Cinematographers Roger Deakins and Caleb Deschanel, with 12 Oscar nominations between them, are working on their first features lensed with a digital cinematography camera. In both cases, the camera they are putting through the paces is the Alexa from ARRI.
The Alexa, made at ARRI’s facilities in Munich, entered the market about five months ago and has become the most talked-about camera in the industry.
ARRI is already approaching a remarkable 1,000 orders worldwide, company CEO Glenn Kennel told The Hollywood Reporter. So far, roughly 400 have been delivered, including 200 in North America. One challenge seems to be keeping up with the demand.
“We are working very hard at increasing our manufacturing capacity,” Kennel said.
Among the first feature projects to use the Alexa are the Deschanel-lensed Killer Joe, directed by William Friedkin, and Andrew Niccol’s Now, lensed by Deakins, who recently completed the True Grit remake directed by the Coen brothers.
The Alexa also is the camera in use on two stereoscopic 3D productions: Martin Scorsese’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers. Both productions are using 3D camera rigs from Pace; those were utilized on Avatar and developed by Vince Pace and James Cameron.
Additional features using Alexa are Spy Kids 4, directed by Robert Rodriguez; Bernie, helmed by Richard Linklater; Drive, from Nicolas Winding Refn; and Two Days in New York, directed by Julie Delpy.
The first feature to use the camera was Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous.
Why so much attention? In part, the Alexa promises a file-based (tapeless) workflow that has impressed many in the community — at a time when varying film and digital formats and workflows are being explored.
“It’s a no brainer. The workflow to go with the camera is there and in place, and it works,” cinematographer David Stump, co-chair of the ASC Technology Committee’s camera subcommittee, said of the Alexa. He added that ARRI is a highly trusted name in professional cameras.
Alexa also is having impact on the current TV season. It is in use on NCIS: Los Angeles, Lie to Me, Brothers & Sisters, No Ordinary Family and the upcoming Luck and Chicago Code. In some cases, shows began with the Alexa; in others, production switched to the Alexa as the camera became available.
It’s too early to know the full level of impact that the Alexa will have on the digital cinematography camera market, where additional brands include Sony — the dominant digital camera maker being used for series TV this season — as well as Panasonic, Panavision, Red and Canon.
Stump observed that cinematographers who are moving toward Alexa seem to be “moving upward from Red or sideways from tape-based cameras like Genesis (from Panavision).”
ARRI’s Kennel declined comment on the competitors.
Of ARRI’s strategy, he said: “Our focus was on providing the highest image quality and also a camera that is rugged, reliable and easy to use.” He added that it offers film-comparable traits, including 14 stops of dynamic range, “which puts it head to head with the best film stocks.” Alexa lists for $75,000.
On the market for film, Kennel said: “We see the market shifting rapidly to digital, probably faster than anticipated. We aren’t selling many film cameras these days; we are selling digital cameras.”