Author Topic: Prop shop gives used set pieces a second act  (Read 1750 times)


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Prop shop gives used set pieces a second act
« on: April 26, 2015, 08:42:01 PM »,0,1614383.htmlstory

When TV, film and ad productions wrap, props usually get thrown away. Film Biz Recycling in New York finds new homes for them instead.

It was the dead of winter, and Eva Radke needed fresh mint.

Not just a few sprigs to garnish a leg of lamb. Radke, who was working as an art coordinator on a toothpaste commercial, needed piles of verdant mint to make the ad work, and she wasn't going to get it in New York in January.

She found a Florida grower who flew the mint to New York in a private plane. She arranged for a heated truck to meet the mint at the airport and rush it to the production studio. Then she watched as the director rejected the lush herb, whose journey had cost about $8,000, in favor of plastic leaves. "They look more real," he told her.

"My heart hurt. I was insulted for the mint plants," said Radke, who had an idea that cold day in 2007.

Rather than toss the mint, she offered it to friends and colleagues. The mint was snapped up. If she could save the mint, she thought, she could save hundreds of thousands of props and set pieces: sagging sofas, fake Peking ducks and outmoded lie detector machines, to name a few, that would otherwise be trashed when productions wrapped.

Film Biz Recycling was born a year later, and today it occupies an 11,000-square-foot warehouse in Brooklyn, where the detritus of New York's entertainment industry from films and TV, music videos, advertisements and stage productions has a home as it waits to be rented, recycled for charity or bought by people looking for that red Formica dining set, that faded pea-green couch, that bearskin rug with the head attached.

Recycling is a relatively new concept in the entertainment industry. When a production wraps, there's usually no time to find second homes for castoff items.

"Everything must go. That's the mentality after a shoot," said Kris Barberg of EcoSet, a North Hollywood company that is hired by advertisers to make their shoots more environmentally friendly. "The crews and trucks drive away, and who knows where that stuff goes?"

Barberg said that from her company's experience, a TV commercial produces an average of about 1,000 pounds of waste per day of shooting. She called Radke's operation unparalleled despite the fact that discarded props are an issue in Hollywood as well as New York. The problem is exacerbated in New York because of the lack of storage space. It's often simpler and cheaper to hire someone to haul everything away to a landfill.

Radke, 42, a Texan who came to New York about 20 years ago, has worked as an art director on TV, film and advertising shoots. She said the props problem became worse after 2004, when New York began offering tax incentives to attract production companies. The number of TV shows and films shot in the city and its suburbs has soared, bringing income, jobs and much more garbage.

"I'm looking for a fake palm tree!" Doug Anderson said gleefully as he walked through Film Biz Recycling's metal front door one afternoon and found himself staring at just that. Anderson was shopping for set pieces for a new Web-based TV series whose opening shot required the greenery.

The same day, Annie Bickerton was looking for props to decorate a "Midsummer Night's Dream"-themed birthday party for herself and her 27-year-old twin sister. "We just wanted to do something whimsical," Bickerton said as she eyed the pickings, which change constantly as donations pour off trucks backed onto the warehouse loading dock.

Need an electric chair (fake, of course)? There's one to the left as you enter the shop, with a plastic skeleton draped across the seat. The wooden apparatus with the fake wires and electrodes had been used on a set to replicate a 1920s-era electric chair and now rents for $250 a week.

Across the aisle sits a vintage salon hair dryer with a gray vinyl seat and plastic helmet. A coffin is open to reveal a white satin interior. A headstone sits nearby, along with crates of boulders that look as if they just tumbled down a cliff.

Racks of clothing offer castoffs from sitcoms, dramas, feature films and slasher flicks: garish blazers suitable for Austin Powers; sports uniforms; a bridal gown with bloody human entrails spilling out from beneath the hem.

Rotted fruit bowls and dead plants show up on a regular basis at Film Biz's warehouse. Radke uses a compost service to deal with the perishables and tries to revive the plants in a tiny garden behind the prop shop.

Radke says her organization redistributes about 60% of what it gets to partner charities and other nonprofits. That sets Film Biz Recycling apart from other prop outlets in New York. So does the fact that the shop is open to the public, not just to those in the entertainment business looking for props.

When the Onion moved its farcical television news network from New York to Chicago, it donated 20 pairs of new combat boots, left over from its parody reports about Iraq, Afghanistan and the military. Radke gave them to a nonprofit working with Superstorm Sandy victims.

A day-care center wiped out in the storm received toys, books, puzzles and cribs. A man whose house burned down was given a bathtub to help him rebuild. A nonprofit that remakes disabled teenagers' bedrooms used fluffy pink pillows and huge Hello Kitty cutouts from Film Biz for one of its renovation projects.

Radke won't say where each item comes from, but she acknowledges having done business with "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live," among others. Some objects carry identifying marks. Clothing from "Gossip Girl" is marked "GG." "LOCI" appears on items donated by "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

A woman from Queens bought a throw pillow and later called Radke in excitement. She had gone to see "Sex and the City 2" and recognized her pillow in the film. A bust of Stalin and a black rotary telephone with a bullet hole in it were recognized as hand-me-downs from "Salt," the 2010 Angelina Jolie spy thriller.

"If Lena Dunham sat on it, sure, I'd be more interested in buying it," Bickerton said when asked if she'd be willing to pay more than Film Biz's usual price of about $200 for a sofa. "If it were on the set of 'Mad Men,' I'd probably pay $500 for it!"

Caleb Hoh, a 13-year-old aspiring filmmaker shopping for fake bricks, said he'd go out of his way to collect props from the "CSI" series.

That's one reason Radke keeps her donors private. She wants to keep prices low and prevent the goods from being resold for a profit. Film Biz sets prices by checking comparable items for sale online and then slashing the amount in half.

Radke started Film Biz Recycling with $16,000 of her own money. She used social media to reach out to her contacts in the industry to drum up donations. She quickly outgrew her first space and two years ago moved to the warehouse, where she has nine employees.

She recently held her first Golden Dumpster Awards ceremony in a Manhattan restaurant to mark Film Biz's fifth year and to recognize industry efforts to divert castoff items from landfills. The series "30 Rock" was honored for donating the most tonnage from a TV show 10.74 tons. Focus Features, which is owned by NBCUniversal, was given a Golden Dumpster for donating 33.68 tons of castoffs since 2008 from films such as "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and "Taking Woodstock."

Trophies were made of recycled material plucked from Film Biz's shelves: tiny animal statuettes, a miniature saw, a film canister, all spray-painted in gold.

Radke's dream is that her idea will take off in Hollywood and more props will be saved from landfills.

"That's what makes me so happy," Radke said, affectionately patting a chair. "Not the Hollywood aspect, but that it gets a home and that someone loves it. Then it's not just a prop anymore."