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BFV's Big Interview: ARRI

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As its centenary year celebrations continue in earnest, ARRI talks to BFV about its rich history, as well as the principles and values that have helped the company reach this significant milestone.

BFV: ARRI is celebrating 100 years in business this month. Can you provide us with a history of the company?
Dr. Joerg Pohlman: ARRI was founded by two very young gentlemen, August Arnold and Robert Richter. They were both teenagers who actually needed court permission to start their company because they weren't of age. On September 12, 1917, the two young founders moved into a shoemaker's store in Tuerkenstrasse, Munich. It was sort of an early 20th-century, garage foundation of a company. They were film enthusiasts, they had copy machines, they were involved in lighting but also in cameras, they had cameras, they worked with camera manufacturers and tried to improve them, in time they were cameramen. The same energy and exuberance that our founders had still defines the company and its employees today.

What are some of the greatest changes or developments the company has undergone in that time?
Franz Kraus: The conversion from analog to digital taught us that the diversity of our product range and – more importantly – the engineering skills acquired during our DI developments helped us adapt to a shifting technology landscape, since it was our work with the ARRISCAN that paved the way for ALEXA. It also taught us that our most valuable assets are the level of trust in our brand, the extraordinary talent of our employees and our very close relationships with filmmakers.

JP: Looking at 100 years of ARRI, of course, 90 or so years were analog and only the last, well, five to 10 years have been really digital. I think it's important to see that there were a lot of changes that came with the digitalization of ARRI, we tripled the amount of people working in R&D and in Camera Systems, in our business unit Camera Systems over the last five years or so. We have software engineers now working in Stephanskirchen where we had none just a few years ago, so we are in the midst of this process. It's ongoing and it's an exciting part of the ARRI history. The digitalization is a huge challenge but it's also a huge opportunity for ARRI.

The founders of ARRI were camera operators, film producers and an equipment rental outfit before they ever manufactured an ARRI camera, but they seem to have worked alongside filmmakers to deliver what they wanted in regards to equipment, rather than telling them. Is this philosophy still relevant to the company today?
FK: ARRI prides itself on being a long-term professional partner to the global film industry. We have never walked away, instead facing difficult times by redoubling our efforts and increasing investment in R&D. The fact that we offer such varied products and services, covering all sides of the industry, gives us a unique perspective and allows each division to benefit from the expertise of all the others. For example, our involvement in postproduction helps us to develop efficient camera workflows and to provide end-to-end solutions for emerging trends such as HDR.

ARRI now offers a range of products and services. Has this been necessary to keep pushing ahead in the industry? How challenging is it to stay ahead in the film/camera equipment sector?
JP: The fact that there are more manufacturers out there now only makes it more important that we stay true to the principles that have sustained and defined us for the last century. Quality and reliability – traits for which ARRI products are renowned – are more important than ever. The same goes for long-term return on investment, which in today's fast-moving industry requires modular hardware and upgradeable software. These priorities make our camera and lighting equipment more expensive to develop, but what other digital system has remained as relevant, for as long, as ALEXA?

FK: Our founders were never afraid to go into new applications; it was camera, it was lighting, it was laboratory equipment, it was medical. Probably the reason why we are able to enjoy our 100th anniversary in good health is that we have managed to stay concentrated, we have always listened to the industry and we have never been afraid to do something new.

In addition to a centenary party at IBC, how will ARRI be celebrating this historical year?
JP: We are marking our centenary with celebratory events and projects focused primarily on September, the actual month of the birthday. However, we began our festivities at our Munich headquarters in July and will continue to celebrate around the globe until November. We're very proud of our history and look forward to sharing some wonderful stories and content – put together with the help of many of our friends across the worldwide film industry. Even more exciting than our past is where we are as a company in 2017, and the values and vision we carry into the future. We're 100 years old, young at heart and looking ahead to even greater things.

Image: ARRI Executive Board: Dr. Joerg Pohlman and Franz Kraus at ARRI birthday celebrations in Munich,July 2017. Picture credit: Bernd Wackerbauer/ARRI.

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