Interview with Panavision’s Bob Harvey on the Genesis Digital Camera

Selected to photograph Warner Brothers' highly anticipated feature Superman Returns, the Genesis is the first fully portable, digital imaging camera that utilizes all existing spherical 35mm lenses including Primo primes and zooms. Other features include full bandwidth, dual link 4:4:4 HDSDI outputs, single 4:2:2 HDSDI monitor output, dual viewfinder outputs, fiber optic camera adaptor, integrated lens control, camera control via Panavision RDC or Sony MSU, RMB series controllers, and digital lateral chromatic aberration compensation for improved visual effects cinematography. With a 12.4 mega pixel, true RGB sensor, 10-bit log per color output, the Genesis has a greater dynamic range than other available digital cameras. Bob Harvey is the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales at Panavision in Woodland Hills, California.

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Alexa O'Brien
The rumor on the street is that both Arriflex and Panavision have made their last 35mm cameras. Arriflex will not make anything after the Arricam and the Arricam Light and Panavision will not make anything after the Platinum, so neither will create new film cameras. They will just maintain what is already out there. Is that true?
Bob Harvey
I don't know the answer to that. We try to put into the market place what the market place is demanding. We have designs for new cameras certainly. We are concentrating right now on lenses, but I have no answer to that.
Alexa O'Brien
What is an accurate picture of current and future digital acquisition? Where do you see things moving in the next three to five and five to ten years?
Bob Harvey
I think that features films and dramatic television are moving towards digital at a pace we can all live with. Three to five years out it's tough to say. I think with the development of the Genesis you are going to see an awful lot of what we call hybrid projects, where it is a mixture of both film and digital. Will digital take over completely? Years from now I am sure that can happen. Something will happen. Nothing lasts forever. In the case of film, it has a long life ahead of it.
Alexa O'Brien
Why does it? What does film have outside of people's devotion?
Bob Harvey
I think that is a big plus, the devotion that they have for film. I think that there is an infrastructure built around film that makes it very easy to use film. Certainly, there is an infrastructure being built around digital. What we have done with Genesis, we have inserted Genesis into the film infrastructure. So that it is pretty transparent to people who work in film. However, I think tradition plays a large part of this industry, and I think that there are certain looks that are achieved on film that thus far have not been not been achieved on the digital formats. Obviously that gap is going to close. For right now I think that film is pretty safe.
Alexa O'Brien
What do you think are the most important technological trends are right now in film production?
Bob Harvey
Well, certainly the biggest development has been the introduction, and I believe this, you know forget the fact that I am at Panavision, I think the introduction of Genesis is as important a development as the introduction of sound. There have been five major motion pictures photographed on Genesis. That's pretty amazing, in its first year of availability. What we did with the camera with the introduction of the large chip, we made it possible for all of the film people to use film lenses and all of the accessories that go with normal Panaflex cameras. And I think that's a major development in the advance of digital, and also we created a camera that inter-cuts beautifully with film.
Alexa O'Brien
Are the skill sets for film transferable with digital formats?
Bob Harvey
When you talk about a camera like Genesis, we specifically developed the camera so that it would be transparent . Certainly on a small chip camera lighting is different, and the way the camera photographs is different but on a large chip camera it's pretty close. We made sure that all of the accessories that go on a film camera, fit on the new digital camera that we developed. So yeah I think absolutely the skill sets are pretty close.
Alexa O'Brien
When you talk about lighting are you referring to the latitude of the digital image compared to film?
Bob Harvey
Yeah. The latitude of Genesis is approximately 11 stops. That's fairly close to film, and I mean you light a certain way. Depth of field is the same on both cameras, film and Genesis, and again the lenses are the same. So it's pretty transparent.
Alexa O'Brien
I have heard about the 300x compound zoom lens that debuted at the Mercedes Championship in Maui, Hawaii. I was under the impression that the military was interested in that technology. Is Panavision involved in any digital image technology with military applications?
Bob Harvey
We are working right now with the federal government on a new lens that we developed. They are very interested in it. More than that I am not involved in that end of it. I just know that besides sports television the government is very interested in the lens technology also.
Alexa O'Brien
In terms of the relationship between digital media technology and business what are the important issues or hurdles that will shape the future of our industry in terms of this transition from film to digital?
