“Water for Elephants,” the 2006 bestselling novel by Sara Gruen, is the story of a certain veterinary student who one day decided to quit school and runaway to join the circus. When someone decided to turn it into a movie, they hired Jim Elyea‘s to make sure that the period in history, around 1931, was so flawlessly reproduced that prop briefcases held by the Cornell University students would look authentic when shooting begins in Santa Paula, California this May.
Jim Elyea, the co-owner of History for Hire, a prop house in North Hollywood, immediately sets to work skimming through the one 1931 sears catalogue that he has stored away in his 5,000-book collection. He is looking for the right design, and selects the most appropriate model from 400 vintage briefcases. Elyea wouldn’t have a problem identifying the guitar and amp used by Elvis’ guitarist, Scotty Moore, nor the kid of powder horn that was blown during the American Civil War. He’s keen to details, and never wrong about his history.
With his wife and business partner, Pam, Jim Elyea has managed to keep this 25-year-old company thriving in a part of Hollywood that has suffered tremendously over the past decade. Their secret? Avoiding debt and focusing their business on hard-to-find historical props. The couple admits that the price reflects the research that goes into their inventory, but Pam explains her philosophy behind their meticulous nature as such:
“Richard Attenborough told us that people learn their history from the movies, so it’s important to get it right.”
Apparently, they took the famed British documentarist’s words quite seriously.
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