What Is A Prop Rental House?
This particular prop rental house is a special collection of fabulous plates, glasses, bakeware, flatware, ephemera, linens, serving piece, surfaces, and backgrounds that are rented out for film, tv, and photo food shoots, that are in great condition.
Amy and I have worked together for years and have become great friends. She’ll be the first to tell you, that she was pretty much a high end hoarder. Her garage and house are filled with beautiful props. In order to be a prop stylist in Los Angeles, you have to amass a huge collection of props in order to do your job, AND then buy and rent new props from stores like Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, William Sonoma, etc.
You see, Los Angeles didn’t have any high end props houses. There are loads of film prop houses with warehouses full of every kind of props known to man. The problem is, these props are basically trashed from years of abuse.
In the film world, when you have a moving image, you will never see a scratch on plate, or on a baking pan, or anything for that matter. In still photography, especially with the resolution of digital files surpassing that of film, YOU SEE EVERYTHING. Even things your eye balls don’t see will show up in the digital file.
So Amy knew of this huge need for a high end prop house and decided to open one, The Surface Library.
How To Rent Props
Prop rental is pretty standardized here in the US. The price of the item is for one week. You usually have to leave some sort of deposit. Some rental houses require you to open an account and go through a whole process for approval as they do their billing in 30 day increments.
You can go to the prop house, and do your “shopping” as part of your prep. You can place holds on items you are considering if you need to go elsewhere as well. Different prop houses have different rules for their holding time so you have to ask about that. With The Surface Library, you need to give them your credit card to hold props and they will hold for 24 hours.
When you pick up from Surface Library, they will run your credit card for the first week rental and you’ll have to sign their contract that shows what you are renting and the prices.
Make sure to ask what their return policy is. With some rental houses, you have to return at a different area in the warehouse and you don’t want to be the doofus bringing in a return at the rental counter. There also might be different hours that they allow returns that are shorter than their full day.
Some prop houses in LA are run by people who are in a union. There is an entirely different environment when walking into one of these shops. I’ve always had awful experiences with the studio union prop warehouses, so I try to use those as an absolute last resort. You can google “Prop Houses Los Angeles” and find a bunch.
We have an online directory for all things film related. It’s called LA 411. This is their link to LA prop houses.
Many specialty stores may let you rent items for shoots as well. Usually the rental is 10-20% of the retail price of the item for a week. Some of the stores require you to mention their store, a prop credit, when renting.
Renting Surfaces and Backgrounds
The Surface Library has lots of beautiful surfaces, hence the name. Amy and Alicia make some surfaces and also have artisans make them as well. They are just stunning!
This particular surface in the image above is called “Black Dimensional Faux”. It looks like metal, but it’s not. It is 36×49 inches. It rents for $150 a week.
Now, I know that if you are a blogger and you aren’t getting paid for your blog posts yet, this will be out of your price range. The goal for you is to get sponsored posts to the point that you will have a prop and surface budget.
The big bloggers can make $12,000 – $17,000 on a sponsored blog post, so just keep that in mind for inspiration. That budget will enable you to rent some surfaces.
Prop Rental House Etiquette
Prop houses are an unusual thing, and if you aren’t told the proper etiquette, you’ll have no idea what’s expected of you, so here’s a few rules to keep in mind.
If you put a prop on hold, then don’t need it – call the prop house to tell them that. Many people don’t do this, and it’s just common courtesy.
If you are a blogger, DO NOT GO INTO THE PROP HOUSE AND ASK FOR A DISCOUNT, OR FOR FREE STUFF! because that would be borrowing. This a “Prop RENTAL House”, not a “Prop BORROW House”. Know what I’m sayin? Just because you are doing a free blog post, doesn’t mean that the prop house can afford to rent you their items for free too. This happens all the time and it really offends them.
The Surface Library rents items for a price that you can not buy the items for. They are very inexpensive. You can rent a special one a kind bowl, or plate that was $30 – $100 for $3-$35.
When you rent items and put food on it, wash it before you return it. This might seem obvious, but there are stories…
If you break an item or damage it, just know that you will have to pay for that item and possibly pay for an additional charge called “loss of rental”.
If you are renting a surface – ask them what items are safe to put on it. They will know if there is a protective coating on it or not. You don’t want to put lemon on their real marble slab as that will etch instantly and you just bought that surface.
The Beautiful Photo Studio That Surface Library Resides
Another thing that makes The Surface Library special is that it is in a really nice photography studio space called the Historic Hudson Studios. This is the studio of food photographer Renee Kalmar, and she rents it out for photo shoots.
Amy and I did a test the other day and this is my tiny set in this lovely, large space.
If you have any questions about renting props or photo studio spaces, please leave them in the comments below. I will be doing a future post about how to rent a photo studio that will have lots of info in it.
So there you have it! How to rent props when you need them. If you liked this post, please share it on Facebook and sign up below to make sure you don’t miss the next one.