Top Women in Global Exhibition 2019: Araceli Vaello, Volfoni

Earlier this year, Boxoffice Pro partnered with Celluloid Junkie to present the fourth-annual list of Top Women in Global Exhibition, published in our CinemaCon issue. Throughout 2019 and early 2020, Boxoffice Pro will continue to honor the women who have an immeasurable impact on the exhibition industry with a series of in-depth profiles.

Araceli Vaello, chief sales officer at 3-D provider Volfoni, was one of the most-nominated executives on this year’s list of Top Women in Global Exhibition; customers and suppliers she’s worked with since joining Volfoni in 2012 praised her professionalism, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Volfoni’s network extends across 103 countries. Over the last year, they have partnered with Vox Cinemas to become the 3-D supplier of their four-screen Riyadh Park location in Saudi Arabia.

Before joining Volfoni, you worked as a purchasing sales manager. What did you learn from your previous employment that you’ve been able to carry through to Volfoni? 

Before Volfoni I worked as the purchasing and sales manager for [a group of companies involved with] advertising gifts and merchandising. I spent my life traveling to China to find new suppliers and add products to our existing portfolio. 

In that position, I had to do many jobs at the same time. As it was a family business, I learned to handle practically every aspect of the company. Also, the fact that I was traveling so much to countries with different customs and cultures taught me a lot when it came to work and getting along with people from all over the world. That company really believed in me, and today I thank them from the bottom of my heart, because I learned so much from them. Being a family business, [the group] was managed by five siblings, so the effort invested in getting the company going was much greater than what you usually see in other companies. The tremendous effort they made on a daily basis rubbed off on me. Much of what I took to Volfoni was thanks to them.

It’s been (I think it’s fair to say) a bit of a bumpy road for 3-D in North America over the years. There was oversaturation for a time, with a lot of films being released with subpar post-conversion that turned some customers off, leading to a decline in popularity. What has the situation been like in Europe? 

The 3-D world is like that. It has its ups and downs. In North America and Europe the trend is very, very similar. But there are always countries where 3-D is very popular, especially the so-called BRIC territories [Brazil, Russia, India, China] and in the Middle East. We always have stability in one way or another. 

I think there are several factors that directly affect whether or not people go to watch a 3-D movie. The first and main reason is the contents! As soon as there are high-quality 3-D movies (movies that haven’t suffered from bad conversions), a lot of people go to the cinema to see them. Of course, there are countries where 3-D is less popular, but it usually is like that. 

Look at the case of Gemini Man, where all the critics and experts recommended seeing it in 3-D rather than in 2-D. Or Avengers, or Avatar. The issue is that it is very complicated and extremely expensive for the studios to convert to 3-D. If a studio doesn’t consider the movie a blockbuster, then it just won’t invest in 3-D. This results in exhibitors investing less in 3-D technologies, as they don’t have good 3-D movies to generate ticket sales. 

Recently new 3-D crews for medium-budget Hollywood films have started shooting in pure native 3-D for the same price as regular filmmaking or HD productions. The result is far superior to the plain, flat 2-D experience. This change also allows distributors to bring a wide variety of content to theaters, giving customers greater choice on their local 3-D screens.

The second factor is, of course, the price of a 3-D ticket compared to the regular 2-D ticket. In the USA, small- and medium-sized exhibitors cannot afford to have 3-D in their cinemas because of the excessively high fees the studios charge for playing these movies. Or there are other 3-D companies that have a monopoly. Again, this is especially true in the U.S. and Europe, where there is a pattern of unfair competition and 3-D numbers falling. 

However, in countries where 3-D is very successful—for example, in India, China, and Russia, countries which, by the way, also produce their own 3-D movies—we have customers who charge the same ticket price for 2-D and 3-D movies, and their attendance is great. In addition to being a cultural issue, it is a matter of educating the customers. Prices in the end are a matter of marketing psychology, like offering something for $9.99 instead of $10. Customers will attend if they think that they will not spend more money and if the contents are good.

What are the technological advancements happening in the world of 3-D that you believe will have the most long-term impact? 

3-D technology is rapidly evolving, but it’s too soon to talk about [these changes] in the short term. It takes a lot of time and research for something as complicated as 3-D to evolve, even though we’re constantly improving our existing products for a better experience.

Things like LED walls with high definition for 3-D will come very soon to the cinemas. With the help of our colleagues in the industry (screen and projector manufacturers, amongst others) the 3-D experience will be improved, with more light and brighter colors, due to laser projectors, for example. 

Of course, the holy grail is 3-D autostereoscopic LED walls for multiple viewers, referred to as multiscopic 3-D. Or, in other words, 3-D without the glasses.

We got a lot of nominations for the Top Women in Global Exhibition list—and as far as individual people are concerned, you definitely got the most! People clearly enjoy working with you. What advice would you give to those new to our industry when it comes to networking and cultivating professional relationships? 

I try to get involved as much as I can and learn everything possible about the company I’m working in. I always try to stay real and be who I am. I place a lot of importance on ethics at work. I’m loyal, and I think that’s why people trust me. I’ve made a lot of friends in this industry, which instead of an industry, seems like a small family to me. 

The only advice I can really give to anyone is to be passionate about their work. Passion is everything. If you love what you do, then everyone feels it and believes what you’re saying. You create a bond. Another very important thing is to try not to stay in your comfort zone. Step outside of it and take risks. Comfort zones are usually for people who do not want to thrive. This means you’ll always stay where you are. You won’t evolve. Taking risks can sometimes go wrong. They’re very scary. But in the end, what you get back is always positive. You always learn something from failure. 

Who have been your mentors in this industry since you joined Volfoni? 

To start with, [my former colleague at Volfoni] Alain Chamaillard, who is now head of cinema EMEA & CIS at NEC. Apart from being an amazing man, leader, and friend, he’s always trusted me implicitly and pushed me to improve ever since I met him. He’s always shared his success with me and celebrated when I’ve had [success]. He always promoted me when he thought I deserved it, fighting for my rights without my even asking him to do so. I’ve learned so much from him, from this industry, and from my job. I’ve grown so much personally that I can’t thank him enough.

Apart from Alain, who is still acting as my mentor even though we’re not at the same company any longer, I have Francisco Lafuente, CEO of CinemaNext Spain, who supported me when Alain left. He guided me when I asked for help or was lost and has been there whenever I needed his help or advice, always wanting me to shine and succeed.

Finally, within Volfoni, I can also highlight mentors like Fabien Gattault, who was the CFO of Volfoni and one of the brightest people I’ve ever met in my life. And also my dear Bertrand Caillaud, current COO of Volfoni, who is always thinking about me and actively involving me as a key player in the future of Volfoni. 

What’s your ideal movie night? 

Very simple! My husband, the little cozy cinema in my neighborhood, a huge box of popcorn, and, of course, a very good 3-D movie.

Araceli Vaello pull quote: 

“All the grandchildren going together to the cinema with my grandfather is what I remember the most. For me, going to the movies is more about experiences than the movie itself. I remember the fights between us about which movie to choose, all of us wanting the biggest box of popcorn when we knew we wouldn’t be able to finish it. I remember those times with great tenderness and joy. Every time I enter the cinema, I have that feeling.”—Araceli Vaello on her most memorable moviegoing experience

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