Most of Hollywood's dream factory might call southern California home, but pro dealers far removed from Beverly Hills have found their own piece of the dream. Dealers in locales synonymous with film shoots, particularly along the Atlantic seaboard, have raked in millions of dollars from movie crews eager to obtain materials, often on a cash-paid-upfront basis.
"The production companies have been good to us over the years," says Chris Costello, vice president of sales for the Building Center, which has a second location in Essex, Mass.
Dealers who spoke with ProSales about the film industry agreed on one characteristic: it is a solid, dependable customer. "The people involved in this industry are tops," says Billy Turnage, an inside salesman for H.W. Williams Lumber in Burgaw, N.C. Williams has sold materials, including sticks and sheet goods, to the crews of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Super Mario Bros., and several television series, including Dawson's Creek, Matlock, and Young Indiana Jones. Turnage estimates that Williams Lumber has been involved in nearly 50 productions in the past 20 years. In recent months, it's dealt with one of its biggest movie deals ever–around $500,000, according to Turnage–for Bolden!, a film in production about the life of jazz godfather Buddy Bolden.
Part of the need for suppliers on location is temporary staging. It is less costly for crews to build staging wherever they go than it is to truck it to each shoot. "They've done it enough times that they can recreate it easily," Costello says.
Another perk: "They pay like crazy, they pay invoice after invoice, and they never hold you up for your money," says Bunnie Gleiman, co-owner and vice president of Bond Lumber and Home Center in Lutherville, Md.
Gleiman, who works with the Maryland Film Office and travels to California about four times a year to promote filming in the state, says her company has worked with more than 100 productions, including Homicide, the critically acclaimed police TV drama set in Baltimore, The Wire, and Ladder 49. She estimates that just the latter two projects netted Bond sales of more than $1 million. On the low end, John Waters' A Dirty Shame–shot in Baltimore, as are most of the director's films–was just a $15,000 deal.
Around 30 years ago, Bond earned its reputation when Bunnie and her husband Donald, the third-generation owner of the company, had dinner with friends who had strong ties to regional theater companies and contractors. When their friends mentioned how unhappy they were with the suppliers they'd been using, the Gleimans offered their services, planting the seed of a reputation that has stretched all the way to the West Coast. For Body of Lies, filmed in Annapolis, Md., and scheduled for release in 2008, Warner Bros. flew in all of its workers from California, and secured their set materials from Bond. When Gleiman asked the production company how it got Bond's name, she was told "we know you are the only people to call in town."
Building a Name There aren't many pratfalls when it comes to dealing with the movie industry. "It's good business," says Edward Burn, owner of Hughes Lumber & Building Supply Co. in Charleston, S.C. "They are demanding, but that's not such a bad thing. You get them what they want when they need it."
It's up to the dealer to figure out the logistics of getting materials to a movie site, no matter where that site might be. At times, that can be tricky when a crew needs the materials yesterday and might not be in the easiest location to reach.
"Some projects require a lot of job management," Costello says. For instance, for The Crucible, materials had to be ferried nearly half a mile to Hog Island off the Massachusetts coast to build a residence on location. "We had big barges bringing lumber trucks across," he says.
Bond has an extra delivery truck primarily for film productions. Bunnie Gleiman even drives it herself and gives her home and cell phone numbers to crews. "When they call and they need something in an hour, we get it to them," she says. "Other independents have tried to get our business. When construction coordinators ask them, 'Will you be able to drop everything if we need an order?' their answer is no."
Bond also has adjusted its schedule to the needs of crews, providing 24/7 service, Gleiman says. If an order has a 6 a.m. curtain call, Bond brings in drivers at 4:30 a.m. to ensure timely delivery.
And when crews bring their own mockups and it's time to re-assemble the pieces, "it's never enough, it's never what they need," Costello says, noting that good contacts with union shops have helped solidify the Building Center's reputation with film production companies.
Burns says he typically finds out about shoots as the companies arrive in town and set up. He estimates his biggest deal to be $100,000 for Forrest Gump. On average, his sales to productions have been in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.
Solid Fakes Sales are nice, of course, but what seems to have captivated many dealers is that old Hollywood magic.
"You can't tell if it's a set. The carpenters have it down to a fine science," Turnage says. But while everything might look the same, these sets are not up to building codes.
When it came to The Perfect Storm's Crow's Nest bar, filmmakers did not want to use the actual bar, which is across the street from the docks. Instead, they built a full-size bar right on the shore, so the actors could be seen getting off their boats, walking across the dock, and heading directly into the bar.
If you want to have a drink in the bar constructed for the film, though, you are out of luck. Like many of the sets for which Costello has sold materials, it was dismantled and trucked away, while others have been donated to charities.
Another perk: rubbing elbows with the stars. For The Perfect Storm, they were George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, who treated Gloucester with respect while filming there and pumping their own cash into local eateries. They also used a lot that borders The Building Center for afternoon hoops.
When filming for Body of Lies took place in September, Gleiman says she ate lunch with the stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. "For a 60-year-old lady, that's damn good!"