Toeing the Line: Where Hollywood dreams are stored

It's a pretty safe bet that no kid has ever carried the dream of one day being in the warehouse business when he grows up. Neither did Ne'e Le'au (pronounced "Nuh-eh Lay-ow). But the affable, Samoan-born Le'au has the kind of job that any young lad would kill for.

He gets to oversee a 45,000-square-foot wonderland of gadgets, devices, toys, knickknacks and doodads. Everything from vintage clock radios to oversized coffee cups to disembodied pay phones. It's commonly known as a prop house. But the three-building empire in Burbank that Le'au has built over the past eight years is far more than just a production supply storeroom.

It started out in 2005 as a modest storage rental facility that evolved out of Le'au's work as a Hollywood set dresser. The kids network Nickelodeon needed a place to pile the various furniture pieces and inventory that accrued from shuttered productions.

So the 44-year-old Le'au rented out a 5,000-square-foot building to house the various physical assets he acquired from series that no longer existed. Pretty soon it grew to 10,000 feet, then 20,000.

"I had to continually buy more space," he says. "It just kept coming and coming."

But as Le'au snapped up enough stuff to populate a few hundred garage sales, he had a brainstorm. It didn't make sense to simply hold Nickelodeon's resources and charge them rent. So he formed Colia Productions (a blending of his children's names Cole and Malia) and expanded into the asset management business.

Le'au lists all of Nick's inventory in a computer database that allows the network to easily utilize the props and pieces through all of its live-action shows, including "Wendell & Vinnie," "Sam & Cat," "Victorious" and "Big Time Rush."

"They love me because I'll turn their assets over from show to show," he notes. "If one show buys a TV monitor, another can use it down the line. It beats their having to just pay for dead warehouse space."

A visit to Le'au's digs is instantly overwhelming. Imagine if the TV reality series "Hoarders" featured someone who piled things neatly from floor to towering ceiling for the equivalent of a city block. That gives you some idea. It seems to house at least one of everything that's ever been created.

The man behind the mass would seem to have his hands full simply overseeing all he's accumulated. Yet he's about to grow again, though this time Le'au's planned 10,000-square-foot expansion will be for a post-production studio complete with editing bays.

"It's about staying competitive," he says. "Having post facilities gives us another dimension completely separate from props and asset management. It helps make us a full entertainment services company."

Of course, Le'au figures to remain the go-to guy for housing and supplying everything imaginable, from classroom accoutrements (desks, chairs, walls, books, the works) to cop cars — because you never know when your show may need the police to drop in.

While Le'au has the Nick universe more than covered, his client list also includes "Jimmy Kimmel Live," "The Tonight Show," "Ellen" and the occasional feature film. He's also finding a lot of web series and reality shows bringing in business.

And if the giant collection of antiques and nostalgic throwbacks make it appear that his offerings are primarily retro, it's an illusion. "Most of what we do is modern decoration," he stresses. "There are other prop houses that specialize in vintage."

Le'au takes the most pride in the sheer scale of his operation — "You don't find a lot of guys handling this kind of volume," he says — and how rapidly he's grown since launching eight years ago.

He still isn't quite sure how it all happened.

"I had a buddy in college whose dad owned all of these parking lots in Chicago," Le'au recalls. "We used to give him so much (grief) for it, about how he'd be running parking lots for the rest of his life. Now here I am in the warehouse business. You just never know."


RAY RICHMOND has covered Hollywood and the entertainment business since 1984. He can be reached via email at and Twitter at @MeGoodWriter.


Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World