Brandon Alinger loves movies and all the things associated with them, even more so if the item was in a Star Wars or Indiana Jones movie.
Alinger is chief operations officer of Prop Store LA, which this year moved into new 20,000 square foot space on Harrison Parkway in Valencia. The company occupies another 12,000 square feet outside London, and has a total of 30 employees.
Alinger has a degree in film studies and has written books and articles about film memorabilia.
His time researching production of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, took him to London in 2004 in pursuit of pieces of C-3PO’s leg and foot.
While in England, he met Stephen Lane, founder of the original Prop Store London in 1998.
Lane sought to establish archival standards for a prop art, a new, pop-culture hybrid of fine art and memorabilia collecting featuring original props, costumes and related production material.
The company’s inventory comes from film studios, production companies, wardrobe and prop suppliers, special effects houses, various other industry sources, as well as private collectors.
Early on, Lane recognized the appeal of setting up an outpost near Hollywood.
“Even films that were shot in the UK often had financing from the United States, so once filming wrapped, the assets were shipped back to Los Angeles,” Alinger said. “So it was logical to have a presence in LA.”
The company opened its first Southern California operation in 2007 in a 1,000-square-foot sublease in Chatsworth, before the company had even registered as a corporate entity in the United States.
From there, the company expanded to a 3,000-square-foot space for a few years, then to 8,000 square feet, including a second building, by 2011.
Four months ago, Prop Store made the leap to Santa Clarita. “It’s a working warehouse, all visitors come by appointment,” Alinger said. The company’s previous quarters were in a half-century old building, while their Valencia building is much newer, with 26-foot clearances for forklifts and storage racks, ten feet higher than the previous space.
Prop Store uses barcodes to track its thousands of inventory items, having looked and deciding against using radio frequency identification technology, due to RFID’s cost and barcodes’ flexibility.
Prop Store’s use of technology is almost quaint when it comes to poring through footage of movies and TV shows to determine which precise version of which prop was used in each scene.
“We’ve got people watching on Blu-ray, frame by frame, looking for a “tell,” a scratch or mark that helps us uniquely identify an item,” Alinger said. He said that software tools that might automate that process still don’t work as well as the discerning human eye.
Customers have two ways to shop at Prop Store, through a fixed-price “buy it now” option or as part of live and online auctions.
Prop Store’s most recent online auction, concluded last month, features items from Terminator: Genisys, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen. It drew 532 bidders who paid a total hammer price of $142,250 for artifacts from the film. Like other auction houses, Prop House adds a buyer’s premium, in this case 20 percent, to cover its costs. This brought the event’s total revenue to $170,700.
The highest item price: $11, 400 for a metal Terminator light-up plasma minigun. Prop Store archives all its auctions online, so collectors have a sense of where the market stands for various items.
Movie franchises, particularly in the sci-fi genre, produce a large share of Prop Store’s inventory, and it has tended to focus on the last 50 years of movies.
“We don’t do much with movies from the golden age of Hollywood,” Alinger said. “Our era starts with Planet of the Apes in 1968 and goes forward from there,” though the market gets murky with new films, because it’s hard to predict which films will have lasting appeal, and there aren’t enough collectors yet to know how much items will fetch at auction.
Changes in filmmaking technology toward digital modeling mean there are fewer physical artifacts. “We almost never find a model of a spaceship any more,” Alinger said. But he said as long as there are actors wearing costumes and using props, there will be market for people want to own a piece of the magic of the movies.