Daria Locke

Whether it’s a 12-foot castle, a small desk set or a giant mask  – a prop house has it.

But In a post SARS, post-9/11 city, big prop warehouses in Toronto have been disappearing rapidly. Hundreds of places that rent and sell props to the film and television industry operate, but only a handful of major warehouses are left.

The large companies have thousands of items to offer filmmakers, but they're finding it tougher to keep business.

Meta Prop Inc, Hand Prop Inc, and Mojo Props & Set Dressings Inc are the big names that have survived, while there are hundreds of smaller locales all over the city, specializing in one prop type or another. Hollywood Tickle Trunk, the self-proclaimed do-it-all company is based in Mississauga but does business all over southern Ontario.

Owner Robin Leigh says maintaining a prop company is difficult, “because it requires a lot of space, a lot of overhead -- taxes and insurance are astronomical.”

Despite the costs of running such a business, Leigh says that changing times have really hurt his business.

“It depends what’s in vogue. The types of films we’re making have changed.” A decade ago,when 'movies of the week' were popular, Leigh’s business was booming. But today, reality TV shows are bigger than ever and television production companies don’t need to rent props. 

The types of props offered set these companies apart and have determined their ability to remain a viable business. Meta Prop rents many period props, desk sets and smaller props, while Mojo has larger items, but still in the realm of smaller items.

“We focus on everyday scenarios, anything from a grandma’s house to a diner,” says Jennifer Li of Mojo. “We focus on the smaller details, not the furniture. We have wall dressings, things you put in shelves, bedding, and clothes - the elements that make sets believable.”

Hand Prop Inc. focuses on renting items that can be manipulated by the customer.

“We rent things the actors will hold or use on a set. Hence the name -- hand prop,” says Philip Taylor of Hand Prop Inc.

Meta Prop differs slightly from these companies because Leigh rents mostly small period pieces.

The up-and-coming Hollywood Tickle Trunk has yet to make a big splash in the film and television industry, but they’re doing something other businesses aren’t – hardly ever turning anyone away.

Owner Vicky Sturgeon says that there are almost no limits as to what her company can do. 

“You name it, we’ll build it,” she says. 

Specializing mostly in trade shows, corporate parties, and theatre rentals, Sturgeon hopes that her rentals for television and film will increase.

“We’re pushing away from selling things, and moving into big rentals. We love a challenge.”  

Innovation has become the bottom line in the prop industry because owners are looking at what will keep their business successful in the future. With the new Filmport studio in Toronto’s waterfront area currently being constructed, major prop companies will either profit tremendously or go the way of the dinosaur.

“With this new big studio, one would hope some kind of amalgamation could be associated with the studio,” says Leigh. “They don’t seem interested in speaking with us to create a space down there.”

Taylor agrees. “We wanted to create one spot – the concept of having a one stop shop. Something we’re never going to be actually ever able to achieve but I think we can come close.”  

While prop companies are struggling to flourish in Toronto, film sets in the city still need to be furnished. “We’re definitely in a dip, but I think there will always be a demand,” says Leigh. “Toronto has been incredibly unlucky in the past couple of years. The business has been volatile but we love what we do so we just continue on."