Part one of my Definitive guide to screen used props.
By Stuart D. of Showreel Relics 1st June 2020
So, you’ve decided to buy that prop from your favourite movie or tv show? Any beginner’s guide to screen used props, must help you address the following questions…
Do you know if you are buying a screen used, screen matched piece? Is it a production used, production backup, a production made prop? Is it a hero, background, stunt piece? Or something else?
Collecting props from our favourite motion pictures and television shows can be a rewarding and fun hobby. It can also at times be a bit of a challenge!
With often scant information about the prop we are considering buying, we need to invest in doing some due diligence! We will want to know some important things about our prop and it’s part in the movie or television show it came from.
For example, was it used, held, carried, or worn by a principal character? Did it appear on the screen? Was it used by an extra in the crowd? Is it a stunt piece? Was it used by the stunt team? And did it even make it on to the set?
Standard industry terms.
By understanding some key terms and descriptions used by prop collectors and sellers, you will feel more confident in making that purchase. Knowing its intended use will help enrich your prop’s history and potentially add to the value of your prop. This beginner’s guide to screen used props will focus on these industry terms.
Most studio prop departments (as a part of their inventory management) will often label or tag some props as “hero” or “stunt” and may include a character’s name. But the vast majority of props that make it to the market, bear little or no studio markings or identification. Original tags do not always remain with the props, which can lead to confusion, assumptions, and interpretations. Third-party prop sellers will likely not have the full history of the item or had enough time to research the prop you are considering purchasing. So, do not accept on face value, a cobbled-together description that misses some basic and often easy to assert information. The marvellous news is that most experienced collectors and sellers will be able to classify your prop into one (or more) of the categories we’ll discuss shortly.
Very few one-offs!
First, (and importantly) without exception, almost every prop will have multiples! Imagine the massive cost involved in halting production to replace a damaged or missing “one-of-a-kind” prop! That said though, production do not make props to last beyond their purpose, and since they’re often destroyed or discarded, attrition means you may end up with the “last of the remaining…..” which can make that piece rare and special.
So, what are these categories and terms? In other words, how did the prop fit into the production, and did we see it? Who was likely to have used it? In place of studio tags & official identification, let’s explain these common terms and categories used by collectors and sellers to describe their props.
What is it?
A “screen matched” prop is one you can point to on the screen and match it (by way of imperfections or unique markings) to your prop! Ideally, you will have identified scratches/color imperfections, etc. to enable the match. Any props can potentially be screen matched whether hero, stunt, or even background!
A “screen used” prop (unless it is screen matched) is hard to label as “screen used”! I prefer the term “production used” which is easier to categorize because most production used props will display some obvious wear, consistent with use on set. Not every production used prop will enjoy screen time, or be easy to spot.
A “Production backup” may be any hero, stunt, or background prop sitting on the bench waiting to join in. In other words, the production may never have used it, but they made it just in case!
“Production made” relates to any prop created specifically for that single production, irrespective of whether it was used during production!
So who used it?
A “hero” prop is generally a more detailed & realistic looking piece and will appear in close-ups. It may have moving parts allowing for greater interaction with the actor, and the principal characters will more likely have used it. “Hero” props will always be the most expensive props to buy.
“Stunt” props are usually (but not always) less detailed & generally static, made mainly of rubber and foam to minimize risk. These fall into two user categories: Members of the stunt crew used it, or the principal characters used it for the sake of safety. “Stunt” props will be less expensive to buy than hero props.
“Background” props aren’t made to feature in close-ups and thus require less detailing and subsequently not finished as well. Often, seams from molds, etc. are more obvious. Prop makers will mostly use combinations of rubber, resin, and foam to fashion background props. Background props are the least expensive props to buy.
As a prop collector, you can expect to come across these terms and classifications in many descriptions relating to props. As a seller, it is important to include these descriptors in your listings to accurately represent the prop. A buyer should understand the different terms and ask the seller for clarification whenever necessary.
Any beginner’s guide to screen used and production used props must explain these terms and their meaning
A couple of things to consider.
If you aim to own a prop used by the lead actor and you don’t want to pay a fortune for the “Hero” prop. Consider a “Stunt” version used by the actor instead! After all, if it’s an action film, the main cast would likely have spent more time with the stunt props than with the hero versions!
Also, if you want to own an inexpensive item that probably had lots of screen time and likely to be a one-of-a-kind piece, consider a piece of set decoration!
Set decoration is often overlooked, but it offers some benefits for the collector. For example, static sets in a film or television show are usually one-offs since nobody is touching (damaging) them. It likely will have had a lot of on-screen use. For instance, think about the frequency your favorite television shows used apartment/diner/school sets!
Likewise, and as a personal example, one of my favorite items is a barrel I acquired cheaply. It is unique, one-of-a-kind, and visible in “Executioner’s Square” in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. I have plenty of great props from the film, however, this piece of set decoration is the only one in existence… and I have it! So, with this hobby, don’t always equate dollars spent to the satisfaction gained!
Prop collecting offers anyone a chance to collect and connect with just about any of their favourite movies or television shows. It caters for most budgets, depending on what items interest you most.
I hope you found the Beginner’s Guide To Screen Used Props [part one] helpful. Thanks for reading and enjoy this wonderful hobby!
If you’ve read this far, please leave a comment, share your own story. If you disagree with anything or believe I have missed something, please let me know, I would love to hear from you.