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From the dumpster to the big screen: Savannah welcomes first prop house

The next time a production filming in Savannah needs a cigarette machine, books or other prop décor they won’t have to look very far to find it.

Film Biz Recycling, 541 East Liberty St., just opened its doors to the Hostess City on Friday after relocating from Brooklyn, NY. The 501(c)3 non-profit, which was founded about seven years ago by Eva Radke, will serve as the first prop house in Savannah and the area’s growing film and television industry.

“It had kind of always been a pipe dream to open a prop house in Savannah,” said the non-profit’s new president, Samita Wolfe.

Wolfe, who grew up near Savannah, moved to Manhattan a few years ago where she obtained her real estate license. But with a background in production, she eventually landed in location management and working in art departments for various productions.

“I was consistently busy for the next three and a half years because it was just something that came naturally,” she said of set design. She never lost touch with Savannah, keeping her home here and an eye on new happenings.

“… I love the community here so much and I have so many friends who are doing awesome things, and in New York you have to work so hard to maintain that you don’t have time to have much quality of life.”

Wolfe’s job took her to various prop houses in New York, but Film Biz Recycling always stood out because it was doing something more intentional with its items, she said.

The premise of the business is simple. Once productions wrap up they donate props to Film Biz instead of throwing them away. Then, items are added to the rental inventory, offered for retail sale or donated to another non-profit.

While operating in Brooklyn, Film Biz diverted about 1 million pounds of various items from landfills and was given an Environmental Quality Award by the Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts.

“Once productions wrap you have about a week to decide where everything goes. People will bring huge dumpsters and throw everything in it…,” Wolfe said.

With the idea of moving back to Savannah and opening a prop house, Wolfe had lunch with Radke to essentially pick her brain for ideas, but came away with a lot more.

“Over a bowl of noodles she basically gave me her non-profit because they had to close their doors because the rent was too damn high,” Wolfe said.

“They were spending an excess of $10,000 a month on rent and it was unaffordable because they were trying to pay a fair wage, health benefits and all those things an employer should do and just weren’t able to sustain.”

After gaining approval from the board of directors and keeping the non-profit afloat during its last months in New York, Wolfe and her fiancé packed up a 26-foot-long box truck filled mostly with props and arrived back in Savannah in December.

“I’ve been collecting things my entire life… It’s been a really nice release to basically give all the stuff to this prop house that I’ve been carrying around all these years,” she said of adding to the inventory at Film Biz’s 2,000-square-foot space downtown.

“And my house is less cluttered,” she said.

Executive Director of the Savannah Film Office Beth Nelson said the prop house is a welcome addition to the local production scene and will serve productions from start to finish.

“When a production comes to town they’re temporary and come with basically nothing and at the beginning this will give them a place to go to shop for props, supplies and those kinds of things,” Nelson said.

“At the end they’re frantically trying to get rid of everything because they have to vacate, so to have a place where they can donate to charity, sell things to be used again or have someone that will recycle it appropriately is amazing.”

Most recently Wolfe has taken prop donations – including a phone booth and cigarette machine - from “Galveston,” an independent movie that filmed on Tybee Island and other locations around Savannah, and she also scours Craigslist for free items. When Wolfe has multiples or items that are needed by other non-profits she’ll donate them.

The shop will also have a small retail component, but Wolfe is still working out the details. As she’s trying to build her inventory she’ll mainly focus on rentals for now, she said. Wolfe also hopes to give back to the community by implementing a policy to hire non-violent offenders.

“Film Biz incorporates all the different things I’m passionate about, and that includes being environmentally conscious. Working in the film industry is fun, it’s problem solving, which I’m good at and being able to give back to the community with the donations,” she said.

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For more information on Film Biz Recycling, go to www.filmbizrecycling.org.

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