The Importance of Panavision
The Diffusion Phase
by: Adriaan Bijl, Holland
Reprinted by permission from the writer
Issue 67 - March 2002
In order to answer the question asked previously there are a few aspects to be taken into consideration: after the sales of the projection attachments and a few anamorphic 35mm taking lenses, Panavision began limiting its operations to renting out its equipment, and ceased selling it. Initially, the reason for this policy was that the anamorphic taking lenses were complicated and needed constant tuning and maintenance work. Apart from that, the company would work itself out of business by selling equipment. The policy of renting worked well for everybody. The producer could completely write off the cost of lenses on one production, whereas buying the lens would imply a period of years before the lens had amortized its costs. Another advantage was that Panavision could, during maintenance, improve or update its equipment, since it belonged to the company (1.
This rental policy, in conjunction with continued maintenance and improvement, enabled the company to tailor its equipment to the requests of the customers. As a matter of fact, the design of the Ultra Panatar was partly a result of complaints from theater projectionists (2). The Auto Panatar was built with the purpose of eliminating 'anamorphic mumps'. The modification of the Mitchell equipment into the PSR was accomplished in collaboration with directors of photography and camera operators. The crystal-controlled camera motor, which eliminates the cumbersome sync cable between camera and
soundrecorder, is one example of such a modification based on costomer feedback.
The policy of customer engineering is still important in the company's philosophy. A lot of capital is spent in developing an improved product, because, again, it is not limited by a sales price. If, for example, a lens is designed for the sole purpose of being sold to purchasers, it cannot cost more than a certain amount of money in the development and manufacturing phases. Otherwise the company will gain no profit from it - or nobody will buy it. Sales always involve having to reckon with competitors that operate in the same market. However, if a lens is developed and manufactured for the purpose of being rented, it may cost as much as the company desires (within reason, of course), since the costs will be returned over a certain period of time, and eventually profit will be made. As a result, the best material available can be used to manufacture the lens. In fact, from a customer's point of view, this is an important consideration since, otherwise, equipment which is for sale would be preferred. In other words, something 'extra' has to be presented which encourages the customer to rent the equipment, instead of buying that of a competitor. The equipment must also be of superior quality for the reason that it has to last for many years, (whereas the equipment manufactured for selling has to break down or wear out after a certain amount of time, to ensure continued sales).
However, the rental policy also implies something else: In order to pay highly specialized personnel that are qualified to do the job of designing and engineering equipment, capital is needed upfront. Since profits will not be earned for quite some time, investors are a necessity.
In 1965, Panavision was purchased by Banner Productions which was headed by Sy
Weintraub. The deal involved a cash payment of $3,600,000. Gottschalk would remain president and Weintraub become chairman of the board (3). Banner bought the company because
"Panavision is the IBM of the motion picture industry in optics and electronics, perhaps the most important of our business today" (4). This is an interesting comment. Weintraub mentioned "optics and electronics" but not cameras. This seems to indicate that the PSR was either not ready yet or was not considered special.
Gottschalk justified the sale to Weintraub by stating that he was obstructed "from his inability to keep up with the demands of production on equipment and also to devote his time to research and development" (5). This is all very noble, but there might be another reason. According to Richard Moore, Gottschalk had mentioned during the early 1960's that he would sell the company, if he could personally gain a net profit of $1,000,000. There were potential buyers in that period of time, but Weintraub was the first to offer Gottschalk this amount of money. Actually, he might have earned more than that, since he owned more than 50% of the shares. In any case, the purchase meant that Moore was cashed out of the company. He had owned a little over 13% of the shares. The money exchanged for the remaining shares, owned by the company itself, was an investment (6).
The buy-out enabled Panavision to expand geographically. Until that year, the company had only been supplying Hollywood with its equipment. Gottschalk now looked all over the world for rental companies that were well established in their areas and that provided the equipment Panavision didn't have, such as grip, sound and lighting (7). However, within three years the company changed ownership again. According to Richard Moore, Weintraub was a businessman, who's first goal was to make profit (8). In 1968, he received an offer from Kinney National Service, Inc., a conglomerate involved in a wide variety of activities, from entertainment to building cleaning. The transaction involved more than $10,000,000 in stock. Gottschalk still remained president, but Weintraub retired from the company (9). One year later, in 1969, Kinney bought the Hollywood film company Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, thereby concentrating its activities more in the field of entertainment. This last take over resulted in a change of name. In 1971, Kinney National Service, Inc. was renamed Warner Communications, Inc. The purchase by Kinney (Warner), enabled Panavision to build up a large rental inventory (10).
