11.13.2008

Pana-thoughts

When you're working with a Panavision camera, everything begins with the "Pana" prefix.

When the base plate for the tripod clicks in, it's the Pana-click. The camera has a Pana-mount lens mount. You secure everything with pana-locks. When you push in, it's a Pana-push, and when you pan, it's a Pana-Pan! And you end up being the Director of PanaTography!

Panafever!

The Panaflex 16 we got is an old beast. But she's lovely. Since I am the only one in our Coloradan group who has shot/operated on a Pana-system, I ended up supervising a student crew's shoot for two 13-hour days last weekend, and wound up being sort of a 2nd-2nd AC and loader when it was needed.

It was a lot of fun— and it felt like I had never left school. Student and indie film sets all have this excited, wide-eyed feel to them that I love. What made it better was this crew had a stellar camera department. I showed the AC how to thread the loop once and he was faster at it than I was by the second day. The two AC's had that camera built before the AD could tell us we needed to be set up. The DP knew his shit and amazingly enough did most of the shoot handheld while keeping me satisfied with the camera's safety.

The Panaflex 16 (aka the 'Elaine') is NOT the best choice for a hand held shoot. She is HEAVY. We had two pistol grips and a shoulder pad. Now, here is a bit of advice for those using the Elaine and decide to use the shoulder pad for a hand held shot. The pad attaches by velcro to a metal foot that slides and clicks in underneath the camera body. There are two ways to slide in the foot: the right way, and the way that will take you an hour with an allen wrench to detach it. When we slid it into place, we didn't realize the little lever you squeeze in order to release it was being put in first, so that it was blocked in by the camera body and the other end of the foot... so our fingers could not fit in there to press the mechanism to detach it. Luckily we were able to safely press it down with an allan wrench and detach it after only a minute or two, but for those few minutes, we were kicking ourselves. Note to self: think all possible outcomes through before you hear the pana-click.

Also, we found that the diagram sitting on the inside of the camera body door for threading the loop is just slightly different than the actual innards of the camera. Not so different that it causes any confusion, it's still the same loop. But if you're in doubt, just remember some common sense rules about threading. Make sure your loops above and below the gate aren't scraping or hitting anything. Make sure the registration pin and claw are lined up with the film perforations so the film won't shred. And test out the movement with the inching knob before turning the camera on to test the loop. And you should be good.

We got two heads with the Pana-package. One for the tripod (The O'Conner head) and the Pana-head for the Fisher dolly. Another note that might save you time: The little attachable mechanism that allows you to adjust the height of the long eyepiece for the camera? Only attaches to the Pana-head. The O'Conner doesn't have the screw socket needed (atleast the O'Conner that we received.)

Hm, what else. When switching eye pieces, sometimes the image in the viewfinder will be flipped 180°, or upside down. Here's how to fix it: when getting ready to attach the eye piece, put the elbow in the upright position (pointing towards the ceiling). Get the eyepiece in there, lined up correctly, and lock it. To the right of the lock inside the elbow is a little lever with an arrow on it pointing toward the camera body. Pull or press it toward the camera body and hold. Now rotate that eyepiece 180° (clockwise) so that it is now pointing to the floor. Let go of the lever and raise the eyepiece back up. The image should now be right side up.

The film magazines we got are for 400' loads. They can be frustrating— it's a tight fit and you do not have much finger room in the mag once 400 feet of film is in there. I had a fun time trying to make sure the counter lever was out of the way when trying to get the film core situated. Also, the film inside the mags should form two '9's. So coming off the roll it forms a 9, goes through the loop, and the uptake again should form a 9. This means the take up roll actually has the emulsion side facing out. When this first happened to me in school when I was loading a 35mm Pana-mag, I sat there for 10 minutes trying to figure out what was wrong. Don't worry. That's how it's supposed to happen.

But basically, the camera is pretty straightforward and totally awesome. Most of this stuff is info I wasn't able to find online, so I'm hoping it will be useful to someone out there. Panavision did not send us a manual with the camera, so I've been taking personal notes about all the Pana-quirks we run into. (Hrm, I hope it's ok for me to post this stuff.) Also, this camera is wicked old. You can tell she's been loved.

One of my last semesters at USC was spent entirely on the Panaflex GII 35mm camera, and the Panavision system became very familiar. So getting back on the Pana-wagon is a small taste of home. It's very comforting, in its own way.

I am shooting on the Elaine myself this weekend starting tomorrow with my AC's, who did a fine job building it today and practicing loading the film. Our scene is a 1930's noir sequence, so I'll probably write about the lighting fun we'll have with that.

And I haven't forgotten— I am still making a list of female cinematographers to research and make their info available to you guys (stuff like their prominent work, existing interviews, that sort of stuff) and I hope to have enough cash to rent their movies and get some reviews done.

Continue to leave me suggestions in comments :) And feel free to ask technical questions to give me something specific to write about. I don't care if it's beginner stuff or advanced, it's great to review the basics, and even better to look up something new.

Just be warned, once in a while the word "thingy" is used as a technical term here.

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