(BPT) – Over the history of movie making, certain props have been crucial enough to the story that they could almost be considered additional characters.
In some cases those props have been expensive to buy or build, and many have sold for astronomical amounts of money. Consider the $4.4 million someone spent to purchase James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 for “Goldfinger” or the $576,000 selling price of the Starship Enterprise replica created for “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Other key props have been small in stature and price, but huge in their significance to the story line. Think, for example, of the key roles sleek and elegant Zippo lighters have played in some 2,000 movies, including blockbusters such as “Casablanca,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “Forrest Gump,” “Die Hard,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Charlie’s Angels.” Since 1932, the pocket-sized windproof tools and their unmistakable click have been showcased in nearly every genre.
“A prop is a way to create depth and flesh out the character,” notes Russell Bobbitt, Marvel Entertainment prop master. The Hollywood veteran of more than 30 years was recently featured in the video project titled “Walk of Flame” from Zippo in collaboration with IMDb. “Nothing is accidental – every item placed on set should enhance the audience’s understanding of the story. Even the smallest thing on a set, like a lighter, can become a very iconic prop and an integral storytelling device to drive the action forward.”
A few other fun facts about the roles of iconic props in popular American movies:
* The original “Star Wars” lightsaber cost $12 to build, reports Invaluable.com. After a flashlight-based handle was rejected by director George Lucas, it was replaced with vintage camera handles dug out of an old shop. A blade was added using a wooden dowel painted with projection material that could reflect light for the addition of post-production effects.
* For the quintessential ring in “Lord of the Rings,” multiple versions were created including an oversized design for close-up shots and a magnetic design that would seem heavy when dropped. Copies were made for different locations, various actors, gifts and press tour premiums. The lettering was copied directly from the J.R.R. Tolkien book, according to Invaluable.
* In “Hocus Pocus,” the character of Max wants to be seen as cool. His Zippo lighter became a symbol of that persona, and to help reinforce this, Bobbitt’s team taught actor Omri Katz the signature “flick open” which he practiced constantly throughout filming.
* All 20 hand-sewn models of Wilson the volleyball in “Cast Away” were used up over the course of filming, reports Thrillist.com. After practicing the exact placement of his fingers, Tom Hanks recreated a “bloody” handprint on each, with designers adding the facial features and “hair.” The name “Wilson” was in the original script; Wilson Sporting Goods agreed to provide the balls after the fact at the suggestion of a producer.
* Prop master Bobbitt calls the cave scene in “Iron Man” his most challenging project ever. “Putting together the Arc Reactor has been the biggest challenge in the Marvel universe,” he says. “I had to create cold fusion and nuclear power to bring it to life. Then I had to teach (Robert Downey Jr.) how wiring works before we got started filming.”
For more fascinating info about how props are effectively created and used on the silver screen, watch the film “Walk of Flame” in which Bobbitt guides viewers through a leading L.A. prop house featuring more than a million items. For more behind-the-scenes Zippo content and exclusive imagery over the coming weeks, follow Facebook (@Zippo), Instagram (@OriginalZippo) and Twitter (@Zippo).