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When setting out to create narrative or commercial film projects, there’s an important element you should be mindful not to overlook – film props.
Here’s a quick overview of what they are, why you should invest some time to find exactly the right ones for your film and information on where you can find some great ones at a low price!
Film props are objects that are written into your film’s story that you need to create the world of the film. When it comes to renting cheap (i.e., affordable) film props, you’re mainly limited by your location, with most of the best rental houses operating out of big cities. But if you’re looking to buy film props outright, there are solid resources online like eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Omega Cinema Props, Modernica Props, and a few others.
Lots to dig into there, so let’s go ahead and start with answering a simple question.
What are film props?
As mentioned above, props in a film are objects that are important to the story, either because your characters interact with them directly or because they tell us something about the story, be it the world, characters, or mechanics of the plot.
Think about the snowglobe and the sled from Citizen Kane; the knife from Psycho; the hoverboard from Back to the Future; the lightsaber from Star Wars; all the guns and cars from your favorite action movies; even the horse head in the bed from The Godfather counts!
Why are film props important?
Film props are important not just because they’re iconic but also because they are essential to the story.
Not only that, they build the world around your characters and make it feel real and lived in. One reason why so many fans loved the original Star Wars films was that they felt so immersive. And a major reason for this had to do with the unique costumes and amazing props!
Having good film props is akin to good production value – the better quality, i.e., the props’ realism, the higher the production value of your film will feel.
Where do you get cheap (affordable) film props?
So how can you get good quality film props for your upcoming film? One method that comes highly recommended by every production designer I’ve ever worked with is prop rental houses.
Film Prop Rental Houses.
Depending on where you live, prop houses are probably the number one place to go for cheap film props because you can rent the items instead of having to buy them. The variety of options you can find at rental house is very handy, as you can be lucky to get all you need in one place.
Also, renting your film props is usually more affordable as long as you don’t incur late fees.
However, this option depends on where you live. You’ll be limited to the prop houses available in your local area – which might reduce the quality of the items at your disposal and/or raise the cost of the items in question.
For instance, if you live in Los Angeles, there’s plenty of prop houses at your disposal with competitive rental rates. But if you live somewhere like Des Moines, Iowa, without a booming film industry (no offense meant!), you’ll need to rely on more theatrical prop rental houses.
Yard sales or Thrift Stores.
Outside of renting props directly from a prop house, there are a few other options to find cheap film props for your next production. Going to second-hand sales, like a yard sale or thrift store, is a great way to find potentially vintage items, usually at a surprisingly fair price.
For instance, let’s say you are looking for costumes to dress characters like they are from the early 1990s. Most thrift stores would have some offerings that fit that bill.
Or let’s say you’re looking to dress a cast in a more modern look, but you don’t want to go out and pay a boatload to buy new clothes off the shelf. If you’re lucky, a local yard sale is one often-overlooked option to score some thrifty finds.
Instead of relying solely on prop rental houses and other options that are location specific, here are a few resources you can use no matter where you live.
Omega Cinema Props.
One high-quality prop house that is based in Los Angeles but ships their props internationally is Omega Cinema Props. Omega offers affordable weekly rental rates, and even offers discounts per week for every continuous week you rent with them – after you’ve established a relationship.
Looking through their catalog of items, they have a lot of high-quality production grade furniture, hardware, electronics, appliances, and depending on the category of object, you can sort their catalog online with qualifiers for period, style, aesthetic, etc.
This is a valuable resource for shooting a larger production. Because Omega carries high-quality film props to rent, they are much more affordable than buying outright.
Ebay might not be your first choice when it comes to hunting down affordable film props, but there’s quite a selection available, and if you’re good at finding deals with the “Buy it now” option, you can keep the prices down without doing too much bidding.
While the options available on eBay might not be specific for film, you can find great vintage, retro, or antique items that can be used as film props (usually affordable) by looking for particular keywords.