Bob Harvey
It's the infrastructure, and that's it. That is the answer. Certainly better cameras are going to be developed. I mean the Genesis is a Model T compared to what's going to be around say seven, eight, nine years from now. But, if the infrastructure doesn't catch up to the production technology then the development will be slow. Actually it is doing a pretty good job catching up. That is the key I think.
Alexa O'Brien
Is Panavision involved in any regional or national programs training students on digital media equipment?
Bob Harvey
Oh, absolutely. We have a new filmmakers program. We have an in-house instructor. We work very, very closely with the film schools in universities across the country, and we have been doing this for twenty-five years. I mean obviously before digital. There are older Panavision cameras on loan to film schools all over the place. In fact, one is going out next week to AFI, and we have student come in here all the time. We do seminars and things like that. It's very important that we do it.
Alexa O'Brien
Tell me why it is important.
Bob Harvey
Because that is seeding the future. If you don't train these kids then where are the next great filmmakers going to come from? I mean obviously some people don't go to school to become great film makers, probably the majority. But as the industry becomes more and more technical, and more and more global, I think that the schools serve a major purpose to supply the industry with talented people. We get lots of phone calls from students wanting to do thesis films, or wanting to do weekend projects. If the gear is available and it doesn't have to go to far away from the factory we loan it to them. That kind of says it's pretty much a California phenomena but that is not necessarily true. We have offices across the country, and they are all for the most part are involved with the schools in their area. It's a matter of making a phone call. You know if the student doesn't have the tenacity to make the call and get through to the right person, chances are that when they want to get their film financed, the big film, they won't know how to get through to that person either.
Alexa O'Brien
The global production market is fiercely competitive. If a low to medium infrastructure production hub wanted to make themselves competitive, it seems that a long term approach to building a successful infrastructure would need to focusing on the future of production. Other than the Genesis for acquisition what are the important growth sectors within the industry right now? How about Digital Intermediate?
Bob Harvey
Yeah it is. Digital intermediate, the ability to do film out, special effects. You know, your asking something that is dear to my heart, how to keep my friends working. I really think it's up to local, state, and the federal government to keep production in the United States. You know California has the same problem that South Carolina has, the problem of "runaway production". Obviously it's more serious here than it is in South Carolina because production is running to South Carolina. Unless government agencies responsible for bringing film production into an area understand how to lobby and turn perception around in the local markets nothing is going to happen. And I'll explain what I am talking about. It's very difficult, it's not difficult. It's expensive and cumbersome to get permits to shoot on the street in L.A.. Film production is, I think the second or third major industry in Southern California. I believe it's the second. Yet, they make it difficult to shoot because the people in Sacramento, our capital, all think that the movie business are people that make twenty million dollars a year, and walk around with diamonds, and drive a Rolls Royce, and get their pictures taken. They don't understand that there is a below-the line back bone to the industry. In fact the majority of the industry are "nine-to-fivers" who are earning a living to feed their family. It's a very high profile industry and the people that get that profile represent the industry to the outside world. Consequently, it is difficult to get tax breaks for the industry. It's difficult to get those kinds of things that would entice production to stay, because the people that pass those rules and represent the population don't understand that it is a nine-to-five job. It is not glamour and "Hollywood". I would guess the same thing applies to the east of here. However, if you look at what happened for instance in Louisiana. They pass a tax incentive law and all of a sudden there is five, six, seven major movies shooting in Louisiana. New Mexico, they pass a tax incentive law all of a sudden there is a ton or movies moving to New Mexico. I would tell South Carolina that, that's what they need to do if they want to bring people in to have productions shoot there. Producers will go anywhere in the world to shoot if they can save money and the locations are right, and I think that is what you need to look at.
Alexa O'Brien
Apparently they are trying to pass a 30% tax incentive right now.
Bob Harvey
If that happens, overnight there will be films production in South Carolina. I can tell you that from experience.
Alexa O'Brien
Companies are streamlining themselves in the global business environment, especially in the digital realm. How can businesses and regions stay competitive in this fiercely competitive economy? What should they focus on particularly in the film industry?
