Wolfgang Reichel und Benjamin Schubert im ARRI Rental Testraum

A lifetime of career development at ARRI

Podcaster Benjamin Schubert interviews ARRI Rental’s Wolfgang “Wolle” Reichel about his career since joining ARRI at the age of 16, and the industry changes he has seen.

Jul. 4, 2024
Wolle article audio
Duration 00:00 minutes

In his podcast “Setgeflüster” (“Set Whispering”), film sound technician Benjamin Schubert interviews film and photography professionals who either work on set or provide technological or creative services. Recently, one of his interviewees was Wolfgang “Wolle” Reichel, who first joined ARRI as a trainee at the age of 16 and worked for 10 years in camera technology before joining ARRI Rental in 2000, where he remains a Senior Camera Technician today.

Here below is an edited transcript of their conversation. You can listen to the original German podcast here.

In his podcast “Setgeflüster” (“Set Whispering”), film sound technician Benjamin Schubert interviews film and photography professionals who either work on set or provide technological or creative services. Recently, one of his interviewees was Wolfgang “Wolle” Reichel, who first joined ARRI as a trainee at the age of 16 and worked for 10 years in camera technology before joining ARRI Rental in 2000, where he remains a Senior Camera Technician today.

Here below is an edited transcript of their conversation. You can listen to the original German podcast here.

Benjamin Schubert: Welcome, Wolle Reichel. How did you come up with the idea of training as a camera technician?

Wolle Reichel: My father sparked my interest, initially. Back then it wasn’t easy to get an apprenticeship. For me, the film industry was very exciting, and ARRI were looking for precision mechanics. I gave it a try and it worked out; I’ve never regretted it.

BS: How did your father spark that interest in precision mechanics?

WR: During my youth we used to film with Super 8 cameras on vacation and then edit and project the footage at home after it had been developed. As a little boy I found this very exciting, although I was more interested in the technology than the filming itself. I like the fine details of analog camera technology, so ARRI was the right place for me. I went through different departments and met colleagues who had been at ARRI for ages. They had so much knowledge and I was able to learn a lot during that time.

BS: What were the different departments? Presumably there are specialists for each manufacturing step?

WR: For each area of work there were different experts – for the film magazines, the camera housing, the spinning mirror shutter, and then there was someone who assembled these components into the camera. When you’re an apprentice, you work in those different departments to get an overall impression of what ARRI does, and that’s true of apprentices at ARRI today. The difference back then was that ARRI didn’t build huge numbers of cameras, because it was so expensive to manufacture an analog camera. There were only a few manufacturers building 35 mm movie cameras in the 1980s. That was one of ARRI’s unique selling points: we built something that was not commonplace. Today, every smart phone has a video camera, so the differences in terms of technology are huge.

BS: What changed when you moved from ARRI to ARRI Rental?

WR: I knew the individual components of a camera, and I had built a camera, but I had never seen it completely assembled on a tripod with a lens attached for shooting before I joined ARRI Rental, and I had never been on set. You imagine a film set to be much more glamorous than it really is. We didn’t service a lot of big films per year, but we always had at least one or two Hollywood productions. My first time on an international set was impressive. As a camera technician there usually isn’t a lot to do if everything is working; you always hope nothing will go wrong, but then it’s boring. If something happens, it’s nice to finally have something to do, but on the other hand you’ve got pressure from all sides. It was exciting to see how the individual departments work together on an American film in comparison to what a German crew does. Everyone does the same work, but it’s structured differently.

BS: Tell us a bit more about what your role was on set.

WR: I am talking about the years between 2000 and 2010, which was an analog time. Big productions could afford to take a camera technician with them for weeks at a time. Once, I was away on a shoot for three months. It was a matter of me being there and if something stopped working, I was supposed to fix it. With analog camera technology that was possible because I knew how everything worked and what to do if the camera was too loud, or needed cleaning, or oiling. There was rarely a big issue, thank God. Whenever something happened, I was relatively good at solving problems quickly and so I had a good life.

BS: And with your role at ARRI Rental now, do you advise customers about what they can do if they want to achieve a certain look?

WR: Yes, we clarify that in a test room, when the assistants come to test the camera, or sometimes the cinematographer also comes and has questions. I was in New Zealand with “Ghost in the Shell,” one of the first big projects to shoot with the ALEXA 65 camera, when questions about the panning speed and compatible lenses came up. The ALEXA 65 isn’t sold, it is rented exclusively, so only ARRI Rental has expertise on this camera. I was at the end of the world but my colleagues who had the expertise didn’t let me down when I needed them.

BS: Do you rely more on teamwork and collaboration to solve problems nowadays?

WR: In the digital era it’s helpful to have one or two contacts at ARRI who actually build the cameras to support you. For me it is an advantage to have been part of the ARRI family for 38 years, so I know those colleagues. Without a support network, it’s not quite as nice when you’re on a set. So yes, in the analog era you could solve problems with your own know-how, but today, you’re dependent on good interaction with colleagues.

BS: Big movies must have more cameras on them than smaller productions, does that mean a different level of concentration for you?

WR: Personally, I don’t feel that. When a film student approaches me because he wants to shoot his graduation film, I prepare it with the same passion as any Hollywood movie. A Hollywood production might take 10 cameras, but that’s just the camera bodies. The basic structure is three or four working cameras, with two sets of lenses shared between them. A student production might have just one camera, so it can be different in terms of time, but not in concentration or care.

BS: Could you share a special story or memory from your working life?

WR: Often something unfortunate happens and you must react quickly. My favorite example was on the set of “Munich,” directed by my top hero Steven Spielberg. I was in Malta for three months and we had some problems. We were shooting on a rooftop in 43-degree heat and the sun was so intense that the camera overheated and we had to stop. Mr. Spielberg didn’t like the idea of wasting shooting time because it wasn’t working, and suddenly the producer Kathleen Kennedy was standing behind me, asking: “What do we do now?”

We quickly organized everything: new video assist, new camera body, new everything. We flew the equipment to Malta overnight and it came straight to my hotel. I took it to set the next morning and got it working so they could resume shooting. My efforts were highly appreciated and I got a lot of praise. This kind of thing only works if you have the power to react quickly. We have the know-how in all positions at ARRI Rental. For the past 14 years we have been shooting digitally and if something goes wrong with the camera, colleagues are collaborating on the problem within minutes.

BS: Do you prefer to be on set or at your workbench?

WR: I really like being on set and I think as a camera technician you need this experience. You need to see what your clients are doing on set: how they solve problems and how they use the camera. You learn as a technician and then you implement it for the next client, who maybe hasn’t been on such big projects yet. My job has given me the opportunity to travel around the world and I enjoy doing it whenever I can. I like going to our Budapest branch when there’s a project and they need manpower, but I also enjoy working with clients at our branch in Ismaning, doing lens tests with DPs or prepping for a movie.

BS: What do you enjoy most about your job?

WR: I like to provide a service, and I’m someone who is very committed to ARRI. I have the brand in my heart. I think everyone who has completed the training at ARRI is a bit ARRI-crazy. I also like the fact that people are satisfied when they test with us and say: “We were at ARRI and noticed a difference to other companies.” That’s our standard, and it’s rewarding. For me personally, the analog times were more exciting. It was a completely different way of working and it was a small circle. Digital is a bigger circle, but I like both. Recently there has been a revival of 35 mm film, and it makes me happy to work on an analog project where I can use everything I’ve learned over the past 40 years.

BS: Wolle, thank you very much for your insights into the support that ARRI Rental offers with experts like you. I wish you many more exciting projects, more trips, and more of the joy that you take in your work. It’s good for you and for others.