Disney+ has only been in the streaming service landscape for a few months, but it's already brought some buzzworthy original series into the fray. One of the latest projects hoping to join that list is Prop Culture, an eight-part documentary series that will dive deep into the Walt Disney Archives. The series sets out to provide fans with an up-close look at the props, costumes, and set designs from Disney's upcoming films, including Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Mary Poppins, Tron, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Muppet Movie, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.
Guiding viewers on Prop Culture's journey is Dan Lanigan, a filmmaker and avid prop collector who has been dubbed the "Raider of the Lost Props". Lanigan has made headlines throughout the years, both for his own personal prop collection, and his work on Fan-O-Rama, a live-action fan adaptation of Futurama.
Ahead of Prop Culture's May 1st debut, ComicBook.com got a chance to chat with Lanigan about the Disney+ series, and how he hopes it highlights the unsung heroes of the film industry. He also shared how he hopes viewers respond to the series, and his advice to aspiring prop collectors.
ComicBook.com: How did you get started in the world of props and prop collecting?
Dan Lanigan: I just started collecting just like any other collector. I'm a big movie fan, and I've always been a collector. I collected action figures when I was a kid, and comic books. And I loved going to museums and seeing movies, and love the art of everything behind the scenes. I was always interested in it. And it was just a right place, right time situation over 20 years ago. I started picking up pieces, and it just became an obsession of mine.
How did that snowball into this Disney+ series?
The more I collected, and the more I researched pieces, and the more I studied film, the more I realized how amazing these people are - that now I was getting a chance to interact with - that had built this stuff. The costume designers, the prop makers, the set-piece designers, builders, all of these wonderful artists. These engineers, sculptors, painters, all these people were really good, nice people, but amazing artists. I realized that, in a lot of ways, these people are the stars. In the back of my head, I was like, "Why aren't more people talking about this stuff?"
In a lot of ways, through prop collecting, I was able to kind of backdoor into producing TV on my own. And I've now directed a film and a short film, and I've learned the process, in a way, through prop collecting. So, I felt like I wanted to give back to these people. Maybe give back's a little bit wrong. I don't know if that's the right word, but I certainly wanted to help bring light to these folks.
And over the last five years, I've been trying to make the show that was diving into what I love about [props] -- and really, what most prop collectors love about this stuff. You have an emotional connection to these props, because you have an emotional connection to these movies. In the nostalgia of the movies, and what's great about these films, what makes you obsessive about these films. Ultimately, that's the people that build the stuff and design it, and that's what it is for me. That's kind of the long-winded version of why I tried to make the show.
That's such a perfect answer. I was in technical theatre all throughout high school and did a lot of prop building and set building. It was obviously nowhere near that level of quality, but I agree with that sentiment about it.
That's cool! Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.
There's such a level of detail and craftsmanship that goes into it. I think it's something that people don't necessarily always recognize, especially as CGI becomes more prevalent and stuff, of like, "Oh, the physical part that goes into a lot of this stuff is really significant."
It is. It's interesting. One of the people that I got to befriend in this prop quest, this discovery that I've been in over the last 20 years, has become a really good friend of mine. His name is Martin Meunier, and he is the gentleman... He does a restoration for us, in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids episode, of the shrink ray. And Martin is someone who has worked on a number of films -- Starship Troopers, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. He was one of the main guys working on Coraline. In fact, he received the technical Academy Award for the work he did on Coraline. He is brilliant, and he is the kind of the example of the kind of person that I want to bring attention to, because this guy, he's a good guy, he's a good person. He's smart, he's friendly, he's brilliant, he's artistic, he's a problem solver.
There are so many interesting people like him that are out there that need a little bit of love. We've got this great industry of movie-making, and yes, the actors are super important, and the directors and the writers are super important, and the producers to a certain degree. But these people that built these worlds that we live in when we watched these movies, in a lot of ways, it's about them.
And that's where my love of prop collecting kind of comes from. When you realize the wonderful artwork that is made for these movies, that in a lot of ways just made for this one time, and then thrown away or put in a box. It's not thrown away anymore, but used to be. These are the people that are making artwork to be worked. It's working art, they make it, it gets filmed out, and you're onto the next thing. And let's talk about these amazing people.
What surprised you the most while filming Prop Culture?
It was a lot of things that surprised me, but one of the things that surprised me the most was -- I've always been very emotionally invested in this material. And I feel that people that I know, that have worked on those movies are emotionally attached. But sometimes when you bring something to somebody that they haven't seen in a long time, that was important in their lives, how emotional it can be for them, outwardly emotional. I think that has been surprising to me in a good way.
Some of the discoveries I've found through the show were really surprising, not just physical pieces, but information about pieces. Like finding out Rick Heinrichs's sculpture of Jack Skellington that he did, it was the only one he ever did for Jack Skellington, back when Disney was considering doing a half-hour TV show of The Nightmare Before Christmas with Tim Burton. And then to find out that that same exact MCAT got used years later for the film, and the design didn't change. He didn't even make another MCAT, it was just the one original, that all the character of Jack Skellington was based on. It just blew me away.
It was those of things that -- you don't realize how sometimes, things are perfect. A perfect idea is trapped in a bottle. And you've got Tim Burton who comes up with this character Jack Skellington, and then you see the drawing, and then you look at the 3D version of it, and then realized that that's exactly what happens up on screen years later. It's pretty special, at least to me.
What are you most excited to see viewers respond to with Prop Culture?
I'm excited to see if people can connect to the art of making a movie. The average person. Yes, there's a lot of geeks like myself, a lot of film nerds that love this stuff. I think the comic book crowd, the movie fan crowd will get it. But will what we're trying to show, the love of these movies, appeal to a broader audience? That's the key for me. I'm wondering -- did we present it the way it needed to be presented, so that everybody can kind of see why these people are important, and why these pieces are important?
Advice for Collectors
If someone reading this interview wanted to kind of get in your shoes and start collecting props, what advice would you give them?
Well, there's a lot of information online. There's a lot of dealers and ways of accessing stuff. But I would collect from what moves you, what emotionally you're connected to, films that you love. Don't collect because you think it's going to look cool on the shelf when someone comes into your house. Collect because it's something you love.
And do a lot of research. Research, research, research. There's a lot of pieces that are ... I wouldn't say a lot, but there's a decent amount of misrepresentation. So, do your own research, make sure you're getting what you're paying for, and ultimately collect from your heart. You'll never be disappointed.0comments
The first season of Prop Culture arrives May 1st exclusively on Disney+.