Take, for example, my search for rotary phone props. My search featured plenty of cheap rotary phone options to browse through. The only caveat to going through eBay is that you are buying, not renting these items, and having the opportunity to return them is entirely up to the seller.
Etsy is one of my favorite sources for finding indie creations and supporting individual creators. While bigger companies have gotten wise to Etsy as a popular resource for “homemade” craftsman-style pieces and gotten in on the action, it still retains its home-grown, indie feeling.
There are all sorts of weird and wacky finds when you search the term “movie props” on the Etsy website, a lot of which are high quality and add a hand-crafted touch to your film’s props.
The pricing on these film props can vary widely depending on the seller, but for the most part, most items you might need should be affordable on a budget.
When in doubt, you can always turn to Amazon. While Amazon does have an entertainment collectible category that sells “props,” the category is more for memorabilia from previously filmed movies than actual working props for your upcoming production.
Instead, try searching for movie props in all categories. In particular, use the keyword “prop” alongside whatever item you are looking for. There are all kinds of obscure or random objects available, and some pretty practical ones like fake money, retracting knives, etc.
As an example, I co-wrote an indie feature film going into production this summer, and one of the items we needed to lock down was fake prop pills. A lot of the options we found and were deciding between were from Amazon, which was convenient and affordable on an indie budget.
The website Entertainment Earth is a great resource for finding affordable prop replicas for recreating iconic scenes or parodying some of your favorite films.
Since the film props sold on this site are replications of iconic props from existing material, be mindful that this resource isn’t the best for original props and costumes.
Where other options on this list are great for tracking down everyday pieces to incorporate into your set design, Entertainment Earth provides actual replications of famous props from movies – like lightsabers!
Even still, this one is a great resource for finding cheap film props for content like sketch comedy videos, paying homage to a classic film in a music video, or producing fan-created content based in your favorite cinematic universe.
Buy and return from big department stores.
This is a classic move that many production designers, prop masters, and costume designers use, though it can be frowned upon at times.
I’m talking about the act of buying from a big name department store and then returning it once the production is done.
Let’s say you need to dress a teenage girl’s room, so you go to Target and find a bunch of items that would, like, totally fit the character. You can buy those items, you can return them once you are done shooting those scenes – as long as the return policy is followed to the letter.
Borrow from friends and family.
This one may be a no brainer, but one great way to secure cheap film props is to borrow what you need from friends and family.
You’ll be genuinely surprised what types of items and trinkets people own that you wouldn’t expect – all it takes is the courage to ask around and see what’s available. You can even reach out and ask on Craigslist or Nextdoor to see if your neighbors have something you can use.
That said, when borrowing (or renting) any items from close friends, relatives, or prop rental houses, it’s imperative that you treat the items with respect. – Remember that these items are someone else’s and that someone else will be using them again when your production is over.
These are just some ideas.
The above is in no way a definitive list. When it comes to finding cheap film props for movies, it usually comes down to being creative.
For instance, if you are building a low budget sci-fi world, you may need to create some props yourselves.
There’s plenty of online resources that act as step-by-step guides on how to build cool, creative props and costumes.
For example, creative people (especially cosplay customers and monster prop craftsmen!) are always posting about how they came up with this or that new design, so the work they share can either be used as blueprints or jumping-off points for your own creations.
You may have more resources local to your immediate area that aren’t listed here either. The key is to ask around and scour everywhere you can.
If you have a specific vision and aren’t satisfied by what’s available to you, take a little extra time to go deep and see what you can discover. Or even better – hire an art direction team you trust to go forth and help find props to make your film’s world come alive with style and wonder.
Have an affordable film prop house or resource not mentioned above? Send us an email and we’ll gladly include you on this list!
Grant Harvey is a freelance writer, screenwriter, and filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. When he’s not working on his own feature-length screenplays and television pilots, Grant uses his passion and experience in film and videography to help others learn the tools, strategies, and equipment needed to create high-quality videos as a filmmaker of any skill level.