Prop shopping as a foley artist
the art of foley prop shopping
As a foley artist, you can never have enough foley props. Prop shopping is, therefore, a regularly occurring activity. Sometimes, I need something specific for a film that I don’t already own, but other times I simply browse through a thrift store to see if they have anything new or interesting that makes an intriguing sound.
A great score after visiting a flea market
Going to the thrift shop for foley props
Most props in my studio actually come from the thrift shop. Old props often sound better because they have character and are often made from materials that sound nice: wood, metal etc, opposite to the pressed wooden panels of Ikea. When visiting the thrift shop my eyes search for objects that potentially sound nice like objects with moving parts, that could rattle, squeak etc.. and my ears get very focussed on the sounds of the props in my hand. With a bit of luck, there is no music playing during the visit. It’s so much more difficult to evaluate if the sound of a future foley prop in my hand is any good or if the creak of a shoe’s leather sole is too prominent when Britney is blasting from the speakers.
The appearance of an item doesn’t matter to me; it’s purely about how it sounds. In a thrift store or hardware store, you’ll find me tapping and knocking on everything to evaluate the resonance. Once, I went through an entire row of glasses in a thrift store to determine which sound and tone I liked the best. An elderly lady two meters away looked at me and then started doing the same. She probably thought it was an excellent idea to assess the quality of the glasses.
Original army boots found at the Porte de Clignancourt flea market in Paris
Picking new metal props in a metal recycling store
Getting help from shop owners
Usually, when the staff in a shop asks if they can help me, I don’t mention that I’m a foley artist and that I am exclusively buying something to record foley sound effects because they may not understand the consequences it has for the product choice and it can lead to confusing conversations where I am trying to explain what I do for a living. But sometimes, it can also add significant value to tell them anyway. When I was prop shopping for the Netflix series Ottoman Rising, about the Ottoman army’s conquest of Istanbul, I visited a shop specialized in medieval objects. The series was full of medieval weapons like bows and arrows and swords, armors, and chainmail. When I explained that I was going to do the foley recording for the show, I had great help from the shop keeper. “Oh, you’re looking for a bow from the time of the Ottoman Empire?” he said. “Well, then, I have an archer’s bow for you, which was widely used by the Ottomans.” Or: “This armor isn’t useful for you because, as you can hear, it doesn’t make any sound.”
In the end, I left the store with two swords, a bow and arrow, a roll of parchment, chainmail, and some other small props.
Another occasion where I informed the shop owner about my work as a foley artist was in a second-hand bookstore. I was looking for an old and creaking book. Before I knew it, the owner, myself, and my girlfriend were pulling books from the shelves and testing them for a good book creak. It’s fun how enthusiastic shopkeepers can be at such times.
New medieval foley props check!
Foley props in the wild
Foley props can also be found in everyday situations. When I was rehearsing with a band in a rehearsal center, I noticed that the drum stool I was sitting on had such a fantastic creak. Probably due to the weight of years of metal drummers who had sat on it while going wild on the drum set in the rehearsal room. I walked out of the rehearsal room, down the stairs, and to the bar and asked the owner behind the bar if I could buy the stool. He looked a bit puzzled but in the end agreed and I bought them a new drum stool and swapped it with the old one. For the owner it was a good deal, and for me even more because I still use the stool a lot in my foley studio to this day. If I put it on one of the wooden floors and then move my hips back and forth while sitting on the stool, the most fantastic creaking sounds come out, making it sound more like the creaking of a large pirate ship than a simple drum stool. And for the movie The Occupant we used it on a metal floor, creating great metal creaks and moans for a scene where someone walks in a crashed helicopter.
Are you Curious to hear the drum stool from The occupant in action?
The Occupant (2023)