For those of you who don’t know, I am a film student based out of Vancouver, BC, which is a pretty cool but expensive career path if you’re wanting to bust into the indie scene like I am. Throughout my studies and personal projects, I have made a good handful of short films by now, all of which I have had to contribute funds towards – meaning that I have had to learn how to work on a tight budget behind the scenes to make movie magic happen. There’s a lot that needs to be expensed on a film set: transportation, equipment, food, and – the most interesting part – the art department. The art department takes care of all costumes, props, and set dressing, and as someone who works as a production designer (and is passionate about it too), thrift shopping is our best friend for finding cheap but unique things to fill the frame with.
Not only are second-hand stores a more sustainable and budget-friendly source for set decorating, but thrift stores are filled with eclectic curios from any and all decades, making it a perfect match for the often unconventional needs of a film’s art department. My very first film was a silly little short about glittery cowboys duelling to the death in an epic match of ping pong, which called for brightly coloured cowboy hats, sparkly boots, and a ping pong set. Conveniently, people can and will donate nearly anything to second-hand stores, and therefore, it was surprisingly easy to get my paws on some hand-me-down cowboy gear and some old ping pong paddles. I once made a piece about a washed-up 1950’s Hollywood star getting chewed up and spit out by the modern-day media, which meant I needed some golden age gowns, shoes, pearls, and everything in-between. What once was will eventually find a temporary home in the thrift store, and there I found someone’s grandma’s Audrey Hepburn-esque wardrobe from 1952, along with a stunning silver phone.
Most recently, I made a project with some peers of mine – shot on real, physical film strips! – that opened with a 1980’s inspired prom scene. Although the balloons and red plastic cups were more of a dollar store find, the extensive wardrobe of all the partygoers was brought to life through a trip to the thrift store!
It’s not just small, student films that use the thrift store as a core resource for the art department; some really large scale productions do as well! This past summer I worked on the set of Riverdale, and I got the chance to chat with the set decoration lead and they told me that almost all of their furniture seen on the set is second-hand! So, next time you watch your favourite movie or TV show, feel free to take a look at the actors’ costumes and the set decorations and challenge yourself to a guessing game of “was that thrifted?” (spoiler alert: it probably was).