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The Importance of Panavision

This article first appeared in
..in 70mm
The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Adriaan Bijl, Holland
Reprinted by permission from the writer and Panavision
Issue 67 - March 2002
In the fall of 1953, Panavision started, as a company which supplied theaters with anamorphic projection attachments. By the time this market was saturated, the company had established itself in the field of motion picture equipment by developing and marketing other products. 

Examples of these products are printer and photography lenses, and cameras. 

The company remained in business by virtue of its rental policy, which had the following consequences:

1. A large amount of capital can be invested during the design of a new product, since that product does not have to be sold at a competitive price.

2. During engineering and manufacturing, the best quality of individual components has to be used since the equipment has last for a long period of time. Selling the equipment would imply a lower quality of material in order to enhance continued sales.

3. Panavision can improve its equipment during maintenance, since it belongs to the company, and modify it according to the customer's wishes.

It is this last feature, described by the company as customer engineering, that gives Panavision its importance in the motion picture industry. The filmmakers are guaranteed the best equipment available (within their financial limits, of course, since there is a difference if a Panaflex 16 or a 65mm camera is rented). Another advantage is that filmmakers do not have to worry about maintenance, or writing off costs since Panavision takes care of that.
However, what does this knowledge mean? These are all important statements, mentioned in the preceding pages, but they do not make for a concise conclusion. Perhaps this is the right place for a personal opinion, since my own personal interests were what inspired this investigation.
When I started this research, I found out that there was a mystique surrounding Panavision. Here was a company, which is mentioned during the title sequence of many films as "filmed in Panavision" or "lenses and cameras by Panavision", yet little was known about the actual company. Articles in "American Cinematographer" mention Panavision's innovations but not the people behind these innovations, and it is the people running the company who ask for such a screen credit.

When I visited the Panavision plant in July 1991, I was amazed to see how much the employees cared for movies. Walking around the premises, I saw several movie posters on the walls of individual offices, and I heard people constantly talking about movies. During my visit the company received 'rushes' of "Far and Away", which were shown to all employees of the company in Panavision's own theater. The auditorium was completely filled. Also, on Tuesday and Thursday nights, employees are able to watch recent movies in that theater. During interviews, people mentioned movie titles in conjunction with new equipment. Of course, the names of favorite movie titles cropped up as well. I mention these examples to make it clear that, at Panavision, life is not just about manufacturing equipment for the motion picture industry. It is about interest in, and improvement of, the making of films, in a practical sense (user friendly equipment), and in a quality sense (best components available).
I hope I didn't destroy that mystique with this research paper. Instead, I hope that I have been able to encourage people to become as intrigued with Panavision as I was, and still am, because I think that what Panavision represents is only partly captured in this thesis. I have examined the history of Panavision from a technological point of view. It should by no means be considered to be "the" history of Panavision, Inc.. Technology has been placed in the context of economics, but other issues, such as Panavision's marketing policies have not been investigated. Apart from that, as was stated in the introduction, Panavision holds the patent rights for numerous inventions which also have a proper place in the history of the company. This could be addressed in future studies.
Further in 70mm reading:

Panavision History Home


1 In the Beginning
2 Invention Phase
3 Innovation Phase
4 Diffusion Phase


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Updated 30-06-22