Celebrating its 100th anniversary, ARRI has deep roots in the past, but the company’s focus is firmly on the future.
And for this still youthful company, the way to the future includes expanding existing markets, embracing emerging technologies, and reaching out to younger filmmakers.
One area of rapid growth is the East Asia Pacific region, which has seen demand for both cameras and lighting equipment increase considerably. ARRI camera revenue from the region, for example, is now larger than all the Americas combined. China accounts for about 50% of that region’s tally.
“It’s a big market for us — not just of the future, but the present,” says Dr. Joerg Pohlman, who leads the company together with Franz Kraus. The duo are the two members of the executive board at the ARRI Group.
The company has offices in Hong Kong and Beijing, and continues to expand its teams in the region. “We doubled our office space in Hong Kong because business is growing so fast, and we’re adding people, and we’re going to do the same in Beijing later this year,” says Pohlman.
|“In the context of turning 100, the task is to stay young… to keep in touch with young people”|
Sales for ARRI cameras and lighting in China reflect the rising expectations and production values of its film and TV industry. Sales for ARRI’s high-end Alexa 65 camera “is a good example of how mature China’s industry has become; how the budgets for their movies and shows have been raised,” says Kraus. “They can afford it and they can master that format.”
As more Chinese crews work on big-budget international productions such as “The Great Wall,” they are developing the same skillsets and expectations of image quality that their Western peers have.
Another area of growth is high-end TV production.
Often called the new “golden age” of television, the trend toward quality TV imagery is driven by pay TV and streaming companies. This presents new opportunities for big-budget shows with high production values.
For example, HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” shot in multiple locations, uses ARRI cameras.
“It is a huge opportunity for everyone in the industry,” Pohlman says. Improvements in TV-screen technology mean “viewers are able to appreciate the superior dynamic range that ARRI cameras deliver. The quality of TV pictures is improving so much that you can really see the difference.”
The move by such streaming platforms as Amazon, Netflix and China’s iQiyi into original content has added to the market. Several of Amazon’s shows have been shot with ARRI cameras including “The Man in the High Castle,” which opted for the Alexa, and Jeremy Clarkson’s auto-show “The Grand Tour,” which shot with the Amira.
However, Netflix’s insistence that its productions be shot at a true UHD 4K resolution prevents the Alexa and Amira being used, although the 6K Alexa 65 qualifies.
|HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which shot in multiple locations using ARRI cameras, represents the new world of high-end TV.|
But this strong focus on the future does not mean that ARRI has turned its back on its legendary past. Although the company no longer manufactures analog cameras, film still plays a role in its business.
Major filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan remain committed to shooting on celluloid and existing film cameras need to be serviced.
“You still need technicians who can repair them, and they need spare parts, and there is a clear commitment from ARRI that we will continue to [service the cameras] for at least 10 years,” Pohlman says.
“We still have all the skillsets,” Kraus adds.
The ARRI execs argue that a digital image looks just as good as film, but they point out that there are differences to the processes that filmmakers need to bear in mind. “We like that this option [shooting on film] remains, as long as filmmakers request it, because film capture and digital capture are totally different mechanisms,” Kraus says.
Lighting is another area with big growth potential, with products such as ARRI’s SkyPanel LED soft lights being widely used not only for films but also for TV shows such as Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“From a strategic point of view lighting is a very important part of our future,” Pohlman says. “The biggest growth we’ve had in relative terms has been in this area.”
“There are applications for LED lights that even we didn’t think of, but the users are coming up with ideas to make them very usable in everyday applications,” adds Kraus.
ARRI’s forward-looking philosophy is perhaps best expressed by a strong outreach to young filmmakers. Although its cameras are not the cheapest, ARRI encourages the new generation to use them through training and education.
|“There are applications for LED lights we didn’t think of, but the users are coming up with ideas.”|
“In the context of turning 100, the task for us is to stay young,” Pohlman says. “What we have to do is keep in touch with young people and make sure they are acquainted with ARRI equipment. We want to be the ultimate aspiration for filmmakers, but we don’t want people to wait until they are big stars in their 40s. We’d like them to use the equipment in their 20s, so they know our products, like them, and aspire to use them in the future.”
Among many other initiatives to support up-and-coming filmmakers, ARRI became a partner of the Berlin Film Festival’s talent development program, Berlinale Talents, this year.
As a further investment in the future, ARRI is building a headquarters in Munich that it plans to move into by the end of next year. The new building will recreate the campus feel, built around courtyards, of the present site in Munich’s Tuerkenstrasse, where the founders set up their business 100 years ago in a shoemaker’s shop.
The intent is to continue with an environment that encourages the exchange of ideas. “The potential I see is to arrange the departments in such a way as to have an ideal flow of communications and processes,” Pohlman says.