Though nationally recognized as a budding film and television town, the city of Savannah did not have an official, fully stocked prop house until April of this year. That changed when Samita Wolfe, president of Film Biz Recycling, took on the nonprofit when it was still housed in Brooklyn, New York.
As of last month, Film Biz Recycling, advertised as the first and only prop house in Savannah, relocated to 309 Stiles Ave., down the street from Savannah Film Studios.
“Film Biz Recycling was a thing in New York, in Brooklyn, for eight years, and was given to me last year and so I had to start phasing out,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe reports to a board of directors who assist her in making decisions, including the choice to move to a new Savannah location.
A Georgia native, Wolfe served in the U.S. Navy for five years before coming to Savannah to pursue an education in environmental science. After getting involved with George Dawes Green’s Unchained Tour, “a traveling storytelling events that we would take from city to city,” Wolfe moved to New York, where for three years she worked various production-based roles from location manager to an on-set dresser to production designing.
“Didn’t go to school for it, didn’t do anything,” Wolfe said. “It just felt natural.”
Wolfe was working on “The Americans,” the FX network drama, when she realized Savannah, with its budding film industry, did not have a prop house and that she wanted to be the one to operate one.
“I was just like, ‘How do I do that,’” Wolfe said. “I’ve been hoarding stuff my entire life. I’ve been hoarding everything from all these shows that I’ve been working on, so it kind of fits.”
Wolfe utilized Film Biz Recycling for both donations and buying props for sets. She eventually asked the organization’s founder, Eva Radke, if she could take her to lunch to discuss the future of the prop house.
“We went to some Thai restaurant and I told her my life story and about how I really liked what Film Biz Recycling did and how I’m really into sustainability and working in film,” Wolfe said. “[But] I wasn’t scratching the itch of community involvement and helping my community or building a community.”
By the end of the meal, Radke asked Wolfe if she wanted to take over Film Biz Recycling. It was then that Wolfe knew she wanted to return to Georgia, not just because she had a home in Savannah but because she had a community to which she could give back.
“With the Unchained Tour, I was 26 at the time,” Wolfe said. “It was a weird age to meet new friends, so it wasn’t until I started doing stuff with the Unchained Tour that I met all the like-minded people that cared about arts and cared about other people and telling stories. I felt like I did have a really nice sense of community here and to bring this back here felt really special.”
Sustainability is normally not associated with production design and art direction, but Wolfe said the two are slowly merging in the entertainment industry.
“That’s why I had so much stuff that I’d been collecting because I was just like, ‘I can’t throw this away,’” Wolfe said. “And it wasn’t until … I got these bench seats. They were going to go in the garbage, and there were three rows of them and that was what made me go from putting everything in my apartment to getting a storage unit in Long Island. It broke my heart and that’s kind of why Eva (Radke) started it because she was an art coordinator and so it was her job to figure out where all the stuff went at the end.”
Radke started Film Biz Recycling with a single booth in a store before it expanded to an 11,000-square-foot warehouse. When rent became too high, Wolfe took over and made the move to Savannah in December of 2016.
“I never at any point was fed up with Savannah but didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, so I thought that New York would provide that for me,” Wolfe said. “(I) got into the production and trying to figure out how to get back here, and so I kept my finger on the pulse of what was happening in the film industry.”
Film Biz Recycling is currently Savannah’s only official prop house. The business still operates as a non-for-profit, but Wolfe hopes that someday she will be able to afford compensation for her work.
“Right now . . . I’m not making any money. I’m putting money into (Film Biz Recycling),” Wolfe said. “At some point, which I think is in the future, I feel like I’ll be able to have a little bit of compensation. Part of my mission or my twist on everything (is to) provide the film industry with a resource for the props.”
Written by Emilie Kefalas.