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HomeCraftsProps for Death and Dying

Props for Death and Dying

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Bruce Schiller is one industry
pro who knows a lot about
death—or at least how to make
it look realistic onscreen. That’s
because the owner of Post
Mortem Studio Rentals had
already built a successful decadelong
career supplying mortuaries
throughout the West Coast when
he received an unusual call from
Walt Disney Studios four years
ago.
“Disney called us while making
Pearl Harbor because they
needed thousands of coffins and
we were able to provide them with
cardboard ones rather than ones
made of wood,” recalls Schiller.
“We were able to ship them flat,
which saved them a zillion dollars
as well.”
Schiller quickly realized that
providing death props could
become a lucrative and intriguing
new career. And in the past
four years, as death-centric shows
such as CSI and Six Feet Under
have become the rage, he’s found
enough business to grow into
his current facilities: a fully converted,
8,000-square-foot former
dairy that houses mortuary and
hospital room sets as well as a
collection of everything ghoulish
under the sun—or the moon.
Outside the building he has
created an extensive faux cemetery
in the parking lot with grass,
backdrops and plenty of hearses
for rent, “which saves the high cost
of shooting in a real cemetery.” He
also employs a 25-year-old assistant
who makes custom corpses,
body parts and headstones and
“looks like a goth Kramer [from
Seinfeld], is obsessed with death
and has a workspace designed like
a laboratory.”
“We’re building our inventory
of pure hospital props. We
have automatic electric doors,
elevator banks, sutures, lab coats,
stethoscopes, and scrubs’ lab
coats,” says Schiller. “On the fancier
end, we’ve got surgery tables,
EKG machines, defibrillators
and authentic and period pieces,
and our one-story building has
a functioning elevator bank for
filming along with electric doors
in the hospital hallway sets. It
saves you an awful lot of money
and time from running around
town looking for things.”
The results of all his efforts
have been extensive, as Post
Mortem assisted 52 productions
in the past year, ranging from providing
a creepy setting for Fear
Factor to creating whole sets for
the supernatural Fox series Tru
Calling. He charges $3,000 a day
for soundstage rentals, as opposed
to the $25,000 he estimates companies
like Warner Bros. Studios
charges, and he keeps his prices
flexible in order to accommodate
student productions.
Schiller counts Six Feet Under
among his favorite regular productions,
due to the fact “they’re
not prima donnas and its crews
have a strong sense of what they’re
looking for.” With a full slate of
clients always seeking an innovative
approach to death, he has
found he’s satisfied for reasons
that might seem strange at first,
but are in fact as basic as anyone’s
hopes for happiness.
“I’m 53 years old and at this
stage of life my friends are burned
out by their jobs and no one’s happier
than me,” says Schiller. “This
job embodies the three things
which I know and enjoy: I love
the movie industry, I love movies
and antiques, and I’m an expert
on death.”

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