Can I farm my car out to the movies?
September 6, 2012 6:43 AM   Subscribe

Weird question: Is there a place I can register my newly-acquired vintage car for use as a movie prop?

I knew someone a while back who was asked to use her unique old car as on a movie set once. The movie was being produced locally to her town and they paid her to drive it back and forth all day. I always wondered how that got set up.

I just acquired a 1986 Ford Taurus with -- I shit you not -- 71,000 miles on it. It runs wonderfully. It's ugly as sin on the inside, but I figured that if someone were making a movie set in the late 80s they'd want the cars to match and, as I understand it, many of the first-year Tauruses were just driven into the ground then handed off to the kids.

Is there a place where you can let movie makers know that you've got a car they can borrow for their set?
posted by mibo to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like there are 30 or so prop houses, mostly in California.
So, what the deal? How do you get in on the action? First you need to locate, and register, your car with as many of the approximately 30 movie prop car agencies and brokers as you can. They are all known to the studios, and these are the people who get the 'car casting calls.'
Searching on the terms prop car agencies michigan turned up a few.
posted by tilde at 6:47 AM on September 6, 2012

An 80s Taurus isn't particularly rare--take a look at what this place in Florida specializes in.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:50 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The search term you want is Picture Car. I work in film and have never heard the term "prop car" before. (Though there are some regional differences, with picture cars in particular, so maybe that term is used somewhere else.)

In New York -- which is the only jurisdiction I have strong experience with -- you mostly get cars from specialized picture car companies. I've never heard of anyone getting a picture car from a prop house. Then again, picture cars are a very regional thing, so maybe some prop houses rent them in certain circumstances. Google "Picture Car", email some companies, and see what they say.

Another route that might be easier in Michigan would be to contact the Michigan film office and see if the people there have any contacts. There can't be more than one or two picture car companies based in Michigan, and the ones that exist probably dominate because the alternative is to have cars shipped from California or New York. Maybe also give the Chicago film office a call -- Illinois has to have a few as well, and it might be worthwhile for Illinois films to rent your car rather than having something shipped.

For stuff like this, especially out and about in random regional America, local film offices are your friend.
posted by Sara C. at 7:42 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd second that an 80's Taurus isn't very rare, but in case you do end up going this route:

1. As Sara C. said, it's "picture car," not "prop car," and prop houses do not have anything to do with picture cars. The two companies that I've used have been Cinema Vehicle Services and Studio Picture Vehicles - maybe call them and ask them about companies in Michigan?

2. Unless a car is the "hero car," or an important car in a movie or TV show, background cars are often supplied by background actors, who get a small bump in their daily rate for the use of their car (think ~$30). This is different for period pieces with rare cars (i.e., your friend's car), but I think that the 80's are recent enough that most productions would try to get away with having to pay for as few picture cars as possible. Maybe things work differently outside LA, but that's been my experience here.

3. If you know someone who works in the film industry in Michigan, ask them! The only time I've rented picture cars from individuals (i.e., not a picture car company), it was to do a friend a favor.

4. Is your car black, white, or red? If so, no one will want it. (Those colors don't look good on camera, or so I've heard).
posted by ablazingsaddle at 7:53 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need to understand that even if this does happen you're likely to receive an amazingly small amount of money for it. The person who drives a car back and forth in the background of a shot is an extra who gets a day rate plus a "bump" for providing the car. Non-union extras get around $100 per day, and that's in LA and NY. Probably less outside of those areas. For the "special skill" of driving a car you might add on another $10. For providing the car itself you'll get another bump of something like $25 bucks. You're not gonna get rich. And the basic day in film and TV production is 10-12 hours.

I say don't spend another second on this project. But if you find that there's a movie shooting in your town, and you discover that it's a period piece, then approach them to ask. But other than that, let this project go.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:04 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the only real way that this is going to be of immediate benefit is if

A) you are looking to sell the car. You might get a skosh over the KBB price if a picture car company thinks it's particularly impressive,


B) you think it would be fun to be an extra in a movie, and this would be your "in" towards doing that. In which case you probably should call Extras Casting companies in your area and mention to them that you have an unusual period-appropriate car in a camera-ready color. BlahLaLa is right that you are not going to get rich doing this. It would mostly be for the experience/adventure/storytelling potential.
posted by Sara C. at 8:10 AM on September 6, 2012

You need to understand that even if this does happen you're likely to receive an amazingly small amount of money for it.

It would mostly be for the experience/adventure/storytelling potential.

There's no business like show business. Don't expect to make any money off this.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:32 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

An '86 Taurus may just barely qualify for an antique license plate, but you should know calling that model 'vintage' is pretentious at best. Reference: Vintage Car at wikipedia.
posted by Rash at 9:56 AM on September 6, 2012

Response by poster: Gah, OK -- sorry I said vintage! I'm (obviously) ignorant on the subject of cars so to me vintage means 20 years or more as in, well, Etsy. Anyway, this isn't a get rich quick scheme on my part, more like I've always wondered how people stage movies that are set in decades past and now I happen to have my hands on something that could conceivably be useful to someone. Off to email the MFO.
posted by mibo at 1:26 PM on September 6, 2012

I would physically call their office, if at all possible. This would be an extremely low-priority sort of email, but if you call and talk to someone, they'll probably be able to give you some leads off the top of their heads.
posted by Sara C. at 1:47 PM on September 6, 2012

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