Apart from this quantity expansion, Gottschalk had an idea for a new camera. The PSR was doing well from a business point of view, but there had to be a way to build a camera which was as silent as the
PSR, but much lighter. Before modification, the weight of the original Mitchell camera was 165 pounds. After modification, the weight was reduced to 140 pounds (11). This was progress, but it was a long way from being a hand-held camera system. Gottschalk hired Albert Mayer, an engineer from Mitchell Cameras, and gave him the task of designing a 35mm hand-held camera system which would also be silent. Mayer worked on the project for about a year, before Gottschalk requested an additional feature: apart from being hand-held and as quiet as possible, it also had to be versatile for hand-held and studio purposes. The entire project took more than four years. The result is known as the Panaflex (12).
The Panaflex was the first 'real' Panavision camera, with no influence from Arriflex or Mitchell (13). The weight was now under 100 pounds, enhancing the possibility of filming on location, away from the studio and thereby avoiding background projection. That was in itself no major step forward since other 35mm hand-held cameras had been invented during the 1950's. But...they were not silent. It was never possible to shoot sync-sound with these cameras, since they were much noisier than the
Panaflex, which had a soundreading as low as 24db. The PSR had the same soundreading but was not a hand held camera (14).
The reduction of the sound was done differently than it was with the PSR. As stated earlier, the PSR was
blimped, meaning that the sound was kept inside by means of an outer shell. Eliminating this blimp, in order to reduce weight, would imply that the camera itself had to be quiet. What makes the most noise inside the camera is, of course, the movement of the film. There will always be sound during the transportation, since there is a moving mechanism, a motor running and transporting a plastic medium at a speed of 24 frames per second in an intermittent motion. Every image had to be photographed behind the lens, meaning it has to come to a halt for 1/24 of a second at that position and afterwards be replaced by another section of film. There was some modification of the sprocket teeth during the development of the PSR but it was not enough. Robert Shea designed the camera movement of the
Panaflex. He worked closely with Jurgen Sporn, a machinist at that time, who would build the prototype of the camera movement. After months of experimentation, three additional prototypes were built, whereupon a decision could be made as to which one was the best (15). It should once again be stressed that Panavision did not design its equipment with the intention of selling it at a competitive price. The policy of renting eliminated any cost-cutting priorities that would have ultimately worsened the sound level of the camera.
After the decision had been made as to what movement was the best, four Panaflex cameras were built and used for a number of days on different productions in order to test them. Everything went according to plan and by the end of 1972 the Panaflex went into production. Jurgen Sporn recalls, "We were always behind with the camera movements. I became the lead man of that department and we were always fighting sound. The first step is to make the camera run quietly by itself. Then, after threading the filmstrip along the sprockets of the movement, make it as quiet as possible while the film is moving. This is a very time-consuming process, which requires a great deal of patience and results in numerous headaches" (16).
But this process of product-improvement involved more than sound reduction: Some electronic features, such as a digital display for speed and frames per second (fps), were introduced. The magazine had its own take-up motor, meaning that it was no longer belt-driven from the camera motor.
"The Sugarland Express" (1973) was the first production filmed entirely with Panaflex cameras (17).
During the mid-1970's, video became more important for producers. Its advantage of allowing the same tape to be used over and over again as well as the lack of processing costs and time, made its use more economical, especially when compared to film. As a result, some people thought that video would take over. In response, Panavision developed a video camera called the
Panacam. Panavision lenses could be used for photography and a special feature, the optical viewfinder, was added. This was in contrast with the more common electronic one, since it again used the principle of reflex. The electronic viewfinder is identical to a small TV-screen. According to Jurgen
Sporn, it was not a great success due to the competition. "The electronic technology become obsolete very quickly, we could never keep up with it like the giant electronic companies can. They turn out a new video camera every year" (18).
As was stated before, Panavision updates its equipment during maintenance. The Panaflex Gold was an improvement over the earlier
Panaflex, especially because of the electronic features. Introduced in 1976, it featured a completely different electronic drive, all the electronics were re-designed, and the viewfinder was improved. According to Albert Mayer, "We take notes on the complaints of our customers in order to modify the cameras to their wishes" (19) To make the improvements known to the industry, the name Panaflex was changed to Panaflex Gold.
