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HomeGearPanavision 50th Anniversary: Remote Systems

Panavision 50th Anniversary: Remote Systems

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By Mary Ann Skweres
The history of Panavision Remote Systems goes back to 1976 when Andy Romanoff first saw the Luma crane floating over the stage at a jazz festival in France. It was the first remote crane ever built. With his background as a cinematographer and camera operator, Romanoff recognized the benefits of this new, flexible technology. “I was stunned by this thing,” he recalls. “It was a completely different way to think about how to place a camera and it could immediately go into places no conventional crane had ever gone.” When Romanoff eventually brought the technology to the U.S., Steven Spielberg was the first person to see it. He used it to shoot a large portion of the film 1941.
Romanoff formed Luma LA, a company that a pioneered remote crane and remote head technology. About seven years ago he decided the company would be better off working under a larger umbrella. Having previously worked for Panavision, Romanoff had maintained a good relationship with the company. He walked in to talk about business and walked out with an offer from Panavision to buy his company. Romanoff stayed on to run Panavision Remote Systems as its president.
Remote Systems specializes in telescopic cranes, with a broad variety—15-foot, 20-foot, 30-foot and 50-foot lengths—and the largest quantity in the industry. Panavision also has the longest non-telescopic camera crane in the world—the Strada 100—and a number of remote heads.
This extensive inventory gives cinematographers multiple options and flexibility to achieve their photographic vision. Because of their versatility, Panavision’s cranes have been used in all aspects of the business—feature films, TV series, live television, commercials and music videos. One of the cranes recently returned from the rooftop of Crazy Gideon’s electronics store in downtown Los Angeles where it had stood for about a month while helping to shoot the boxing reality show, The Next Great Champ.
Shooting styles have changed. Years ago cranes were used mainly to do the great majestic shot. Now they’re used as flexible camera positioning devices. Current styles rely on the camera moving a lot more. Telescopic cranes have taken over because they’re more efficient and offer the cinematographer a broader range of creative possibilities.
They’re also very efficient. They roll in already assembled, saving all the time it used to take for a crew to put together a crane’s sections. The smaller sizes can slip into the tiniest sets. Once on set it’s only a matter of powering up and going to work. The crane can be telescoped to whatever length is best for the shot. In the past, if a crane or even a jib arm had to go into a location such as an office building, all the pieces had to be carried in separately and assembled. Panavision’s 15-footer rolls into a standard elevator, with the arm tipped up so that it fits through the escape hatch in the ceiling. It also fits through a standard doorway, allowing easy access and fluid movement on a practical set.
The popularity of telescopic cranes continues to grow as cinematographers adapt the technology to more uses. When a crane is brought in to do a shot that only the crane can do, it often ends up being used for a variety of other shots. For example, crane shots have even replaced some traditional dolly moves. Sometimes it is no longer necessary to lay tracks. Instead the crane can be telescoped the desired distance. Cranes are also adaptable to every brand and type of film and video equipment. According to Romanoff, “As cinematographers get more comfortable and polished in the use of these cranes, we find they use then more and more. There are some cinematographers that now spend 60 to 70 percent of their time working on the crane.”
Years ago the company pioneered the use of Automatic Backpan Compensation, a way for the camera remote head to counteract the swinging movement—fishtailing—of the crane arm. If a camera operator is not riding on the crane and can’t sense that movement, the only way around the problem was multiple rehearsals until the operator knew when the grip was going to start and stop the movement. The patented Automatic Backpan Compensation fixes that problem while the camera is panning.
This year Panavision is adding a significant improvement to the operations of its cranes by introducing Backpan Plus, which fixes the tilt of the camera as the crane moves up and down. It continues to compensate as the crane telescopes. “We look for ways to improve the experience of the people who are working with the equipment and to make the equipment more productive,” says Romanoff. “Our job is to provide high-quality solutions to the problems of moving the camera. Our vision is to do that job better than anyone else in the business.”
For Panavision, the customer dictates the future of the company, says Romanoff. “I always say, what the customer wants is larger, smaller, lighter, stronger, faster, cheaper…so we’re working on all those things.”

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