We have been the go-to supplier of vintage and antique and vintage trunks, chests, suitcases and padlocks for many of the world’s leading action props buyers for thirteen years. We are super excited by this autumn’s starring role for Scaramanga in the 25th James Bond film No Time To Die starring Daniel Craig. Despite an 18 month delay, it has been worth the wait. With amazing scenery and some of the most daring action scenes. Carl shares our latest roles, his experiences working with props buyers, a funny incident involving Tom Cruise and his tips for working with top buyers. A props buyer we’ve been working with for the last 9 years called looking for 2 large antique locks and we sent some photos. He was impressed with our wide range of sizes and styles and bought 2 large brass locks. We have over 500 unique locks in stock at any time in over 15 different shapes and sizes. We discovered a week later that they were going to be for the 25th James Bond film. Carl was absolutely delighted to hear some of our vintage interiors were going to be in the next Bind film. He’s been a James Bond fan since he was 10. Our business was named after the assassin villain Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun. Our first big film break came 12 years ago when we had a call from a props buyer looking for eight travel trunks and storage chests to be used in the Tim Burton film Dark Shadows starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green. In a scene, the storage trunks were to be stacked up on Liverpool docks in 1760. It was the first time we had worked with an action props buyer and it was an exciting experience. Our most recent Since then we have worked with her on more than 5 films the latest being the action-packed drama His Dark Materials 2. We cannot reveal what the props buyer bought until they appear on screen. But we can say the items look as if they belong in the ‘New World’ hilltop village discovered by Lyra.
In the summer of 2020 we saw our old padlocks starring in HBO / Sky’s The Third Day with Jude Law and Emily Watson, an intriguing drama that “chronicles the individual journeys of a man and woman who arrive on a mysterious island at different times” and will allow viewers to follow the events of a single day in real time.
We were delighted to be asked to supply props again for the second Maleficent film Mistress Of Evil. Five of our large antique iron padlocks were bought for Maleficent 2. We asked Rebecca, who bought from us for Disney’s 2014, Maleficent starring Angelia Jolie, what she felt were the biggest challenges of working as a props buyer?
Rebecca said: ‘The very last minute requests. There can be changes on set on the day that have us jumping off our seats to rush and find a prop. The other challenges involve detailed research you would have to do in order to try and make sure that you’re getting the correct items. This often links with period projects or props that involve a specialism – there is always someone out there who can spot a mistake and we do try to avoid these as much as we can. We do have to allow ourselves a little artistic licence sometimes as usually the final choice is made by the director who possibly prefers the look of an item which might not be 100% true to detail!!’
The brief from Rebecca was for medieval-style chests and boxes with a good decorative finish and storage chests that could be carried. We thought several of our Shehkawati chests would work. They were used by affluent merchants 100 years ago as cash boxes and are always highly decorated with ornate carvings and brasswork. They were just what she was looking for and several, long with old wooden pots, vintage Indian quilted kanthas (blankets) and brass bowls were ordered and used in the film.
Earlier last summer saw the release of Disney’s remake of Dumbo. Two years ago another regular props buyer came to us looking for 10 vintage and antique travel trunks, large padlocks, long poles, netting and lengths of thick ropes. They were looking for items for a circus scene. You have probably worked out that there’s a definite trend in the props we supply for films. Much of the work involved in films is shrouded in mystery. Film makers do not want to give away plots, storyline and events and so that naturally extends to acquiring the props for the scenes. So it is not uncommon for us not to know the film the props are bought for, sometimes we are told in confidence, other times we have to sign non-disclosure agreements and sometimes with a bit of cunning investigative work can work the film out!
We sent nine vintage and antique travel trunks to the Dumbo film-makers, along with padlocks and several old school climbing ropes. Despite trying we could not find netting or old poles for staking the netting. All the trunks were original trunks used around the turn of the 20th century. The open large travel trunk, below, is clearly seen in the opening scenes of Dumbo.
So what is a hero prop? It is a prop that features prominently in a key scene or series of scene throughout a film. If you’re wondering if we have ever supplied a hero prop the answer is yes. A large antique Indian teak chest was a key prop in the Michael Palin BBC drama Remember Me. It was Palin’s first regular television acting role in 20 years. The wooden memory chest held clues to Palin’s character, Tom’s, dark secret past. We’re still hoping for a big movie hero prop. We came close when Rebecca asked us for two old leather suitcases that needed to be 100% identical. We had several that were similar, but none were exactly the same. We discovered a little later the film was Paddington 2 and the suitcases were Paddington icon case. However, we did supply the vintage padlocks that were used in the very dramatic final train scenes.
Whilst many films we supply are fairy tale stories with a lot of animation and CGI many are based on historical events and people. We were contacted by a buyer working on a film of the later years of Queen Victoria and her friendship with her Indian servant Abdul. She had worked with another buyer who had worked with us before and we had been recommended. She knew we’re antique chests, boxes, travel trunks and Indian antique experts!
She bought 15 pieces including trunks and an assortment of Indian bowls, boxes, tins and journals. Victoria and Abdul brought the colours of India to the big screen, as well as high Victorian style with several scenes were filmed up here in Scotland. It starred Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal as Indian clerk Abdul Karim who becomes her unlikely teacher and friend. Look out the them as the film opens this weekend.
We supplied the wicker travel trunk and hamper that were used in this Scottish Highlands picnic scene.
it’s a very rewarding to see our vintage furniture and bags on a big screen production. It all started when we were approached by a buyer at the Royal Shakespeare Company looking for satchels for several productions.