Panavision introduced something completely new in the late 1970's: The
Panaglide. It was actually a harness enabling the camera operator to walk with the Panaflex attached in front, which dampened out the jolts and vibrations during walking and even running. Needless to say, it made the filming of a moving object (e.g. the actor) less cumbersome. There was no need to set up a dolly track anymore; the camera operator could simply walk behind, or in front of, the object. At a testimonial dinner at the University of Southern California in 1979, director Sidney Pollack called the Panaglide "probably the greatest breakthrough since the camera came out of its sound-enclosed box" (20).
The 1970's also saw the introduction of the Panastar, a high speed camera ranging from 6 to 120 fps. The speed of the Panaflex could be varied between 18 and 39 fps. But another camera was required for slow-motion photography. However, the production of the Panaflex was given greater priority, so not that many Panastars were built. Also, the competition was very strong. Arriflex had a similar camera, called the Arri III, which resembled the Panastar very much, although, according to Tak
Miyagishima, there is a difference in the steadiness. Special Effects photography requires pinregistrated photography. The Arri III does not have this refinement, whereas the Panastar does (21).
In the early 1980's, the Panaflex 16 was introduced. This was a 16mm camera with all the features of the
Panaflex. It was possible to convert the original Panaflex to the 16mm filmgauge
(Jurgen Sporn designed the movement for that) but it was never widely used. Although it was very silent for a 16mm camera, it was too large (22). The Panaflex 16 was an original 16mm, developed for the purpose of low-budget photography, music videos and TV-commercials. Just like the Panatar 16, it was marginal from an economic point of view. The main business of Panavision remained 35mm.
In 1982, Robert Gottschalk passed away. It is difficult to give him the proper place in the history of
Panavision, since there is a lot of confusing information. He would present new inventions and innovations to the press as being his own when they were not. He had many fields of interest, and was therefore able to participate in a variety of conversations. He was also very creative, but he was not an engineer. He needed George Kraemer, Takuo
Miyagishima, Richard Moore, Walter Wallin, Jurgen Sporn and Albert Mayer, just to name a few, to realize his ideas. Richard Moore credited him with great showmanship.
"He was a very good salesman and he knew how to get the name Panavision out. He insisted on having a full chart screen credit, with nothing else on it, and the newspaper advertisement credit. It was his idea to add the prefix
'Pana' to the name of every product of the company. Some people ridiculed that by saying that the restrooms at Panavision were called
Panatoilets. And he also was the driving force behind everything" (23).
This is confirmed by others (24). He would encourage everybody to come up with new ideas and work on their realization if he liked them. During the interview, for instance, George Kraemer, stated that he once asked Gottschalk why black paint was used for the equipment; it looked dirty so easily. So Gottschalk started to experiment with colors and better paint and succeeded in improving the appearance of the Panavision equipment. The new look made the camera crews handle equipment it with more care (25).
During the development of any product, Gottschalk would look over everybody's shoulder and check the smallest detail. Perhaps the most accurate statement about him is given by Philip
Radin: "He was difficult to work with, but you had great respect for the man, because look at what he has done!" (26).
Gottschalk's successor was Jack Holzman, originally the vice-president, appointed by Warner Communications. When Warner Communications faced financial trouble in the mid-1980's, Panavision was sold to another group of investors, headed by Ted Field, John
Farrand, and Alan Hirschfield.
Jack Holzman was a member of the board at Warner Communications and when Warner sold
Panavision, he had to retire from Panavision. John Farrand was his successor.
The new owners saw their purchase as an investment. Warner had stated that it had positioned Panavision as a company which supplied 65% of the worldwide feature film market with its equipment.
Within a few months of assuming his new position as president, Farrand found that this was not true. In reality, Panavision supplied only 25% of the worldwide feature film market. According to John
Farrand, it was a growth company, not one to be left on its own while the management sits back to wait for the investment to be returned. Also, in his view, the company had gone backwards since Gottschalk's death: "It was not that it had done anything wrong, it just had not done anything" (27).
After five months, Ted Field and John Farrand bought the other investors out. Farrand believed that product honesty is very important in the professional business. When that is accomplished and the product is the best, it will sell itself. He reviewed the products to see if they were still the best. A few aspects of the cameras were not as precise as they were said to be. Certain methods of calibration on the optics were, in his view, not accurate enough because they were done by eye, instead of by computer (28). That was straightened out, and Panavision embarked on two new projects:
The Platinum, a new Panaflex camera, was introduced in 1986. It featured a reduction of sound to under 20dbB as well as an improved viewfinder.
