He was obviously always a step ahead of me. He called me one, I remember I was at Warner’s, I think it was around the time he was getting ready to do Lyndon, and he said, ‘Do you have any of those special BNC cameras that we used for rear process?’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘For sentimental reasons. I started out on them. I’d love to buy one from you if I could get one.’ So I called the camera department and I said, ‘Do you have any of those?’ And they said, ‘We’ve got a couple of those.’ I called Stanley back….He said, ‘I’d love to get those cameras. I admire the workmanship.’ I said, ‘Great,’ and sent him one of those, or maybe two of them, I can’t remember.
About six months later, Gottschalk, who ran Panavision for us, and who was a certified camera and optical genius, called and said: ‘Why are you sending those rear-projection cameras to Stanley Kubrick?’ I said, ‘Because he asked for them. I mean, they sit down there, we don’t use rear-projection anymore. We’re doing front-projection.’ He said, ‘They’re priceless, they are the most fantastic works ever put into a camera. They are brilliantly conceived and brilliantly executed camera works. You could never build a camera like it if your life depended on it. I want to get everyone I can, because I can’t duplicate the work that went into them.’
Stanley had anticipated it and acquired them and built his own cameras!
– John Calley, Former President of Warner Bros., CEO of Sony Pictures
He looked for the old-fashioned Mitchell BNC cameras for a very specific reason. These were the only cameras, to his knowledge, where he had a chance of fitting these big Zeiss lenses.
– Jan Harlan, Executive Producer
And Stanley sent me this lens and said, could I mount it on his BNC camera? I said it’s absolutely impossible because the BNC has two shutters, a thick aperture plate, and all that between the film plane and the rear element of the lens. And so I explained that to Stanley and said we’d have to damn near wreck your camera and make it purely dedicated to do this. And he said, ‘Fine, go ahead and do it.’
It was originally a lens designed, developed, and manufactured by Zeiss for NASA. NASA was planning to use it in satellite photography. For that reason, it’s an extremely fast lens. It’s an f0.7 which is two stops faster than lenses that are even available today. Of course Stanely’s intention for these lenses was to shoot the famous candlelit scenes in Barry Lyndon. That being the case, he shot with the lenses wide open, f0.7. The consequence of that, he had practically no depth of field at all. It was quite a chore to do it, but of course the images were absolutely gorgeous.
– Ed Di Giulio, Cinematographer