In one cabinet sits a set of Charlton Heston’s “Ten Commandments” tablets. In another, a “Star Wars” Storm Trooper helmet. One of Stan Winston’s “Jurassic Park” T. Rex maquettes looms nearby. And then there’s the glove — you know, the glove, Michael Jackson’s white glove with the flashing lights.
A visit to Agoura Hills-based Profiles in History is like a trip to a Hollywood museum. “But it’s even better,” says the company’s Brian Chanes, “because it’s a museum where you can buy things.”
Despite the country’s economic woes, auction houses such as Profiles, Propworx, the Prop Store of London and Screen Used have seen plenty of business lately, thanks in part to an increase in collaborations with Hollywood studio prop and wardrobe departments. Paramount sold off its historic “Star Trek” props and costumes in 2006 through Christie’s, generating $7 million, while a recent set of auctions through Propworx coinciding with the final season of the Syfy Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” also brought in a handsome total (which the studio shared with several charities).
Prior to the “Star Trek” auction, studios didn’t think much of the resources sitting idly in their prop and wardrobe warehouses, says Propworx founder Alec Peters. “The studios didn’t really value what they had; they didn’t really get it. The ‘Star Trek’ auction put everyone on notice that you could make some money selling the stuff from your shows.”
And though such sales generate additional revenue, “that’s never been the driving force,” says Kurt Ford, senior VP of production services for Syfy parent NBC-U. The benefits to the studio extend beyond the financial, bringing increased attention to the property, as well as clearing space for prop, set and wardrobe storage already bulging at the seams. “It was a great way to launch the final season of ‘Battlestar’ — what a great opportunity, from a publicity aspect.”
Creating an event such as Propworx did for “Battlestar” — two live auctions with public preview days and an online component — reinforces the excitement around the show among its most devoted fans, says Peters. “A studio needs to ask themselves, ‘Do you want mere asset disposition, or do you want to make an event of it? Do you want to make something that can drive hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free publicity to your property?'”
While studios will often keep props and costumes from popular films or television series for possible re-use (as well as for their own archives), assets from properties such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Trek” rarely find a second application within the studio. “They generally don’t do that with genre film items, because they’re so specific,” notes Brandon Alinger, COO of the Los Angeles branch of the Prop Store of London. “You couldn’t reuse, say, the Batman costume in another movie. Everyone would say, ‘Oh, Batman.’ ”
Fans of such films and series, then, are the beneficiaries of the studios’ woes, happy to relieve them of choice items otherwise bound for the landfill. “Auction events like these turn fans into collectors,” notes Peters, who, like others in his line of work, is a collector himself. And genre items have strong appeal for their audiences, who just can’t enough of the cool gadgets and gear. “Those films generate a lot of items that have been specifically built to create the world of the production, and those are the things that collectors seem to gravitate toward most,” says Alinger.
Having items authenticated by the studio helps seal the deal, particularly for first-time collectors who’ve never purchased movie collectibles before. “The screen-used movie and TV memorabilia marketplace is the most fraud-laden hobby in the world,” warns Peters. Many props and costumes are created in multiples, the majority of which are never used (countless “Back to the Future II” hoverboards and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” Holy Grails have surfaced over the years, for example). “When there’s a certificate of authenticity from the studio, there’s no question about authenticity. You know you’re getting the real thing,” Peters says.
And though some Hollywood memorabilia lots command prices on par with a new home, many items close within reach of the amateur enthusiast. “Not everything I sell is six figures,” notes Profiles in History founder Joe Maddalena. “I sell lots of things for $400, $800, $1,000.” A “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Star Fleet tunic, for example, might sell for $2,000-3,000, while Profiles sold Capt. Kirk’s command chair from the original series for $304,000. “This is not solely a rich man’s hobby, though if you want something really iconic, it’s going to be expensive.”
Buying such items gives fans a unique connection to favorite films or series. “When you’re holding Indiana Jones’ whip, you know you’re holding a piece of cinematic history in your hands,” says Maddalena, who started dealing rare film items in the early ’80s, long before FedEx and fax machines facilitated sales. “You’re buying your childhood; you’re buying your memories.”