By John Pokorny
This October marks the silver anniversary of AbelCine, the respected equipment services provider known for their longtime support of the production community.
President & CEO Pete Abel, who co-founded the company with his brother Rich in 1989, discusses what has shaped AbelCine’s development over the last 25 years.
* What do you think has had the greatest influence on AbelCine over the years?
When you begin your life in this industry as a camera technician behind the bench, like Rich and I did, it really shapes your perspective from the very start.
For years we serviced 16mm Aaton cameras. At that time, filmmakers were more connected to their camera because it was often the only camera they worked with. Since film cameras needed maintenance on a regular basis, the relationships we developed with filmmakers were quite personal.
Because we formed these deep bonds with our customers early on, we’ve always thought of ourselves, first and foremost, as a service company.
* What are some of the technological changes over the last 25 years that have had the greatest impact on your company?
The first big change for us was the migration of documentary and independent film origination from 16mm film to HD video, driven by the introduction of 24p HD tape cameras by Panasonic and Sony. The move from an analog to a video-based format was the equivalent of learning a new language for filmmakers, as well as ourselves.
Another critical point was the shift from tape-based to solid-state recording. The absence of the tape mechanism in cameras allowed for an increase in reliability and a significant decrease in wear and tear, size and cost. It also enabled cameras like the high-speed Phantom to break into the market.
But as impactful as these changes were at the time, I think they pale in comparison to what’s going on today with large sensor technology.
* Why do you think this is the case?
Well, the beginning of this impact was made by RED with the release of the RED One, followed by the release of DSLRs into the market a few years later.
This gave filmmakers access to large sensor technology at a much lower cost than we’d ever imagined, enabling high quality, cinematic image capture at every level of production. Even micro budget projects could now look amazing.
With more mobile and web based platforms to deliver video content through, there are more manufacturers and imagemakers entering the market all the time to feed this ever-growing need for content. And some incredibly creative work is being produced as a result.
But more content at a lower cost also affects the economic balance of the traditional production business, requiring that our core customers learn how to adapt, and in some cases, reinvent.
* As a company, how do you respond to this change?
In fact, it’s to provide the support we always have – but in a completely different way.
We’ve always been relied upon by our clients to service and support them, only now, this service may come in a greater variety of forms than it had in the past. Instead of primarily coming in the form of repair and maintenance, today’s services also include consultation, education, and helping our customers figure things out.
* Can you give me some specifics?
We’ve also put a lot of energy into growing our optical expertise. Our service departments on both coasts are equipped with state-of-the-art calibration tools, and our techs are trained on all the major models. This has lead to us becoming authorized service locations for Zeiss, Canon and Angenieux.
Our Integration services take advantage of the affordability of today’s live broadcasting and streaming technologies, and we’re introducing these new efficiencies to clients in the corporate, higher ed and performance sectors.
Assisting with the financing of equipment has been a natural extension of the sales process, and our customers have appreciated the deep understanding our Finance Services team has of the gear and our industry. This is critical when it comes to helping our customers with their financing strategies, especially now that technology advances so rapidly.
That same dynamic of continuous technology improvements is why we began offering tech training. Working professionals are finding it harder than ever to keep up with all that is new, so our training is designed to be hands-on and practical in nature, in a short refresher format; the way we believe busy professionals would most effectively learn.
So, to us, these are all just different embodiments of the service philosophy we’ve always had.
* How have these new services been received from your customers?
Since it’s our customers who’ve always informed us of where they really need us, it wasn’t too much of a surprise when we began getting positive responses to these services, especially financing and training.
I find it interesting that, although we’ve only been formally training for a few years now, so many of our clients view us, first and foremost, as a knowledge source.
I think it’s because that Rich and I have always seen consultation as part of our role – and this approach extends to our sales, rental and support staff – not just our trainers.
* What else do you think is unique to AbelCine?
Our customers always mention how knowledgeable the staff is, but even more so, how upbeat and willing everybody is to go out of their way to find the right solutions for them.
They also comment that the entire atmosphere in our NY and LA facilities has such an upbeat, positive energy flow. It’s nice to hear because we’ve worked hard to create a space for our customers that’s comfortable, yet gives them access to all the tools, technology and people they need to get their current job done, or to learn what they need to learn for the next one.
* Where do you think the positive energy comes from?
I think it’s because we’re sharing a space with our customers who are passionate creative and technical people, working with them to find solutions. It’s like we’re all in it together, doing what we love.
It’s a tangible vibe for sure – I feel it everyday, and it’s one of the things I love best about what I do.
Rich and I are so fortunate to have been able to surround ourselves with a staff that loves technology and its relationship to the craft as much as we do. We’re gratified for the role our company plays in the livelihood of our customers and plan to continue to fill this role wherever technology and our industry takes us.
Join AbelCine on Saturday, October 18 in LA for a celebration of their 25 years:
A NYC celebration is in the works for November with details coming soon.