He's always ready to give showbiz its props

Gary Aardahl

Manager of the custom shop at the prop house History for Hire in North Hollywood

Current credits: "The Good German," "The Good Shepherd," "Flags of Our Fathers." Also supplies props for commercials and TV series including the "CSI" franchise and "Heroes."

Job description: "The primary function that we have here being the in-house shop is upkeep and repairs on the existing stock that we have and then also creating things that don't exist or that we don't have or can't get examples of."

Re-creating: "There are some [motion picture cameras] that don't exist we have had to create. When we did the movie 'Chaplin' years ago, we had to re-create one camera from scratch that was not available for sale -- a hand-cranked camera."

Collaborations: "Sometimes we will have the production designer contact us because they want to get hands-on. Most of the time we will have the property master or the set decorator coming in to us directly. Because everyone has their own way of working, some of the masters and decorators will come in to us with a complete list broken down [of what they need] and they will just give it to us. Then other times we will have someone who maybe is not completely familiar with the period they are going to be doing and they want to have some help with it. They might give us a copy of the script if it's available. They will let us examine it and come up with a list of things we could do for them."

Grand designs: "On the movie 'Chaplin,' we were given quite a bit of free rein on it to really do what we know to have been proper for the period. We tend to go with the nitpicky details on things because a number of us have backgrounds that make it real important to us."

Specialization: "My main area of expertise is in American history from the Colonial period on. I am really familiar with military equipment and weaponry from those periods up until World War I. I am pretty knowledgeable on certain areas of craft practiced at the time. If somebody came to me and wanted to know what would be appropriate for a particular time period, let's say the 1750s back east, I could pretty much steer them in the right direction -- if you are setting up a household, these were the types of bottles you might see and the type of eating utensils you might see. Everyday sort of living are the things I have a good background on.

"I've had to get up to speed on other areas that I wasn't familiar with before coming here, which include vintage television on up. When we did quite a bit on 'Good Night, and Good Luck.' I could say without fudging too much that all of the TV equipment you see came from us. In cases of us where we didn't have original pieces, we did re-create. We did go to quite a length to be able to duplicate what you see."

Problem solving: "Here is one case I can remember where specs changed very quickly. On the film 'Maverick' with Mel Gibson, the satchel they are keeping all the money in we created in-house based on specifications that the prop master gave us. One of the scenes was going to involve the captain of a ship opening the safe onboard the riverboat and putting the case in the safe. Well, they rented the safe and as they were getting it all set to work on, they realized the safe that they had rented had a round hole that was smaller than the size of the case we had built.

"So they called up around 5 p.m. -- 'We just got on-set and found out it doesn't work. The scene shoots tomorrow at 7 a.m. What can you do?' So we came up with basically a flat [model] of the end of the case. I duplicated it with the fabric and the leather [of the complete case] and I had to reduce it to 80% of its original size. They shot it pushing it from the end into the safe."

Background: "Ever since I was little -- I grew up in Pasadena -- we would go on family trips. I remember any time we went somewhere if there was a museum, I would want to go. If there was a historic site, I would want to go and see that. What I found out later was that even though I was studying history, there wasn't going to be a lot I could do with it besides teaching. I looked into museum work, but it's so specialized and there are so many people in that field, it would be hard to break into that. Then an opportunity came up to work here. I have been here 16 years."

Resides in: North Hollywood

Age: 55

Guild or Union: "We are not affiliated. We are an independent at this point."


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