We have been the go-to supplier for many props buyers around the world for ten years and we’re excited by this autumn’s starring role for Scaramanga in Victoria and Abdul. 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 regular props buyer came to us first because 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 will bring the colours of India to the big screen, as well as high Victorian style with several scenes filmed up here in Scotland. It stars 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 Scotish 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 Shakespear Company looking for satchels for several productions. Our first big film break came year six 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. The film was about an imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, who is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection. In a big scene the storage trunks were to be stacked up on Liverpool docks in 1760. It was the first time we had worked with a action props buyer and it was an exciting experience.
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 si-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 asked Rebecca, who bought from us for Disney’s 2014 Sleeping Beauty prequel 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.
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.
We recently supplied more antique travel trunks for a Disney film that is being kept secret!
Speaking about the firm’s latest blockbuster film, Carl Morenikeji said: “We’re incredibly proud and delighted to have our products appear in a fifth Hollywood movie in just four years.
“When I founded Scaramanga 10 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 Scaramanga starring roles in 2018.
Of course not everything is destined for the big screen. We have seen our vintage furniture and interiors appear in TV period dramas in 2016 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.
Our biggest piece of 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.