Tag Archives: rental

Want Some Prop Stories?

Alabama man crafts props for ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ – Kenneth Spivey builds props for the Marvel movies in a warehouse in Alabama, just a few hours from Pinewood Atlanta Studios. His work includes repairs to the Infinity Gauntlet as well as Captain America’s Wakandan shields. So jealous.

Humble Book Bundle: Cosplay 2.0 – One of the latest Humble Bundles has a whole slew of cosplay-making books up for grabs. Here is how it works: you donate a certain amount and get a whole bunch of e-books for free. Donate larger amounts to get even more books. You only have until the end of May for this Bundle.

Celebrate Star Wars Day with These 12 Projects – Okay, this is kind of misleading since eight of these are yarncraft projects, but there are still a few prop projects here to keep you busy.

Best Chicago Prop House: Zap Props – SEE Chicago takes a video tour of Zap Props, one of the largest prop rental houses in the Midwest.

Prop Service, 1957

The following comes from a 1957 article about a prop rental company founded to fulfill non-theatrical needs for props:

by Anthony Bailey and Brendan Gill

One of the most agreeable aspects of the boom we’ve been having for the past ten years or so is the freedom it offers young people in choosing their careers. If a young man doesn’t like the first job that presents itself, he abandons it in favor of a second, and if it, too, proves unsatisfactory, he’s apt to go out and invent a job of his own and make good in that. Take the case of a new acquaintance of ours, a pleasant and enterprising fellow named Stanley Levine, who is the deviser and proprietor of something called Prop Service. The name tells precisely what Mr. Levine has set out to do, which is to procure all sorts of props for the remarkably large number of non-Broadway people in this prop-happy city who require such objects—professional photographers, advertising agencies, TV producers, and the like. Levine, an athletic-looking thirty-two-year-old, is full of drive and bounce, as a seeker of props must be; his only assistants are his wife, known to the trade as Rhoda Roth (her maiden name) a man Friday named William Sheraton, and a telephone-answering service; and his headquarters is a room on Sutton Place, shared by Mary Suzuki, a nisei lady who does illustrations for fashion magazines.

When we visited Mr. Levine in Sutton Place the other day, we expected to find the room crammed to the ceiling with odd and perhaps unrecognizable objects. We found, on the contrary, that its contents consisted of a desk, a couple of chairs, two telephones, a small wooden box labelled “Source,” and a drawing board. “We had to make up our minds at the start whether to buy props,” Levine told us. “We decided against it, partly because many photographers don’t like to use a prop that they know other photographers have used, and partly because we’d have needed a warehouse to store stuff in. We’ve often been tempted to break our rule, but so far we’ve always either rented a prop or borrowed it or made it.” What was Levine’s preparation for his singular career? Brooklyn College, the Marines, the Sorbonne, then jobs with the United Nations, the Journal-American, Warner-Pathé, and a public-relations firm. “After a while, it occurred to me I didn’t like working for other people,” he said. “Rhoda and I are incorrigible window-shoppers, and we know a good deal about antiques. We figured we’d put our interest to work for us by charging a fee to locate the objects that we assumed photographers and the like were constantly in need of. We hung out our shingle in December, 1955, and discovered at once, to our astonishment, that what photographers wanted weren’t just antiques but also kitchen sinks.”

We supposed that Mr. Levine had mentioned kitchen sinks as a symbol, but he assured us he hadn’t. “You wouldn’t believe how many pictures of kitchen sinks get taken in this city every year, and how hard it is to find exactly the right sizes, shapes, and colors,” he said. “This is a frantic business. Rhoda and I work as much as twenty hours a day, six and a half days a week. We had no predecessors, we have no real competitors, and I doubt if we’ll have any successors.” He smiled the rueful smile of the pioneer who fears he may have made too good for his own good. “In the beginning, photographers came to us for props. Nowadays, advertising agencies often come to us for props before they’ve chosen a photographer. Sometimes, in fact, we choose the photographer for them. Agencies also like to consult us on what a given picture may cost. Why try and build an ad around a picture of a diesel yacht if it would take their whole budget just to hire the yacht? They don’t know what a yacht costs; we do. One agency wanted a life-size stuffed elephant for a prop. A stuffed elephant sounds cheaper than a live one, doesn’t it? Well, we found what they wanted up in Yonkers, but the price was so high that we persuaded them to go to the Zoo instead.”

