnett, Fountain Huie Fish, The Film Business, Campaign Palace and Coudrey Dailey whose product commercials ranged from airlines to pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, household products, beverages and paints, nine of which carried off awards for either Best of Category or Highly Commended…and all posted at Spectrum Films, then in its landmark building, 141 Penshurst Street Willoughby, featuring the slogan:

"SPECTRUM FILMS - the Postproduction Specialists - where the shoot ends and the movie begins"


So, while from its inception, Spectrum Films had been immersed in the direction, editing and post production of commercials, documentaries and corporate videos, by 1971 with the burgeoning of Australian feature film production, the decision was made to concentrate on post-production.

In the next six years, Spectrum post-produced 240 feature films, or 15 and 20 a year; at the same time continuing to post produce for its regular, alternative clients, or some of its facilities were contracted for post by television network programs

Spectrum Film's reputation and the certainties of Hans' profound professionalism and his guarantee of service, a concept he fully understood, persuaded the cream of film producers to take their films to Spectrum Films for post production. As far as feature film makers were concerned Spectrum Films was far from unknown

As the 1990s moved towards the millennium, 141 Penshurst St Willoughby was like a busy, preferred hotel - the fine cut departing and new rushes arriving. At any time in an editing suite you might encounter Lee Smith, Nick Beauman, Martin Connor, Simon Dibbs, Tim Welburn, John Scott and Mike Honey for example - (any other names?) or find Peter Weir, Jane Campion, Kevin Costner, Gillian Armstrong or Barrie Osborne absorbed in their post-production.

Hans also made sure Spectrum Films was always represented at industry conventions or promotions in the United States, Los Angeles in particular, adding to the favourable perception in the US of the skills of Australian directors, cinematographers and editors, as well as the cost advantages of editing in Australia

Hans cut another reputation as well: his integrity could never be questioned, he was astute but his word was his bargain, his generosity was only abused a few times. He was always willing to take a punt, on trust. Spectrum Films' staff were handsomely paid, not just for skill but also loyalty.

But there was another fascinating reason for Spectrum Films success as Australia's commanding feature post production house: a personal one, a matter of its owner's personality and style.

Spectrum Films gained a reputation for creating a 'family' atmosphere where filmmakers were supported not just technically and creatively but through its hospitality: front desk and phone were islands of assistance, individual needs were catered for…thought given to the post crew's comfort, living arrangements made to combine congenial settings with travel time. 141 Penshurst Street was not a glitter of chrome and sharp edged futuristic design. It consisted of old style 1930s commercial terraces that Spectrum joined together as its occupancy expanded from a few rooms to the whole complex. It was rebuilt and polished but nothing could conceal its old style comfort and a well-stocked kitchen of home-like ambience with generous lashings of loaves of bread and toppings and stove tops and microwave to infuse the fragrance of coffee and the cheerful aroma of toast and snacks throughout, a bright spot on a long night. a notable innovation were comfortable 'common' rooms here and there where the clients could take a break, exchange ideas or just chat - stress-less.

There was one time when Hans terminated an edit suite booking and forthwith evicted the clients, film-makers from Victoria whose demeanour, manners and attitudes had offended the rest of the clients, and Hans as well.

Hans was inspired to put out a magazine - a statement, for local and overseas clients and marking the 30th anniversary of Spectrum Films' first days in North Sydney, - accompanied by a promotional flyer summarising Spectrum's record of thirty years:

" The house that post-produced an honour roll of award-winning films and a contributor to those winning sound and editing awards.
" Its track record - 325 feature films.
" The post-production house used by the majority of Australian film-makers
" A tradition of art and fine craftsmanship and service of 30 years standing
" A centre of excellence with no peer in Australia
" Your own complete post-production space - private, personalised and with ample room
" The cutting edge in technology.
" A 24-hour engineering and technical service.

Except for the number of feature films, that's just as true today, as then; Spectrum Films was always a technical leader. Hans never shied from the cost and necessity of the latest equipment, hurrying overseas to be the first to order the latest editing systems and the first to have them operating in Australia, well ahead of rivals. Directors might shoot overseas, but most like Gillian Armstrong for example insisted on post at Spectrum. Similar facilities and sentiments of course prevail at Spectrum Films at Fox today

Spectrum post comprised 22 editing suites offering not only both non-linear and on-line digital, but also flat beds, moviolas, SP Beta, with transfer and FX suites and a post-sync theatre under the same roof and also linked directly to Lightworks, with the Lightworks suites land-lined with the laboratory for a direct feed of rushes to tape to the editor. There was Fairlight, shotlister, Foley, Dolby and DAT, Pipedream and frED

In 1992 Spectrum pioneered digital non-linear editing for feature films and eight feature films immediately followed each other into the system.

So it was no surprise that the CEO Fox Australia, Kim Williams, as the Fox lot was taking shape on the old Showground site invited Spectrum to be the post-production house on the lot. After some deliberation, Hans agreed, somewhat reluctantly. It involved converting and fitting out a major building on the lot - a costly and complicated task and, with considerable angst - hence the reluctance - it also meant closing down 141 Penshurst Street and all that it represented.

In 1998, Hans issued a statement that Spectrum Films would be relocating at Fox.

At an outlay of more than a million dollars this building was converted by Spectrum Films to its present shape and overall appearance. It is functionally another version of 141 Penshurst Street, although with sometimes greater space in editing, but with the legacy and inspiration of the old building's central kitchen and common rooms

Hans Pomeranz was a passionate Australian, a first grade soccer player and a Pittwater sailor. His milieu, the ABC and the film industry were places of social and political issues and opinions, forging his perspectives. He created Spectrum Films in a one-room editing 'suite' in North Sydney in 1964 - his courage sustaining his ambition, his foresight founded on his talents. And everything that Spectrum Films did was firmly anchored in Australia. Spectrum Films was hard work, but rewarding. He drove the country many times. He had a house on Fraser Island - characteristically - open to anyone to stay in. He married Margaret Jones Owen, now the film reviewer Margaret Pomeranz and they had two sons. As a young man he drove only Ford Mustangs. In later life he transferred to well-worn Jaguars. .

Hans had a heart 'scare' in the 1970s. In 1993 he collapsed so gravely he was rushed to St Vincent's Hospital Heart Transplant unit where he eventually received a new heart. In 2004 he was awarded an Order of Australian Medal (OAM) for his contribution to the Australian Film Industry and as a generous benefactor to the Heart Transplant Unit and other charitable causes.

Hans Pomeranz died on October 29th 2007. His son Joshua has taken his place as Managing Director and Spectrum Films at Fox reflects the spirit of its founder, and the tone and style he set as Spectrum Films became the largest and premier independent post facility in Australia and a central part of the Australian Film industry's history…and also a warm and happy place to be "where the shoot ends and the movie begins."

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It is almost impossible, but true, to connect Hans to the little boy of six sheltering with his parents and his brother and sister in a darkened doorway in World War Two Holland waiting for partisans to take the family to safety. Split up, Hans grew up as the youngest 'son' of a protestant minister in a Dutch village, often under suspicion as to why this dark-haired boy was so different from the rest of the minister's fair-haired children. At war's end the family was re-united, but his sister was missing. She'd died in Auschwitz. The family, one of those in the wave of migrants to Australia in the 1950s, settled in Sydney.

 

Brian Davies, a noted ABC Journalist authored this tribute to Hans Pomeranz following his death.

 

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