Adding picture services to an established audio offering helped Halo Post Production grow from a single dubbing suite in Oxford Street to one of the country’s biggest post-production facilities, writes Will Strauss.
When Halo Post Production announced in October that it was launching a dedicated TV drama and feature film division, the company moved swiftly into the post-production Premier League.
Already spread across three buildings in central London the move will see picture editing, finishing, and visual effects added to the firm’s current audio offering.
Requiring an additional 3,000sqft of office space, millions of pounds worth of new equipment, and as many as 15 new staff, it’s a big expansion in any TV context. When you consider the company’s origins, it is colossal. Back in 2004, Halo was just dubbing mixer John Rogerson and his ambitions were far from lofty.
“My clever idea back then was that we wouldn’t have a suite,” laughs Rogerson, who is now chief executive of a group that operates 10 audio suites and employs 60 people. “I decided we would have no staff, no property, and just hire other people’s rooms when we needed them. The turnover of Halo was basically my income.”
Still also working as a freelancer, Rogerson was then offered the opportunity to buy a suite on Oxford Street that he had previously built for Viacom. The asking price was £1. A deal was signed and the tiny Yamaha 02R studio became Halo’s first dubbing suite.
And there it might have stayed, until a chance discussion with two picture editors who were setting up an online facility.
“It never occurred to me that we could do something together,” he says. “But I was losing factual work because I couldn’t do picture and the picture guys were suffering the same fate as they didn’t have sound. So we joined forces.”
Two rooms on the top floor of a building in Newman Street were secured and as more work came in, more rooms were added.
“Once we started making more money than the three of us would have done individually, that allowed us to invest,” says Rogerson before revealing one of the secrets of his company’s success. “We’ve always been quite canny. We’ve never spent money on fancy bags and things like that. Our rule was always ‘keep an eye on the downside’. If the downside is manageable then we can take a risk. It’s still the way we play it now.”
That shrewd approach has seen the company grow. But instead of constantly buying (or leasing) new kit and building new facilities, Rogerson has been rather more opportunistic.
“When Frontier Post went under we bought all their kit,” he relays. “It was worth 10 times what they were asking so we put our pennies together and bought it.”
Forced to leave their Newman Street base – and with Viacom vacating Oxford Street – a 16-suite facility was established in Great Portland Street.
But Rogerson wasn’t finished. The demise of Spirit Studios provided Halo with the chance to buy up more kit and premises for a song. Then, with Pepper Post insolvent, the opportunity arrived to move into drama and film sound.
“Pepper’s facility on Noel Street had this big film mixing room which, when I first approached the administrator, I wasn’t interested in,” he says. “I didn’t know the film market but it was there and it became apparent that there was a deal to be done.”
Halo took on the lease for the building, bought all of Pepper’s kit, and hired its head of sound Dave Turner.
“We couldn’t have done it without Dave. He just knew everyone.”
This hermit crab approach to taking over other people’s vacated homes has served the company well but it’s not voodoo.
“When we installed air con and built audio suites in Great Portland Street we realised the expense of building a facility. There are plenty of people around town who have built them, struggled and then, sadly, gone under. The infrastructure is there. The landlords just want someone to pay the rent.”
Rain Post is the latest example. Rogerson bought “the whole thing, including the wastepaper bins” following its liquidation earlier this year.
Now, with a solid base in drama and film sound, Halo is moving into the picture side of that business.
Former Technicolor UK managing director Simon Wilkinson has been hired as joint managing director of the new division and, based in Halo’s Noel Street premises, grading, graphics, effects, and editing suites will be added.
“Again, it’s completely opportunistic,” says Rogerson, who will also install a second film dubbing suite complete with AMS Neve PS1 mixing console and Pro Tools desk.
“We’re doing sound on some big Hollywood films so great relationships are being built. Consequently there are opportunities to get the picture too. No one on our team knew much about that arena, but Simon Wilkinson does.”
Unlike the original ambitions for Halo, this time he’s thinking big. “I hate the idea of this being mediocre,” he says defiantly. “We’re talking to some really good people.”
However successful this latest move into picture post becomes, audio will always be at the heart of Halo.
“There are so many elements of post that a production company can take in-house,” he says. “But they cannot do audio because they need a room that costs a lot of money to build. That has been a real sturdy base for Halo.”
With that in mind, Rogerson is currently negotiating with Avid to add S6 consoles and Pro Tools HDX to each of the 10 audio suites, and a planned ADR suite.
“I just need to find a deal that suits my canny nature,” he says knowingly.