Bob Harvey
I think that quality wins in the long run. Now, quality can also mean that it is downsized. That means that you may be the best but your not the biggest. I believe that Panavision is the best, but we are not the biggest, but we manufacture everything here in this country for the most part. That isn't fair with digital obviously but, we design everything here. That is fair with digital. You know, that's a very tough question. How do you stay on top? You don't let the competition sneak up on you. You need to be aware of everything that is going on and you can't be smug thinking that because you are the best you are always going to be the best . You always have to strive to be better. I don't know any other way.
Alexa O'Brien
Even post production is being outsourced to places like India, and many companies are positioning themselves in China in the hopes of capturing those markets...
Bob Harvey
I understand that there is a tremendous amount of post being done in Australia but there is also a lot of shooting being done down there. There is a lot of post being done in the UK, but there are a lot of Americans shooting over there. France is a different story. France has always had its own infrastructure for French films, and India has always...you know Bollywood. They make more movies there than anywhere else. They have always had and infrastructure for films. You know, I will tell you something else that people don't realize and I know this to be true. If you take Eastern Europe and what was the former Soviet Union, all of these places had a huge infrastructure for post production since WW II, or during WWII. They did all those news reels over there. They have been doing films over there for years and years and years. Eisenstein wasn't from the United States. He was from Germany. So if you are talking about Europe and Australia, yeah those infrastructures exist. If you are talking about China they have an infrastructure it just isn't up to par with the rest of the world and I think the rest of the world, the places that have them, have to keep bettering them.
Alexa O'Brien
Do you think that most regions, outside of L.A. and New York are prepared for the movement to digital?
Bob Harvey
No, but they are moving in that direction. They see it coming and I think they are all aware of it. The biggest problem we have found in the shooting that we have done around the world, I don't want to say the post world but a lot of post production, they don't want to listen. So they learn the hard way, but once they learn they are fine. They do it fine.
Alexa O'Brien
Are they resisting it?
Bob Harvey
No. No. They are not resisting it. They are not doing it very well. But it's changing. I am talking about buying the equipment that needs to be purchased in order to be the best in a particular market. They are very slow to make the investment and I understand that. You know, it's a lot of money, but that is why New York and L.A. are so far ahead, because obviously they have a vested interest. It's the two biggest markets. They have to make the investment. But I don't see that investment being made in, well they are starting to in Dallas and places like that. But it's slow. It's tough. Plus, knowing what they need. Just having the personal understanding of that marketplace. You know, they gotta learn, and they don't necessarily listen to the people in L.A. and New York as to what to do and I am being diplomatic right now.
Alexa O'Brien
Yeah. I understand the underlying issue, they are afraid to invest in that kind of equipment...
Bob Harvey
Because it changes all the time, you know, and it's expensive.
Alexa O'Brien
In terms of the multi-deliverable that seem to be cropping up with iPods and internet streaming, and every other form of distribution that seems to be on to the scene, how do you see that changing the overall...let me rephrase that...Do you see that changing the way acquisition or post is done?
Bob Harvey
I think it already has. You know, we do x number of anamorphic films a year. Then they would be panned and scanned and shown on television and it would look atrocious. You are seeing more and more product being released letterboxed, and people being taught what letterboxing means. That is the beginning of changing the way this stuff is delivered into the aftermarket. As far as the way the stuff is shot, I guess it has to. If you are going to ask me how, I don't know, but everything changes. If there is one thing certain, it is change.
Alexa O'Brien
I guess what I am hearing from you, and I have heard this from some other people that I have spoken to, and tell me if you think that this is fair. Certainly the United States and the film industry in this country needs to think about the future and obviously innovate and create a business environment that attracts production, but at the same time, the evolution towards digital is not really a revolution. It's more of an evolution.
Bob Harvey
It is. It absolutely is. That's a great way to put it.
Alexa O'Brien
Thank you so much for your time.
Bob Harvey
If there is anything I can do for South Carolina let me know.
Alexa O'Brien
Thank you so much. I'll definitely let the film commissioner know that.
Bob Harvey
Good.
Alexa O'Brien Alexa O'Brien researches and writes about national security. Her work has been published in VICE News, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Guardian UK, Salon, The Daily Beast, and featured on the BBC, PBS Frontline, On The Media, Democracy Now!, and Public Radio International. In 2013, she was shortlisted for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in the UK and listed in The Verge 50..