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Los Angeles, California

HomeCraftsOmega and Celebrity Props

Omega and Celebrity Props

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Following Las Vegas’ lead—
“what happens here stays
here”—prop shops and set decorators
want to keep properties
in industry hands, and not see
them snapped up by film memorabilia
collectors.
So shops like Omega Cinema
Props make it a priority to
resist the temptation of making
a fast buck hawking famous
set pieces to industry outsiders.
That includes the pink, tufted
chaise longue prominently featured
on Madonna’s latest tour
and in her recent ads, according
to Omega’s assistant general
manager Allan Songer.
“It’s not our business to eBay
the cool stuff used on Madonna’s
tour,” said Songer. “Our customers
require that we have a certain
consistency of our stock. And for
us to just willy-nilly sell things…
we would lose that continuity
where people rely on us to have
certain items. That wouldn’t fly.”
Songer’s customers are primarily
set decorators, who are intent
on being able to access the items
they need.
“I don’t want to see the rental
possibilities lessened in any way,”
said set decorator David Smith,
who recently worked on Steve
Martin starrer Shopgirl and director
Paul Weitz’ Synergy. “It’s part
of the stock and it gets harder and
harder to find things as the trends
go from one thing to another.”
“Right now Omega has a
great stock of ’60s furniture,”
Smith said. “That’s the hottest
thing going now. They could
probably cash in on it but if
they did that they would weaken
their rental market.”
One of the industry’s oldest
and largest independent
prop shops, Omega’s inventory
includes other prime historical
stock such as the dresser used by
Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara
in Gone With the Wind.
The Hollywood-based shop
spans 300,000 square feet and
includes hundreds of thousands of
items. The oldest of its four buildings
was formerly the home of
Cinema Mercantile Company, a
four-story warehouse frequented
by set directors for film luminaries
such as Charlie Chaplin.
But the company does not
make a show of its props’ pedigree,
Songer said, because customers
are primarily interested in
finding the piece they need, not in
knowing its back story.
Greg Grande, set decorator for
the 10-year run of Friends, said he
is not looking to use items that
could be easily recognized from
other high-profile productions.
“I would find it unusual that
I or any of my colleagues would
want to use the Central Perk sofa
or Monica’s apartment,” Grande
said. “We’re in the business to
come up with an original design.
Now that Friends is over, my goal
is to create a new show that has
some really new, interesting looks
on it.”
Both collectors and everyday
viewers continue to contact
Grande in the hope of getting a
piece from the show.
However, items that are not
rented from prop shops are usually
owned by the studios, who are
responsible for keeping or selling
them. The industry has changed
since the advent of eBay, according
to Songer. Previously, studios
and production companies had
open sales for cast and crew, and
then made the items available
to other prop houses. “But now
they’ve realized that the general
public would love to have a chair
that, perhaps Tom Cruise has sat
in,” he says.
Omega does not rent its items
by advertising them as showpieces
from former productions,
and Songer notes that an individual
buyer can afford to pay
substantially more for an item.
Still, the shift in the industry has
not affected the shop’s ability to
acquire added products. Omega
culls its stock from multiple
sources including props sold from
lower-profile commercial shoots,
antique dealers, retail and wholesale
vendors.
But not all studios sell their
props. Warner Bros. Studios’
policy on keeping props and set
pieces is tied to its archives, museum
and in-house prop shop, which
also rents items to other studios
and production companies.
“Archives will save a few items
for the museum or other archive
purposes,” said senior Warner
Bros. VP production services Ron
Stein. “The property department
determines what are good rentable
items.”
By keeping items for their
archives and museum, the studio
has been able to meet essential
requests from production
staff. When The Adventures of
Robin Hood was being restored,
staffers called Warner’s costume
shop to see if they had sketches
of a dress worn by Olivia de
Havilland. They wanted to
match the dress’ color.
“They had the dress,” Stein
said. “This is why we don’t
sell.” The studio does, however,
employ another means of disposing
of some items that would
not be recognized as coming
from a specific show. They
donate them to schools and outside
organizations.
Disney Studios also holds on
to most of their props and set
pieces, said Mark Snovell, director
of motion picture production
resources, asset management.
Some high-profile items are used
at premieres, events and theme
park displays. Other pieces are
put in the property warehouse
on the Burbank lot, where they
can be reused for other Disney
productions or rented to outside
studios and companies.
A few key pieces worn or used
by a film’s star are sold through
eBay or given away in magazine
sweepstakes, Snovell said. These
pieces are almost always one of
several copies of an item worn by
a high-profile actor.
“We only do it really to promote
the film,” Snovell said. “We
really want to hold on to the props as long as possible and maintain
an archive area.”
While they rarely sell to other
prop houses, some items that
Disney does sell include back
stock, things purchased and never
used, and pieces that were background
dressing on a shoot and
not recognizable.
Another concern has surfaced
as a result of the public’s
star mania. Items could be rented
from shops and individuals
could pay the loss/damage fee in
order to resell them at a higher
cost. Consequently, shops tend to
charge a significant loss/replacement
fee to ward off would-be
pilferers.
Items can slip through the
cracks, though. As a crew gift one
year, Grande made 150 replicas
of the picture frames featured on
Friends.
“[Some] of those have ended
up on the eBay website,” Grande
said. “It hurts a little because it
was a gift.”
The protections and ethics
applied by shops, studios and decorators
all aim to keep as much
stock available to industry pros
as possible. To that end, most
decorators do not have homes that
reflect their sets.
“People will say, ‘Gee, I guess
your house looks great because
of all the shoots you’ve been on,’”
Smith said. “And the truth is that
I think that probably very few of
us have pieces from movies or TV.
It’s sold to producers, directors
or stars.”

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