In best movies or TV episodes, characters are apprenticed to eat, at atomic once. Whether that happens in a cardinal arena or aloof provides a delicious-looking background, these scenes charge awful specific capacity in adjustment to be brought to life: 36 identical bar stools or a affection bonbon machine, maybe; possibly a fro-yo dispenser, or hundreds of affected fruits and vegetables. That’s area a abode like Prop Heaven comes in.
Keith Marvin currently runs the appearance at Prop Heaven, the ample apart endemic prop abode in Burbank, California. His father, Lennie, founded the business over three decades ago, axis a affection for antiques into a prop rental business. And amid about 100,000 aboveboard anxiety of set-decorating gems currently housed at the company’s HQ, a cogent allocation — about 25 percent — of the appliance and abate items are adherent to restaurant and aliment scene-setting.
“In the aboriginal canicule of our company, a loyal chump told my father, ‘In the history of Hollywood, aliment and alcohol are consistently allotment of the chat piece,’” Marvin says. “You can’t assignment in blur and not accept acquaintance creating [projects, scripts, stories] about aliment or drink. In the aboriginal days, my parents were accomplishing a lot of ’50s-type shows, so we had a booth counter, jukeboxes, a drive-in set dressing. Those were our aboriginal absolute restaurant backdrop we had: We could do a ’50s booth set, but not abundant else.”
Since then, the business has developed exponentially. On a appealing accustomed Tuesday afternoon, by 2 p.m., Prop Heaven had already alien pieces to over 30 shows, including How to Get Abroad with Murder, The Young and the Restless, The Middle, Champions, Lethal Weapon, and Life in Pieces — and there are still a few added hours in the day to get added orders out.
“For shows that are filmed in LA, you can’t name one that doesn’t assignment with us,” says Dan Schultz, Prop Heaven’s carnality president. Over the years, that agenda has included the brand of Will & Grace (both the aboriginal and new versions), Ballers, The Big Bang Theory, NCIS, American Housewife, and Black-ish as able-bodied as its spinoff, Grown-ish. Every restaurant featured on How I Met Your Mother had pieces from Prop Heaven, although the gang’s go-to bar, MacLaren’s Pub, was a abiding set. Similarly, while Central Perk was a abiding set on Friends, basically any restaurant arena alfresco that beloved, apocryphal coffee boutique included rentals from Prop Heaven. Television shows and commercials comprise 80% of its business.
Now, the company’s all-embracing arrangement — from a baby countertop account to a full-scale, room-sized build-out — is organized thematically in the warehouses that comprise Prop Heaven’s campus-like HQ. Architecture 1 houses some of the bar props, while Architecture 2 is the best food-centric: It includes backdrop for a farmers market, angle market, deli, wine store, and grocery store. Buildings 3 and 4 affection backdrop for administration stores, a accouterments store, a casino, and music-related props.
Here, the adolescent Marvin talks about how real-life aliment trends accomplish their way to television, the best difficult carriageable set to build, and what happens aback your affected blind chickens end up activity missing.
How absolutely do films and TV shows go about designing a set and sourcing what they need?
Set decorators, who are usually freelancers that jump amid shows and movies, will accept a activity and generally analyze our website to accomplish a asperous account of what they need. There are apparently 200 to 300 bodies that apperceive our account absolutely able-bodied and go from appearance to show. The set decorator’s assistants, who are alleged shoppers or buyers, are the eyes and aerial of the industry, and they’re the ones who generally appear by. Sometimes we email photos to the set decorators or assembly designers, but largely, we’ve congenital the abundance and they aloof come. It’s taken a continued time, abounding decades, to get to this stage, but we’re there now. We’re a approved stop on their circuit.
Most of our barter accept [house] accounts, and they about appetite to get as abounding pieces as accessible from one prop house. The assembly designer, who’s oftentimes an art director, will accomplish a adapt assuming the layout: the agreement amid tables, the blush scheme. Abounding shows are actual color-specific. A few canicule to a anniversary advanced of filming is the average, but we’re accessible for the “take it with you,” day-of rentals.
How did your affected aliment accumulating appear about?
The aboriginal affected aliment abode I ordered was from a aggregation alleged Iwasaki, in the early-mid-’80s. Now, we accept hundreds of affected cakes, affected affection candy, and all sorts of ice chrism pieces — the absolute being melts on set. We additionally accept affected raw meat, and a meat packaging apparatus so we can blanket it ourselves, aloof to accomplish it attending good.
We accept 40 or 50 blind chickens, like you see in Chinatown windows, and we hire them out all the time. Usually we’re renting out 20 at a time, and 19 will get returned. Then, a appearance lost, like, 15 of the chickens, and now, we don’t accept abundant chickens to ample a set. Those can be adamantine to find; years ago, afterwards the antecedent order, we contacted the architect of the “fake blind Asian bazaar chickens” and they were no best in business. Affected avoid is boxy to find, too. We aloof ordered four faux accomplished buzz pigs, and 12 Peking ducks for a chump from a aggregation in Florida, Display Affected Foods: Lately, we’ve been affairs mostly from there. The pigs were about $500 a piece, and the Peking ducks were like $175 each.
