Georgia Entertainment News recently spoke with Richard Rappaport of RJR Props. The Atlanta business specializes in prop rentals for film, television, music and corporate video, and advertising. Over the past decade, RJR Props has amassed 30,000 items and can also offer shooting environments inside everything from airplanes to operating rooms.
Georgia Entertainment News: How did you get started in the prop business?
Richard Rappaport: We were blessed to own a computer server business for 20 years, but we had no idea that we would be blessed to end up in the most exciting, challenging business in the world. In RJR Electronics, we worked with government, military, hospitals and large companies. Often we were asked to recycle old gear. This is how we got started building up a world-class collection. Each time we did a large job, I asked my employees to keep all the “cool and interesting” pieces. My employees rolled their eyes and went along with it.
GEN: What about your wife?
RJR: My wife was OK with it, just as long as it didn’t end up at our house in the garage! I amassed a very large, interesting collection of everything from hospital gear to military to electronics to computer servers and much more. Over the years, that collection grew very large. Call it hoarding, or call it a collection: there’s a very fine line between these two! Either way, I am very thankful every day to be working with some of the most creative people in the world. I would have never guessed that we would eventually work our way up to productions like “Hunger Games,” “Fast & Furious,” “Stranger Things,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”
GEN: So, who was your first customer?
RJR: Ten years ago, I got a very special phone call phone call from Bob Shelley. At the time, I didn’t know it, but Bob is one of the top special-effects experts in the world. Bob said he needed a rare and expensive technical item. I knew exactly what it was, and I had it. Bob drove over to our facility quickly. It turned out that we had the exact item needed for a new feature film. Bob was thrilled. When Bob looked around our facility, he saw my collection and said, “you have a gold mine here.” I didn’t know it at the time, but Bob sensed something special in me, and he took me under his wing to train and mentor me. I’m a very thankful person, and I am forever thankful to God and to Bob for the incredible opportunity. Very soon after that meeting, we began getting more and more calls for props.
GEN: Do you still have the electronics business?
RJR: About 12 years ago, we noticed the computer server business trending down as more companies switched to laptops. We still have RJR Electronics, but it only makes up a small portion of our business model. The majority of our business is RJR Props. Every day we get calls from feature films, television shows, commercials, and music video artists. TV and film is cyclical. During slow times, we can focus on servers and networking.
GEN: Does your computer background help your prop business?
RJR: I have four technical backgrounds that help with TV and film: a pre-med degree, post-grad engineering, three years as an avionics engineer with the military, and 20 years of computer IT. These allow me to understand many facets of the industry.
GEN: How hard is it to make realistic fake money without going to prison?
RJR: Buying prop money from the wrong supplier can be a very dangerous mistake. If a show uses prop money that looks too real, it may violate counterfeiting laws. It can cost tens of thousands in downtime and fines if the Secret Service stops a production. This has happened to a few shows over the years. It could even land a person in jail. In order to do it correctly, I decided to work closely with the Secret Service and the government. We studied the laws for years. Then we developed our images from scratch. And we used proprietary papers, and ultra-high-quality, water-resistant inks to provide the very best prop money. We have 12 styles for every possible need. And it looks incredible on TV and film!
GEN: Is it the same way with guns and badges and things like that?
RJR: Our prop guns all look exactly like the real thing on camera, but for safety, we only carry non-firing, replica guns. Some prop guns have the same weight and feel. They can be cocked, loaded and the trigger pulled, but they fire nothing. Other guns are known as blowback guns. They can be fired and make a loud noise, but it is all done with compressed gas. The third type is the most realistic and dangerous. They are blank-firing prop guns. They fire 9mm cartridges, but they cannot fire a projectile. If someone put one to their head or body, it would cause serious damage because even though it has no projectile, it has all the same energy as a real, 9mm cartridge. Those prop guns have caused injuries to many inexperienced people, so we don’t take any chances. We follow the law, and we only provide those to certified armorers who are trained and qualified to keep the actors safe.
Regarding badges, we provide realistic badges that look good on camera. We do not provide exact copies of genuine police department badges because they could be used illegally if they fell into the wrong hands. We try to carefully follow all laws and guidelines while giving the most realistic props available.
GEN: What’s the most unusual request you’ve ever gotten?
RJR: Every day we have a new “most unusual” request! Although we did get a request one day for a dead bird – a freshly dead bird. I explained that we didn’t have one. He asked where could he find one. We suggested the side of the highway!
GEN: Do you do business strictly with Georgia-based productions?
RJR: We provide props coast to coast. We can ship props anywhere. We have shipped our MRI unit, our commercial aircraft, helicopter, and more.
GEN: What happens if a production wants to blow up a prop or otherwise damage a prop?
RJR: Once in a while a show wants to blow up a prop. We provided props to a show in Alabama. They rented some original “Hunger Games” props. When they returned the other props, we noticed that these were missing. We later found out that they blew them up. Before we rent to any show, we ask to be made part of their certificate of insurance. This covers all or most of the loss.
GEN: How do you store all your stuff?
RJR: We store our massive inventory in our warehouses. We have ceilings that go up 35 feet. Our pallet racking extends. We utilize every inch of space.
GEN: How many of your props are still fully functional?
RJR: We have thousands of electronic props, many of them working.
GEN: How do productions find out about you?
RJR: Most productions find us based on knowing us! Productions know that we can provide hospital props, ultra-modern computer servers, bank interiors and more. Companies have a good experience, and they come back to get the newest, best props for their show.
GEN: What’s your favorite part of the business?
RJR: My favorite part of the business is twofold. Seeing an amazing, gorgeous set come together using our props – this makes me feel wonderful. My other favorite part is never knowing what incredible challenge awaits when the phone rings, or the next production walks through our door.
If you want to be wowed by more, or get in touch, you can reach RJR at www.rjrprops.com.