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Valley Prop Houses Enjoy Rebound in Filming

Productions delayed by pandemic come back.

For the last two years, the Business Journal has checked in with some entertainment industry below-the-line folks to see how they are holding up during the pandemic.

All of them said they have been busy.

At History for Hire, the North Hollywood prop house owned by Jim and Pam Elyea, last year was the best one for the company in its 35 years in business. 

“The streaming services, Netflix, Amazon and Paramount Plus, they have such a big need for additional content that we were kept quite busy with that,” said Pam Elyea, the vice president of History for Hire. 

Last year, the prop house brought in 20 percent more revenue than it had during the pre-pandemic year of 2019. But that was partially offset by a 10 to 15 percent increase in the cost of doing business. 

“That would be due to increased Covid-related (items), cost of living increases and materials,” Pam Elyea said. “Sometimes it is hard to find material to do the things that we need to do. But the biggest challenge we have right now is finding people and having enough staff.”
 The next biggest challenge facing the company is the high rent it pays for its space in North Hollywood. The landlord raised the rent significantly right as the shut down began in March 2020, Pam Elyea said. 

Buying a building in the area the company needs to be in is not doable. “There is nothing to buy in the area that we need to be in to be competitive,” she added.

One of the reasons why she figured the prop house had been so busy was due to having clients who hadn’t finished up projects in 2020 when the industry shut down from the pandemic. So besides getting new projects, the company was finishing up everything that should have been done a year earlier, she said.

“That’s one of the reasons why I don’t feel there is going to continue to be this big growth,” she explained. 

In Burbank, fellow prop house owner Keith Marvin, of Lennie Marvin’s Prop Heaven, agreed regarding the delays in finishing projects keeping everybody busy.

“We started several shows that got delayed like this HBO show ‘Winning Time’ about the 1980s Lakers,” Marvin said. “They are almost like year-round productions and some of those started pre-pandemic and the customers were shopping around.” 

But as with the owners at History for Hire, Marvin faces challenges. “What has made it difficult is the supply chain lag of product, much of which are made in China or overseas,” Marvin said.

He will buy items in multiples, Marvin explained. For a scripted show, much of the dialogue is spoken while people are eating, requiring tables, chairs or bar stools, and other related props. 

“If I buy a new chair or barstool I need to buy a quantity of at least 30 to get it at a relatively decent price for buying that quantity,” Marvin said. 

But what he has found is that such items are not available or are very slowly making their way to the U.S. from China and other foreign manufacturing areas, he added. 

“It doesn’t hurt us now, but it hurts us going forward because you need to freshen up your look,” Marvin said. “But I think that will solve itself this year and next year.”

Rob Gibson is a location manager in Santa Clarita who has worked in the industry for more than 22 years.

He has been “super busy” the past year, with projects like the third and final season of Fox series “The Orville;” the Michael Bay feature film “Ambulance,” a season of “Reno 911” and is just about to wrap up the second season of a Disney Plus series, “The Mysterious Benedict Society.” 

“They did season one up in Vancouver and they qualified for the California tax credit and so season two was down here in Los Angeles,” Gibson said. 

For the Disney show, which is set in Europe, he scouted and used Pasadena City Hall for a train station in Lisbon, Portugal; the Santa Ana train station standing in for one in a European city; and the Universal Studios backlot’s Europe street. 

“We used the Disney ranch in Santa Clarita and the Piru Mansion out in Piru,” Gibson added. “We were very busy. We are coming in on the last four, five weeks of it right now.” 

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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