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Film folk farewell old St Kilda studio before demolition

Posted by on 29/06/2018

The huge camera crane came with first-class credentials – it was used in the filming of Lawrence of Arabia for desert scenes in Jordan and Morocco. So Melbourne film-maker David Bilcock senior bought the crane and had it shipped to Australia but the camera crew were startled when it smoked and sparked like a faulty toaster. “We called in an electrician,” recalls Horizon Films chief Paul Green “He opened up the bottom and all this sand fell out.”

The “Arabian” crane, now at a rental company, was trucked over the other night to the Horizon Films studio in St Kilda for a poignant get-together of Melbourne film folk. The studio where it was used for many years – the setting for movies, TV series and commercials – is being demolished for a large apartment block.

Complete with make-up rooms and editing suites, the studio began life in the 1960s as the home of Senior Films. It was taken over by Crawford Films, was briefly a warehouse for a Solomon Lew toy company then, for the past 30 years, has been the base for Horizon Films.

“They shot a lot of Hotel Sorrento here,” says Green who, with business partner David Pulbrook, are moving Horizon elsewhere. “And parts of Alvin Purple. Tim Burstall made Two Thousand Weeks here and many of the Homicide sets were made on the premises. Episodes of TV series like Ryan and Bluey were filmed here – and hundreds of TV ads. If only the walls could speak.”

The walls remain resolutely mute but the studio veterans have a stack of stories. Director Mal Bryning recalls the fuss in 1969 when Swedish film I Love, You Love was banned from the Melbourne Film Festival by the Victorian censor because it showed two naked people sitting on a bed. “The Swedish director wanted to film a response so we made a movie here in three days – all volunteer actors and crew – called To Australia With … Love. My ex-wife was in it. Naked.”

Bryning said many TV commercials for Gilbey’s Gin and Smirnoff vodka were made at the studio.”There was one very talented writer who worked on them. He told me one day that it was all good fun but he was trying to find time to do some more serious writing. That was a clue he was going to go on to bigger things – name’s Peter Carey.”

Evelyn Cronk, who recently retired to write a novel after 50 years in films, was an editor with Senior Films and says a ghost haunted the Pakington Street building. “If I had to work alone at night my father would bring in our large, but not very brave, dog Tasha to keep me company. She hated the place and would howl. Eventually a Russian Orthodox priest was brought in to perform an exorcism. I went overseas after that so I’m not sure if it worked.”

Cronk said the pre-digital age in films was exciting. “We all worked as a team because there was no desktop anything. All sorts of people came through – Phillip Adams and Rennie Ellis were two. Rennie stuck up for me one time when I was scheduled to cut a commercial for International Harvester – the client didn’t want me to do it because I was a ‘girl’ and ‘what would a girl know?’ Thanks to Rennie, I ended up doing the job anyhow.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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