When longtime Hollywood camera rental house Otto Nemenz Intl. reopened for business over the summer in its new Culver City location, it didn’t have any trouble reconnecting with its customers.
“I have used Otto Nemenz exclusively for my camera rental needs since 2013 when I took over ‘Ray Donovan’ for Showtime,” says cinematographer Robert McLachlan. “The service was so impressive we continued to use them when the show moved to New York in 2018. Even though they don’t have an office there, the service was impeccable.” McLachlan, the DP on HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” which shoots in Atlanta, works with Otto Nemenz in that city, where the shop has a second branch.
The reason for that kind of loyalty: customized camera packages based on the needs of its Hollywood clients. Personalized care — increasingly rare for rental shops — has been a trademark since Nemenz, a cinematographer and camera operator, founded the company in 1979, when he was 38. Growing up in Europe, he says, he learned that “the customer is king.”
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Otto Nemenz had cameras in about 20 productions at any one time, providing equipment to TV series including “Lucifer” and “The Good Place” as well as films like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “High School Musical.”
Needing to expand to keep up with business, the shop moved from Hollywood into a location that affords more parking, workshop space to prep camera packages and a 3D printer for prototype customization.
With the industry rapidly developing techniques and technology, the shop consistently updates its website with new gear available. Among the hundreds of cameras on-site: the currently popular full-frame Sony Venice and the Alexa LF. There are also about 3,000 lenses available.
“A few years ago, you used to be able to do 120 miles per hour in a fast car,” Nemenz says. “Today, you do 150. That’s about the same thing with the lenses. They’re higher performance, and they’re lighter, smaller, higher quality.”
The size of the new building — 38,000 square feet, with 21 prep bays and a staff of about 40 — took on additional meaning when the pandemic caused unforeseen roadblocks to business. The reopening has brought COVID-19 safety measures that require visitors to sign in, have their temperatures checked, wear a mask and maintain six feet of distance from others in the building — made easier with wider hallways. “Insecure” DP Michelle Lawler describes the degree of customer safety as “next level.” Fritz Heinzle, head of the company’s marketing department, says that business is back up to about 80% of pre-pandemic levels.
The shop’s staff cleans all equipment brought back to the company in a manner consistent with the heightened health protocols in place on film sets.
The workshop can turn around pandemic-friendly customizations within hours. Since face shields are required for crew members while shooting on many sets, Otto Nemenz personalizes camera viewfinders that work with the protective equipment.
“The way we set up cameras is the right way to do it — the traditional way,” Heinzle says. “We customize the cameras for the director, for the cameraman, for the camera assistants. We try to make their lives as easy as possible.”