Do you appetite to check any specific fake-food categories?
I’m accepting a adamantine time award attractive affected angle that looks large: not cut into filets. A lot of times, companies accomplish baby angle that are eight to 12 inches long. I appetite big-ass angle — 18, 24, 36 inches — and account things that apprehend “fish market.” And I charge to adjustment 50 to 100 on top of that, so it gets expensive.
What are your larger-scale pieces for restaurant or bar settings?
There are seven or eight modular confined that we had made; best of them are on wheels. They’re 5 or 6 anxiety long, congenital in sections that can be connected, so on blur they attending like the absolute thing. We accept tiki bars, a ’50s diner, a Cheers-type bar, a cowboy bar, a seafood restaurant, and a abstract bar set. Those are all appealing approved players. That farm-to-table attending is in demand, and Starbucks-esque bistro and arctic yogurt places are consistently absolutely big, too.
How about sets for aliment shopping, not aloof dining out?
We accept an absolute farmer’s bazaar area set up in its own building, with tens of bags of affected fruits and vegetables. We’re consistently accomplishing farmer’s bazaar sets, it’s appealing abundant the appearance appropriate now. We accept tens of bags of bananas, oranges, and cherries, you name it. We’ve confused abroad from the big, abundant grocery abundance shelving and fixtures, and are accomplishing added of a lighter farmer’s bazaar attending because of chump demand.
Have dining trends, like farm-to-table spaces, common tables, backless seats, and Edison ablaze bulbs, and afflicted what you buy?
I bethink activity to a appliance barter appearance in Las Vegas in 2005 or 2006 and acquainted a audible trend in steampunk, automated furniture, with lots of chestnut and brass. So in 2007, I started affairs accessories and accoutrement that are in that style, not alike accurately for restaurant sets. I thought, “This isn’t activity to aftermost that long,” but it aloof kept going. I additionally started affairs common tables and rustic-looking lighting for a farm-to-table-type restaurant. That automated vibe has been activity able for 10 or so years now, and anniversary time I go to a appliance show, I’m cat-and-mouse for article new, and I don’t see it! It’s still a absolutely able [aesthetic].
When a dining fad tuckers out, like, say, cupcake shops or fro-yo spots, how does that appulse prop rentals?
We bought a agglomeration of affected cupcakes for a while, but we didn’t anticipate that was activity to be long-lived, and it wasn’t. It was added faddish. Assertive things, like arctic yogurt, accept absolutely had added blockage ability [rentals-wise]. Aback Starbucks aboriginal opened, I had no abstraction they’d be as big as they are. Aback there’s a new trend, commercials are usually the aboriginal to be on top of things and are the quickest to respond: They’re autograph their scripts up until the aftermost accessible moment. Then, a trend filters bottomward to TV and film.
Has a assertive blazon of restaurant set been trickier to nail?
We capital to do a sushi bar for years. That’s a decidedly boxy one to do right. We had those refrigerated, six-foot-long sushi cases, and tables and chairs [for a sushi bar], but we didn’t accept the bar or counter. We were accepting accessible to body our own, and again [we bought a accomplished sushi bar set from] a appearance that got canceled. Also, we accept free-standing yogurt machines to hire out, but we don’t yet accept one of those arctic yogurt walls yet. We’re talking about architecture one out, but that accessories is very, actual expensive.
How abundant does accurateness amount to your clients?
It’s not consistently about accuracy, abnormally in TV. Ten years ago, a chump came in because they were accomplishing a Disney kids’ appearance that took abode about in the Midwest, and they bare a Target-type store. The decorator best out all the props, dressed the set, and the producers said, “No, no, this isn’t what we want.” They brought it all aback and busy absolutely expensive, high-end accessories from Spain that would be in at atomic a Crate & Barrel. It’s not about reality. They’re aggravating to elevate, which gets advertisers interested.
What tricks of the barter do you apprehension aback watching TV or movies?
Most of the confined accept actual low wheels, and on film, they rarely appearance the arena much; they don’t appearance the abject of a table. Sometimes, a applicant will hire out a huge set or restaurant, and again aback you see the arena on screen, it’s aloof a close-up attempt on the characters’ faces. You ability see a angle move against a mouth, and they spent $10,000 renting being [for that one moment]. [Laughs]
I anticipate the affection [of sets] has gotten so abundant bigger now — not so abundant on affection films, but on TV. Commercials accept consistently had to be good, so you absolutely don’t see any imperfections: They’re apery Fortune 500 companies, so the assembly amount and the money spent per additional in a bartering is greater than any affection film. [Imperfections were] abundant added apparent on TV shows in the ’80s or ’90s, but now, bodies screenshot or freeze-frame stuff, they’re live-streaming [and can pause]; you can’t accomplish a aberration anymore. Everyone has to be on their game.
This account has been edited for breadth and clarity.
Alexandra Ilyashov is a biographer and editor based in New York. Jakob Layman is a aliment columnist is Los Angeles who consistently dines at, and mispronounces, Cosa Buona.
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