Vancouver Prop and Costume: A cut above

Photo by Daniel Nottingham.

When filmmakers in Vancouver need props, they go to Vancouver Prop and Costume. The company is a vast warehouse, tucked away on McConnell Drive in Burnaby. In it, art directors will find everything they need to make a film come to life visually.

Props of all kinds adorn the shelves in a selection so expansive it could easily be called overwhelming. Mark Robinson, the owner, describes his collection as “a motion picture prop and costume rental company.” Here, film companies can rent out props for the week in order to augment their sets and actors. The sheer number of props on display is staggering, with both props and costumes alike available in the tens of thousands.

The company serves a large number of the films, television shows, and commercials that are filmed in B.C. Some items are unique enough to grab the attention of filmmakers from afar, with business sometimes reaching as far east as Toronto and Calgary.

Robinson has been involved in the film industry for many years, on both sides of the camera. This includes work on various music videos starring figures such as Bob Dylan, Tina Turner and Bob Marley. Photo by Daniel Nottingham.

When a film is in its early stages of production, finding the right props for a given scene is vital. Typically, a production designer will work with an art director and set decorator to establish a central look for the film.

“The set decorator then is told to go out and populate the film with the style, period and ambiance that the director, art director and production designer designate,” Robinson explains. “We usually see the set decorators and their buyers, which are the runners that go out and try to find what they want … from a picture, a description, or a tear-out.”

Potential buyers will then tag any desired props up to two weeks in advance before the props are then sent off to the movie sets.

“Each item is barcoded and photographed, so we have a fairly accurate system for tracking what we have and how it performs,” Robinson says. Photo by Daniel Nottingham.

Because of the tracking system, it’s important that less popular props (those that sit around receiving little interest) be removed in favour of items that might gain more interest. The item that seems to gain the most interest, according to Robinson, is “a funky, very pedestrian, almost boring couch from the ’70s.”

The “bum couch,” as it has been dubbed, is almost constantly being rented out, despite being largely unremarkable. Less noteworthy items such as the bum couch seem to be popular, perhaps due to the specific visions of directors, and the desire to fill sets with more generic, less distracting furniture. Regardless of the motivation, Vancouver Prop and Costume aims to make these visions a reality.

The history of the store is a prosperous one, with close ties to the film industry in Vancouver. Originally, the collection was based in a garage belonging to Stephen J. Cannell, a prominent scriptwriter from the 1970s to 1990s, who Robinson describes as “one of the early pioneers in the Vancouver film scene.”

Over time, the collection expanded, outgrowing the garage, as well as various other small warehouses, as the props and costumes continued to accumulate. Around 20 years ago, the assortment of props was sold to 20th Century Fox and then to Robinson in 2005. Since then, the collection has grown larger, building itself up over the years through the assimilation of other smaller collections.

The result of this amalgamation is one of the largest prop archives in Canada, containing innumerable tools for set decorators to make use of. “It’s a collection that has grown over the past 25 years,” Robinson said. Given the almost overwhelming scale of the collection, it’s been 25 years well spent for Vancouver Prop and Costume.

Be first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.