The buyer was very specific about what she needed: must look like they were from the 1700s, so a basic wooden construction, with irons; colour: dark browns and they needed to look as if they were from the 18th century. We had over 300 large chests and trunks to chose from and after many exchanges of photos and dimensions she selected 8 antique chests and trunks. We thought we had several days to get the trunks to the studio, but we had less than a day to get them to there so we had a arrange a same day pick-up and delivery to the film studio. When working with props buyers there’s a flurry of activity and then after filming things then go quiet for a while. Sometimes a year, often 2 years, then we start to see the trailers and promotional material. The really exciting part is then watching the film and spotting our trunks, suitcases, chests or padlocks in the scenes.
Around the same time we were contacted by a props buyer in New Zealand looking for 10 antique brass padlocks for the 2012 Lord of the Rings blockbuster The Hobbit – several of our locks could be seen on a chest in Bilbo’s house in the first few minutes of the film. Sometimes our props are seen for a second or two, but somtimes they can be a key object in an important scene.
Our funniest props story happened a few years ago. Jonny called us looking for a vintage leather messenger bag for a film he was working on. The bag was going to be worn by Tom Cruise in the action sci-fi film Edge Of Tomorrow. We sent the bag off and called Jonny to check it arrived OK, unfortunately, he had ordered a large bag and was too big for Tom! So it didn’t make it onto the big screen. In retrospect, we should have offered him a smaller bag knowing Tom Cruise is 5’7″!
The nature of the film business means we often don’t get any notice. A while ago I got another call from Jonny, at 3pm on a Friday afternoon he urgently needed six plain black late Victorian travel trunks by the following Tuesday for a scene in a remake of the classic adventure film Tarzan. They had to be plain and priced as competitively as possible because they were to be destroyed in the scene! We had several, but most of our storage trunks are decorative and were not the price Jonny was looking for. I had to urgently phone round our dealers and suppliers. We then spent the weekend collecting them ready to be despatched 500 miles to London to arrive on Tuesday morning. If you saw Tarzan our trunks can be seen in at the end of the epic wildebeest stampede through the mining camp of the Belgian villains directed by Tarzan.
We have a code: RED status at Scaramanga, which means: ‘drop what you are doing and help!’ a status often activated by props buyers.
The key to working with props buyers is to:
1. understand what they are looking for, so we use our experience to ask as many relevant questions as we can. These can include: size, style, budget, condition and timescales. Often if a p[ropd buyer is looking for a special piece they will refer to it as a: ‘hero’ prop. That means it has a key role in a scene. Perhaps appearing several times. If it is something we cannot definitely help, we tell the buyer immediately, as there is no point in raising their expectations. Carl always tries to give a realistic probability of finding what they have asked for.
2. offer relevant choices, which means having a good description and knowledge of the items, this may mean knowing its history, provenance, size and construction and having more than five high res photos showing all the views of the piece.
3. act quickly, get back to the buyer as soon as you can and quick despatch quickly, as shooting schedules are often very tight. We cannot simply pop our props along to Pinewood Studios. We have to factor in a 500 miles journey from Scotland.
4. The props buying community is a small, but well connected group of dedicated people working directly with directors to source props for specific scenes. So if a supplier or contact has done a good job sourcing a hard to find prop or they find a specialist supplier they will often share their experiences and contacts with other props buyers. So it’s critical to do a good job. We have never let a props buyer down.
Carl “When I founded Scaramanga 14 years ago and named it after a Bond movie character (Christopher Lee’s assassin in The Man With The Golden Gun), I never imagined that by now our reputation for original vintage and antique items, as well as our own bags, would be so good that we’d become the first-choice supplier for so many Hollywood movie props buyers.
Look out for more dramatic Scaramanga starring roles in 2021 (wink wink)!!
Of course not everything is destined for the big screen. We have seen our vintage furniture and interiors appear in reality TV shows. We supplied The Crystal Maze with wooden chests and old padlocks for their medieval zone. A bright red retro suitcase appeared on Stictly Come Dancing. Our biggest piece of props work was to supply the Celebrity Big Brother House with 300 antique iron padlocks for the opening day of their 2016 series. Everything in the entire house was chained and padlocked away. Contestants had to win tasks and challenges to get their suitcses or even sleep on their beds.
Darren Day, like all the other contestants, looking dazed and confused by the chains and padlocks locking absolutely everything down!
We supplied more iron padlocks for Jericho. Set in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1870s, the series focuses upon the shanty town of Jericho, home to a community that will live, thrive and die in the shadow of the viaduct they’ve been brought together to build. Jericho is a community of people with secrets to hide and those looking to start again.
5 million people tuned in to watch Michael Palin and Julia Salwalha in BBC1’s supernatural thriller Remember Me in December 2014. The Sunday night series tells the story of pensioner Tom Parfitt (Michael Palin) and the ghostly spirit that wreaks havoc around him and everyone who enters his world. At the end of the first episode there was a very scary scene in which a boy discovers an old wooden chest full of Indian mementos and old sepia photos in the upstairs rom of a haunted house. The chest in the dark moody room was a Scaramanga antique wedding chest. And is what props buyers call a ‘hero’ piece. It was a significant prop that was very noticable in the episode, when two boys discover the attic room. There were dark and moody shots of the chest and other parts of the room as a ghost makes itself felt, with flashes of a mysterious Indian women who is at the centre of the drama. One showing of our chest was not enough. Channel Four’s Gogglebox repeated the ‘Ghostly Indian Woman’ scene earlier this week.