Municipal departments and big corporations are extremely obliging about lending props, Mr. Levine said. He has often borrowed blinking lights, manhole guardrails and covers, pneumatic drills, and other equipment from Con Ed, and has borrowed subway seats, street signs, and similar items of local color from the city. “Except for an occasional gratuity, no cash changes hands in such cases, but there’s a prodigious amount of red tape to be got through,” Levine said. “That’s what we get paid for—our headaches. Our fees range from fifteen to a thousand dollars. Some agencies and photographers simply mail us a list of objects they need, and count on us to deliver them at the proper time and place.” Levine took a letter from the desk and read aloud, “‘One gilt pedestal. Feathered angel’s wings. One hookah. One ornate fibre screen. One old conga drum. One sea diver’s outfit. One beehive. One live tiger. One mermaid’s tail.’ We then scoot around town in a fire-engine-red Isetta 300 and look for things.” The props that the Levines are proudest of procuring are a ship’s gang-plank, a baseball grandstand, three racing greyhounds, and an eggshell cracked just so. “To date, our only failure has been a particular kind of Aladdin’s lamp that somebody wanted—a million-to-one shot,” Levine said. “Except for that, we’ve never missed a deadline, and we’ve never turned down an assignment.” A telephone rang, and he picked it up. “Palm trees?” he asked. “Why not? Where?… What time?… How many?”

Bailey, Anthony, and Brendan Gill. “Props.” The New Yorker, 8 June 1957, p. 24.

Swearing at Props, 1884

The following is the second part of an article which appeared in an 1884 issue of the Bismarck Weekly Tribune. The first part was posted last week:

“Writing letters is another important duty of the property man. The letters which people read on the stage are all written for them by him. Actors do not commit them to memory, but simply read them when they are handed to them upon the stage. In the multiplicity of his cares the property man sometimes forgets to write one of these letters, and when the actor to whom it is handed opens it he finds only a blank sheet of paper. His wits must serve him then, and if he knows the general purport of the letter he can improvise it. If not he can only affect to read and exclaim when he has finished: ”Tis well.’

Swearing at Property Men.

“More fault is found with the property man than with all the other attaches of the stage put together. A property man is expected to know how to make anything and everything. If there is a crown and scepter required, if a golden goblet is needed, or if there is a demand for a handsome drawing-room mantel, the property man must make them all, and no one outside of the profession can have any idea of the skill with which a first-rate property man can make a most deceptive imitation of almost anything. Turkeys and chickens, either with their feathers on or dressed and roasted for the table; fish and vegetables of all kinds, pies and cakes—all are within the resources of his art, as indeed it would be hard to name anything that is not.

Several days before the production of a new play there is given to the property man a complete list of all the properties required therein, and it is his duty to see that they are all ready in their proper places at the proper time. Many of these things, of course, he already has in his extensive collection in the property-room. Others he will borrow, if he can, from other theatres or from stores which deal in the articles required. China and glassware, furniture, fancy riding whips, paintings and bric-a-brac are always borrowed from stores, the dealers being glad to loan them for the sake of obtaining free admission to the theatre and of having their name on the house programme.”

“The Property Man”, The Bismarck Weekly Tribune, Oct 31, 1884, pg 2. Reprinted from The Philadelphia Times.

Stories to End the Week

This Saturday (April 23rd) is the Burlington Mini Maker Faire. I’ll have a booth there, so if you live in the area, come say hi. There will also be real moon rocks on display, which are slightly smaller than theatrical moon rocks.

Hollywood Reporter takes a peek inside Newel Antiques, one of NYC’s largest prop rental houses for antique furniture and dressing. They have an exquisite collection, and have been outfitting TV, film, and theater with valuable pieces since 1939. Incidentally, this is the second article this month talking about how props is enjoying a boom because of all the content being created by Netflix, Hulu, and the like.

Sculptural Arts Coating celebrates 25 years in the business. John and Lisa Saari have been making Sculpt-or-Coat, Artist’s Choice paints, and Plastic Varnish right here in Greensboro since the early 90s.

Caroline Framke spends five months on the set of The Americans to see how a TV episode is made. She sees everything from the first table read, to dressing the set, to editing the final cut. This article is very in-depth and fascinating to read.

StarWars.com talks with Adam Savage about Star Wars. Though we know him from Mythbusters and Tested, Savage was also a model maker on Star Wars Episodes I and II. He talks about his time at ILM building models as well as his love of these movies in general.

Finally, Make has four cheap tricks for drilling straight holes. Nobody likes a crooked screw.

Five Fun Friday Features

First up, California Sunday Magazine has a fantastic tour of one of Hollywood’s largest prop houses, ISS. Gregg Bilson Jr., the owner, talks about the million or so items in all the different departments of this massive rental and manufacturing facility.

Also in California Sunday Magazine is this great article on Phil Tippett, one of the masters of creature effects, who is currently working on an old-school monster movie by hand. Tippett has worked on creatures in Star WarsJurassic ParkStarship TroopersRobocop, and many more. He hand-crafts his own film as a way to escape the monotony of digital effects and return to his roots.

AboutFace Magazine has an article on Portland’s prop master, Tim Oakley. Oakley has worked on projects such as GrimmThe Dark Knight RisesJurassic World, and many more.

Propnomicon points us to this video by Super Sculpey, showing how to use Sculpey to sculpt monster men. In this twelve minute video, Jake Corrick shows his technique for building an armature, roughing out the form, adding details and finishing.

Finally, Make has another round of six “now why didn’t I think of that” shop tips. Some of them I use regularly and find useful. Others, like the plastic friction welding, I’ve never heard of and can’t wait to try.