[This is second portion of our interview with ScreenUsed Co-Founder, Desi DosSantos. Click here to start from the beginning.]
There are tons of stories, that is the fun part about “the hunt.” Every piece in a collection should have a story. Some stories are more interesting than others – let me tell you one. I used to own one of the OUTATIME license plates used in the first Back to the Future movie. When I acquired it, there was a black circle perfectly painted on the back. I wondered why it was there, so Jeff asked the production crew member that we got it from. His answer was something to the effect of “Oh, yeah, when I found it I had been using it on my workbench as a paint can tray.” What? Well, keep in mind these props are just tools of the job for prop guys on the set. This was a left over “thing” that could possibly be reused for another production. The black circle was from the bottom of a paint can he had resting on it in his garage. The circle is still there on the back of the license plate to this day – and it needs to stay there for the full story.
You started out as a collector, but have managed to turn your passion into a successful business. Tell me a little about “ScreenUsed,” and your upcoming auction.
This is a business that we fell into – it was not initially planned, it just happened. Jeff and I were good friends as collectors. Over the years, as we got to know various collectors, people would be willing to pay us to find items for them. At a certain point in time, we decided to give it a go, and now 9 years later, we are not only still going, but also entering a new phase of the business with an auction.
Over the years, we have made purposeful decisions to try and stay as a small company geared towards the collector, instead of mass quantity. There is room in this market for various types and sizes of businesses, and I think we fit just where we want to be. We have a good working relationship with several other businesses like ours, and I think that helps the hobby. If there is something a customer is looking for, and we know it’s on someone else’s site (assuming they are trust-worthy), we will not hesitate to send them that way. The other part of our business that has made a big impact over the years is our custom display cases. Jeff does an amazing job at creating display cases for pieces that our customers already have, or items they purchase from us.
Regarding the auction in particular, there are several auction houses in the “entertainment memorabilia” market. However, we feel there is a gap right in the middle that we are going to try and fill. We may not have several million-dollar pieces each auction, but at the same time we are not blowing out a warehouse of one dollar items. We hope that our selection of items allows most collectors to find something they are interested in. We will also continue selling directly on our website. So collectors have the option of purchasing something right away, or bidding in a live online auction format.
There are some true gems in the catalog, some of which I believe are from your own collection. Which of those items is the toughest to let go?
In reality, there are only a few pieces from my collection and Jeff’s. The majority are pieces that ScreenUsed has put together specifically for the auction from various sources. We wanted this to be a varied auction with a little bit of everything. It’s a good thing I still have a Mattel hoverboard, so it’s not a problem letting that go into the auction – it is a very nice example.
The Blue Harvest clapper board may be one of the key items in the auction that we have high expectations for. It’s not too often you run across a clapper board from the first three Star Wars movies. However in this case, during our research we were able to find a shot on the DVD extras that match this exact clapper board right down to the scratches! We already knew it was authentic based on the source where we acquired it, but this was icing on the cake. In our hobby, this is known as “screen matching”, and in reality you only run across this a small percentage of the time – maybe 10% of items. It only happens when you get lucky with distinctive, non-repeatable scratches, dents, loose threads, stains, etc. Keep in mind that most productions use several of each prop and wardrobe. So you may not be able to match each piece exactly, as frames from the scene may have ended up on the cutting room floor.
The auction is actually up and live right now for absentee bidding. There is a page on our website that has the catalog for viewing on a computer, iPad, iPhone, or Android device. We also have a PDF of the catalog for download.
It will actually be a “Live Online” auction. By live, I don’t mean in person – it will occur online, but we will control the closing of each lot online. The auction will start on July 21, 2012 at 10am Pacific Time. We will work through each lot, one by one, taking live bids until a winner is declared for each lot. If you are not able to make the live auction, or you don’t want to take a chance of network or computer problems, you can input an absentee bid on any of the items right now. The auction system will automatically take your bids into account during the live auction. For example, if you place an absentee bid of $1,000 on an item, and the starting bid is $500, you may be in the running to win the item. When the live auction comes to that piece, let’s say there is someone else that placed an absentee bid of $600. You will automatically be the high bidder at $650 (because bid increments at this price level are $50). Let’s also say someone else bids live at $700; the system will automatically move your bid to $750. If nobody else bids, you would win the item at $750 plus auction fees.
Movie props can be quite expensive, and there are plenty of fakes out there. What advice would you give to someone new to the field of movie prop collecting?
Research. Ask questions. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. There is nothing better that asking questions and making an informed decision. This hobby does not have any kind of grading system like comic books, or any kind of documented authentication process. You have to rely on the source of your piece, and you have to be satisfied with your research that led you to the piece. For my business, reputation is the most important aspect. I only want to sell items that I would have in my own collection, and if I don’t have enough information about a piece, I pass on it. We pass on items on a daily basis, and only acquire when it’s 100% authentic. It’s just not worth doing any other way. There are several websites and forums for movie prop collectors to discuss items and find out history about sellers.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. One of these days I will dive into the world of movie prop collecting, and I feel much better prepared with the information you provided here today. Best of luck to you with the upcoming ScreenUsed auction!