Furthermore, the Primo lenses were introduced in 1989. These lenses feature
color-matching. Before the Primos, the director of photography had to shoot several tests, since there could be a difference in color between the required set of focallength lenses. The Primos are
color-wise identical to each other, meaning that the director of photography does not need to shoot tests anymore, before he starts filming the actual production.
In 1987, the company was sold by Farrand and Field to Lee International, also a supply company of the motion picture industry (primarily of light equipment). The management of Lee International reasoned that by purchasing
Panavision, it could become a more complete service company. However, the purchase was over-financed and the company couldn't repay the bank. In 1989,
E.M. Warburg, Pincus and Co., a major investor in New York, took over and is still the owner today (29). [Not anymore November 2000, Editor].
In late 1987, when the initial program of the "Platinum" was completed, John Farrand gave the order to build a new 65mm camera. According to him, most people wanted 65mm back, but nobody put any effort into revitalizing it. The existing 65mm cameras were too cumbersome, so the goal was to make a camera equal in performance to the Platinum. "In that case, you can give producers the choice to film either in 65 or in 35. You cannot give a producer a choice between a new and an obsolete camera" (30).
In the early days, the new camera was given a lot of priority. However, by the time it was half-way developed, it was obvious that nobody would use it in the near future, so priority was shifted to other projects. In late 1989, the decision was made to film
"Far and Away", directed by Ron Howard, in 65mm. As a result, plans to develop the 65mm camera were speeded-up. However, the project involved not only a camera, but also new lenses, new accessories, in fact a completely new package (31).
In addition, the use of 35mm anamorphic lenses has increased in filmmaking. When the revenues from TV and video releases became more important from a commercial point of view in the mid-1970's, anamorphic photography lost popularity, due to the different ratios.
This seems ironic, since 35mm anamorphic photography, as well as 65mm photography was invented for the purpose of attracting audiences to the cinemas, away from the entertainment provided at home. Equipment at home has become even more sophisticated, the introduction of the DVD being a prime example. However, there is still a difference between watching a movie individually at home, and as a member of an audience in a
theater. According to Philip Radin, the renting of anamorphic lenses is currently not the major business of
Panavision, but it has increased in importance by approximately 20% in the last three years (32). The reason for this development is probably, though not necessarily, identical to that of the 1950's: To emphasize the difference between home and cinema entertainment. To evaluate this would require another investigation.
Panavision has been able to stay in business because of its rental policy. Since the equipment is its own, improvements and modifications requested by customers can be made during maintenance. Because of the fact that profits will only be generated in the long run, investors are necessary. Besides the modification of existing products, Panavision prospered by developing new inventions like the
Panaflex, the Panaglide and the Panaflex 16. An invention that was less successful from an economical point of view was the
Further in 70mm reading:
The Diffusion Phase
1 Kraemer, 1991.
2 "Western Metals" (August, 1955) pp. 23-26.
3 "Variety" 16 June 1965, pp. 3 and 18.
6 Moore, 4 september 1991.
7 Kraemer, 1991."
8 Moore, 4 September 1991.
9 "Variety" 14 February 1968, p. 3.
"Wall Street Journal" 12 February 1968, p. 27.
10 John Farrand, interview by author, 16 July 1991, Tarzana, California, video and audio recording.
11 Kraemer, 1991.
12 Albert Mayer, interview by author, 16 July 1991, Tarzana, California, video and audio recording.
Actually it is not a big issue, since the 65mm handheld camera was also named
Panaflex. However, an alternative to the name was, according to Mr. Mayer,
13 Arri is originally a German camera manufacturer, with representatives in the U.S., referred to as
14 Jurgen Sporn, interview by author, 12 July 1991, Tarzana, California, video and audio recording.
"Designed for shooting from the shoulder" (author unknown) "American Cinematographer" (May, 1963), p. 77-78.
15 Sporn, 1991.
19 Mayer, 1991.
20 "Variety" 9 June 1982, p. 4 and 35.
21 Miyagishima, 15 July 1991.
22 Mayer, 1991.
23 Moore, 1991.
24 Kraemer, 1991.
25 Kraemer, 1991.
26 Philip Radin, interview by author, 15 July 1991, Tarzana, California, video and audio recording.
27 Farrand, 1991.
29 Farrand, 1991.
30 Farrand, 1991.
31 Mayer, 1991.
32 Radin, 1991.
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