That’s all, folks!
February 21, 2013 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend who needs help (FAST!) finding a home for 200 to 300 scenic backdrops from film and television.

So, my friend (we’ll call him Huck) works for a theatrical scene services company in Albuquerque, and about two years ago they got a call from someone at a trucking company who had an abandoned trailer full of “we think it’s some kind of scenery and do you want all of it?” It turned out to be about 500 to 600 painted and photographic backdrops for film and TV, and yes, they did want them. The company has been storing them ever since, and even though they’ve donated/sold about half, they can’t afford to store them anymore.

Here’s the email from Huck:
So we have approximately 200-300 professionally painted backdrops, possibly more, from film and television, mostly Warner Brothers, ranging in size from around 10 feet x 12 feet to around 35 feet x 120 feet. Most are from the past 20 years or so, some go back to the ‘40s or ‘50s (the earliest dated one we’ve found is from 1952). The majority are uncatalogued and unlabeled as to the project they were attached to, but we do have photos of some of them. Most are translucencies. The painted ones are on either muslin or canvas, the photographs are on photo paper. Most are stored rolled and still attached to battens (up to approx. 40 feet long), however some are folded (mostly larger pieces, webbed and grometted), and the photographic drops are rolled in tubes (up to approx. 20’ long). We’re looking for someone who can use them.

If we don’t find someone interested in them, we’ll be auctioning off the entire lot this Saturday. I know this is really short timing. I can probably delay the auction if anyone is willing to pay something up front. If it was just me, I'd be more than happy to wait. Anyone interested can come by the shop on Friday, February 22, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and still buy individual drops.

There are representative samples of the types of drops that are included posted here. These are not part of what we’ll be selling, but they are of the same type, quality, and size (except the Looney Tunes). They’re beautiful, but we don’t have the space or resources to catalogue and store the remainder.

Thank you so much. I wish I'd asked you a month ago. Running too much to have me a good think.
My friend’s scenic company has:
  • tried selling them (mostly unsuccessfully) on eBay;
  • directly contacted numerous theatrical companies both locally and elsewhere;
  • donated some to schools both locally and elsewhere;
  • contacted some film/tv studios (they don't have as many contacts there as in the theatrical community);
  • posted the backdrops on their website;
  • posted the backdrops on the websites of other theatrical sales and rental companies;
  • posted the backdrops through theatrical email lists and such;
  • tried a lot of word of mouth (apparently, the national theatrical community is actually small enough that that does mean something);
  • even painted over some of them for their own use.
These backdrops are beautiful, and represent an enormous amount of work. You’d think there would be some interest in them as historic artifacts (maybe in LA?). Or did the film/tv industry consider these sort of backdrops disposable?

Huck would love ideas about places/people he could contact to find a home for these backdrops, preferably to sell (so they can recoup some of their storage costs), but also to donate. Or maybe even other (non-theatrical) uses? Or if anyone would like to get in touch with him directly, or wants to go by the Albuquerque shop in person, please MeMail me for Huck’s contact/directions to the shop.
posted by mon-ma-tron to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get in touch with:

Access Center
Academy Film Archive
Telephone: (310) 247-3016 extension 3380
Facsimile: (310) 247-3032

Caring for these artifacts is part of their mission.
posted by carmicha at 10:51 AM on February 21, 2013

You should also try the Museum of the Moving Image, in NYC. Their collection includes some similar things too and might be a way to responsibly home the TV collection, which AMPAS may not want. Ask for the curator at 718-777-6888
posted by carmicha at 10:57 AM on February 21, 2013

I came in here to suggest AMPAS, too. However this is literally the very worst week all year to try to get in touch with them, since the Oscars are this weekend. Their Margaret Herrick Library might be a good place to start.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2013

Also, at AMPAS's Margaret Herrick Library they have a Production Art section, and here's a link to their Graphic Arts librarian.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:13 AM on February 21, 2013

Is there anything significant about these backdrops? Or are they scenic backdrops from unremembered romantic comedies and Lifetime movies?

If you can identify any of these as being from a particular film, try getting in touch with someone at the studio. I know Warner Bros has an archive, and I'm sure the other major studios do as well.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:48 PM on February 21, 2013

I'd be interested in the Wizard of Oz one and the Looney tunes hannah.. Depending on price, shipping to Sydney etc (I have no idea how much these things are worth!)
posted by Jubey at 2:24 PM on February 21, 2013

If there's a Wizard of Oz one, the museum devoted to that movie is in Wamego, KS 785 458-8686. Good people.
posted by carmicha at 2:44 PM on February 21, 2013

There are a lot of companies that rent backdrops, usually to schools or small community theaters that don't have the facilities to do a lot with scenery. It's hard to believe that some of them wouldn't be interested in picking up some nice ones.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:47 PM on February 21, 2013

I asked my friend Metafilter's Own miss lynnster to see if any of the fans of her Hidden Los Angeles Facbook page had any ideas. Here's one response. (Maybe keep an eye on the Facebook link for others.)
David Roberson - Try Donelle Dadigan, who owns the Hollywood Museum in the old Max Factor Building on Highland just south of Hollywood Blvd. The have great exhibits, which take only part of the huge building, and tons of storage space, I think. These backdrops should be seen, not just stored. Perhaps she can rotate them on exhibit somehow? It is a great museum.
posted by The Deej at 2:54 PM on February 21, 2013

Hi everyone, thanks for all the suggestions!

For those of you who came here via Facebook, and can’t message me via Ask MetaFilter, I've added my friend’s contact info (with his OK) to the page with all the photos.

Those of you who’ve MeMailed me (or found some other way to contact me), I've forwarded your info to Huck, and his info to you.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 3:09 PM on February 21, 2013

Update from Huck last night:
Thank you so, so much. I got a call from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tonight, and they're interested. They're also quite busy at the moment making the Oscars. We'll see.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 9:14 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, as of Friday afternoon, Huck was in contact with several people (two in LA, one in Mississippi) who were interested in the drops. However, since they were not local (and since there were other things besides the drops slated to be auctioned), they decided to go ahead with the sale on Saturday with hopes of doing one of the following:
  1. Selling the contents at auction. With permission, they'd pass along the LA/Miss. contact information to the buyer, and with their permission, they'd send the buyer's contact to those interested parties. Hopefully a buyer will want to find folks to take at least some of them.
  2. Contacts could bid on the unit if interested. But they understood that wasn't likely.
  3. If no one bought the drops at auction, they'd see if anyone would be willing to pay storage fees until things could be worked out. It looks like option 1 is what happened. From Huck:
    I've been trying to get a chance to call you and thank you, and the only chance I had I fell asleep instead. But I swear I dreamed about thanking you. We auctioned off the remainder of what was in the storage unit on Saturday. The drops went to a guy that does haunted houses, so he should be able to get some good use out of them, and I gave him the list of contact information of people that contacted me. He did seem genuinely interested in talking to the contacts, so hopefully something good will come it. I wish I'd been able to talk the others into putting the auction off for another week.
    I'm going to mark this resolved. Thanks, everyone!

posted by mon-ma-tron at 8:19 AM on February 25, 2013

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