Often unnoticed to the untrained eye, props function as the glue that holds a movie together. Whether it is a Civil War battle or a futuristic alien invasion, prop masters are charged with the task of making sure every detail on the screen appears historically accurate and realistic.
But what is a prop? It seems like a simple question, but it is not so easy. A prop is anything a character can pick up, be it a magazine, weapon, or lamp. This can include food items and, depending on production, even decals, such as those on the sides of ambulances and police cars.
A prop is not, however, the vehicle itself. It is also not the furniture that the lamp sits on or the uniform that goes with the weapon, although jewelry can be considered a prop. So while Judy Garland’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” pulled quite a prize at auction, they aren’t props. Nor is Orson Welles’ pinstriped shirt from “Citizen Kane,” but the sled called “Rosebud” owned by a young Welles in the movie would be considered a prop, and was bought at auction by Steven Spielberg in 1982 for $60,500...
When it comes to collecting props, there are two types: those that were actually used on a movie set during production, and replicas, which may even be licensed by a studio. Like autographs, it is often extremely difficult to fully authenticate a prop. Studios have even been known to sell props post-production claiming they were used on set, when the piece in question was actually a less collectible re-creation.
Getting your hands on authentic props can be difficult. In older movies, props were often discarded after the film because the studios didn’t have space to store them. In other instances, props were left in the possession of the prop master, which is why such individuals are usually the best sources of authentic props.
Acquiring props from recent movies is no easier. Because studios pay for the props in a film, they often maintain possession of them after production. In recent years, studios have started to hold on to props so they can be used in sequels, potential or planned. In other instances, studios will hire an auctioneer to sell props immediately after filming has ceased in order to recoup some of the movie’s production costs.
The prop collector also needs to keep in mind that many props are not what they appear to be on screen. For example, if a character in a movie that’s set in the 18th century is reading a book, the prop master may use a contemporary book as a base and attach a Photoshopped cover to make it appear both new and from the 18th century. In other cases, props are merely rented from a prop house. Rented props are obviously not going to be for sale after a film has concluded shooting, but prop houses occasionally have sales to clear out their warehouses, which makes them good sources.
For the most part, props from the most memorable movies are the ones most sought by collectors, be it a blaster from the original “Star Wars,” a pair of dice rolled by Marlon Brando in “Guys and Dolls,” or the “Witch Remover” sprayer used by the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”
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Joliet Public Library announces plans for annual Star Wars DayChicago Tribune, May 22nd
The daylong event has been billed as a family festival of galactic proportions, complete with more than 40 costumed Star Wars characters, games, live music, prize drawings, movie prop exhibits, artists and more, according to a library press release...Read more
Star Trek's replicator comes to life thanks to NASA fundingVentureBeat, May 21st
I know it sort of looks like a fraught-with-science version of a Willy Wonka movie prop, but that machine is actually synthesizing chocolate from cartridges containing sugars, complex carbohydrates, protein, and so on. The NASA-funded project comes...Read more
'Star Wars' Actress to Appear At Library EventPatch.com, May 20th
Public Library as it is transformed into the 4th Annual Star Wars™ Day-a family festival of galactic proportions complete with over 40 costumed Star Wars™ characters, games, live music, prize drawings, movie prop exhibits, Star Wars™ artists and...Read more
Brendan Benson Announces August 2013 Uk Live DatesContactmusic.com, May 17th
Last year NME called out Benson as "one of America's greatest songwriters" and "the 21st-century Harry Nilsson", describing his What Kind Of World album, somewhat eloquently, as "glistening radio rock... more hooks than a Saw movie prop department"...Read more
Cashing In On HollywoodNewscentralga, May 15th
Lowe says, "When I saw it was going to be available, I jumped at the chance to make it a movie prop". They cut off the front… took out the base so it could sit flat... and you can even pull out windows if you need to… "The big advantage of any prop...Read more
Suspicious Vest Bought by New Jersey Thrift Shop Was Movie PropNBC New York, May 12th
A suspicious vest with wires and a switch that was found earlier this week among items a northern New Jersey thrift shop purchased from a California storage locker originally belonged to a movie production crew, police confirmed. Authorities said they...Read more
police say vest detonated overnight was likely a movie propNJ.com, May 10th
CLIFTON—The wired vest that was detonated by members of the bomb squad early this morning did not contain explosives and was probably a movie prop, authorities said. Police were called to the New 4 You pawn shop on Lakeview Avenue Thursday night...Read more
New York gun control law could ban movie prop gunsGOPUSA, May 2nd
New York state's new ban on assault weapons could force police shows and violent movies to film elsewhere, producers say. Industry experts say that switching to fake guns is not practical, The New York Times reported Wednesday. But the law, which also...Read more