Mag. Barbara Gasser

Mag. Barbara Gasser is Vice President of the Austrian Film Critics Guild (AFCG), a voter of the Golden Globes, and a member of FIPRESCI. Barbara Gasser is the only woman to date who has served two terms on both boards of directors: the Los Angeles Press Club and later the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Additionally, she has served as a jury member for a number of international film festivals including Tromso, Mestia, Munich, Viennale, Palic, Miskolc, Helsinki, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and has participated in panel discussions and master classes. Throughout her journalism career, over 250 of her articles have been published as cover stories and she has won numerous awards, including the National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award and the Southern California Journalism Award. She is the recipient of the Jackie Coogan Award and was named Goodwill Ambassador of the State of Steiermark, Austria. Mag. Gasser holds a master’s degree from the University of Vienna and guest lectures at FH Joanneum.

  • Awards

Otto Nemenz – the “Pope of Camera Lending”

When Otto Nemenz immigrated to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, he dreamed of becoming a director of photography. The native of Austria started as a camera technician at Panavision, worked his way up to camera assistant and finally, in 1975, his dream came true, and he became director of photography on the TV film After School Special.

It was during this time that the precision engineer founded his own company renting out specially designed and manufactured camera equipment. Since then, Nemenz has provided some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters with his equipment, including Flashdance, A Beautiful Mind, True Lies, Sister Act, Ghost, Rock of Ages, The Ring Two, No Country for Old Men, Black Adam, The Gray Man, as well as the Michael Jackson music video Thriller and some of the most successful TV series such as Grey’s Anatomy since 2005, Bones since 2006, and Sons of Anarchy since 2008.

For his work on Terminator 2, Otto Nemenz received the ASC Award: Technical Achievement Award for Optomechanical Design and Development of the Canon/Nemenz Zoom Lens in 1992. His expertise with cameras and optic constructions earned him the nickname “Pope of Camera Lending.” At age of the 81, he passionately continues to design and develop new technology, and in our Zoom conversation, Otto Nemenz talks about his latest milestone.


You are being honored with the Legacy Award at SEEfest Los Angeles. What does that mean to you?

I grew up in both the Western and Eastern European cultures. My father was Austrian, my mother Greece. One half of the year I would spend in Istanbul and the other in Vienna.  As a teenager, I became the tour guide for the 6th fleet of the American Navy when they landed in Istanbul because I was the only one speaking English. Later when I worked as a camera technician at the Formula 1 races, I was also asked to translate between the English, French and German teams because I speak these languages. Throughout my career in the film industry, I worked with camera crews from Romania, Kosovo and Armenia. Through my camera work, I was able to make friends with so many people from many different backgrounds. The international community is my family, that is who I am. Therefore, the Legacy Award by the South East European Film Festival in Los Angeles is a huge honor.

What would you say is your legacy?

Legacy to me means leaving something behind for generations to come. To feel that my team will continue with the same spirit, passion and vision is a wonderful thought.

How did you start in the business?

My dream was becoming a director of photography at ASC (American Society of Cinematographers) and as I said before, it was very difficult to get my foot in the door. But after my first wife and I moved to Los Angeles in 1964, I found out [that] without being a union member, it is almost impossible to get hired. I knocked on every film studio door and finally got a job as a camera technician at Panavision.

Two years in the job came the next opportunity with the film Grand Prix which was to be filmed in Panavision Super 70 and projected in Cinerama. I got the job of camera technician and assistant on set in London and throughout filming in Europe. I love speed and it was during that time that I started to specialize in individual camera equipment solutions like mounting 65mm cameras on a car that is being driven at 200km/h. Some of the aerial shots were filmed from a helicopter where I was sitting in the co-pilot seat operating the Servofocus System for sharp focus. For some of the shots, we had to nosedive at 180km/h from a height of 300m to 6m above the ground.

Your specialty became doing things no one else could do. Were you never afraid something might go wrong?

I love challenge and to challenge myself. But never to the point where it is reckless. I remember in 1969, we filmed a commercial for Pan American on their 747. The job was to shoot aerial shoots while the plane was flying. The only way to accomplish the task was to remove the cabin door. The problem is that an airplane must fly at a certain speed and cannot simply slow down. At that kind of speed, the log becomes the danger. We were the first camera crew to film on a 747 in motion with the cabin door open and the log actually blew out some of our equipment.

Most important is to stay level-headed and not freak out because when things happen. You need to be able to handle stressful moments, stay focused, bring your expertise in and fix the problem fast. I always go through possible scenarios before each day of shooting, analyze and calculate risk. You also need to have the courage and say no when something does not feel right.

You started your business in the late 70s with two employees. Today you employ 48 people. You were able to keep all of them employed throughout the pandemic and moved your company to a 38,000 sq ft. facility that houses an inventory of over 3,000 pieces of rental equipment. What changes do you currently see?

A few years back, everything was about razor-sharp visuals to the point where you see every skin pore in the face of an actor. Today I notice a demand for a look that is comparable to the Zeiss look 50 years ago. Old lenses have a particular flair and perhaps there is nostalgia involved. But there is also the fact that the image with sharp lenses can be distracting from the scene. Using filters can compensate only for so much and a diffusion filter produces a different visual on screen.

Your latest technological achievement is the “Ottoblad.”

I believe in top quality and find it very exciting to develop something new. Our latest technical innovation is the Ottoblad lens. A regular lens is either in or out of focus. But sometimes a DP may want the image to be out of focus in the upper right-hand corner while the center remains in focus. For years, my team and a friend from P&S Technics in Munich experimented and tested on Hasselblad lenses until we were able to build a lens that would solve that problem. With the Ottoblad lens, you can twist the look in the lens and change the depth of the field while filming. There is already a great response from the entertainment industry. The first feature film using our new technological achievement is Joker 2.

What is your prediction for cinema in the future?

The film industry needs to come up with something new and I imagine the 360-degree visual experience is something industry leaders such as Disney would invest billions of dollars in. Because audiences want their movie experience to be exciting, it needs to be different from watching films on the flat screen at home. In my opinion, 360-degree visual experience paralleled with the same sound experience has potential to get audiences back to the cinema.

Currently, the Writer’s Guild strike is looming over Hollywood. What are your concerns?

If studios, producers, and writers don’t reach an agreement by May 1st, there will be massive shutdowns on the biggest films and TV shows. This will affect everyone in the business. The writers’ strike in 2007/2008 lasted one hundred days and cost $4.5 billion. However, today’s situation cannot be compared with the situation 15 years ago. I am afraid if the strike happens, the damage could be between $8 and $10 billion. Having said that, I do hope producers, studios and writers come to an agreement.