Premiere Props has been around since 2001… about a year longer than I have been collecting. So they’ve been a fixture in the hobby for my collecting “lifetime”. In fact, one of the first original props I ever purchased I bought from Premiere Props on eBay (one of The Shoveler’s shovels from Mystery Men). While they have demonstrated longevity, I’m actually kind of surprised at how little they have evolved over the years. Today I find myself inspired to offer some third party tips, in the form of free advice, that would make a positive impact on their business and standing in this art market. My intention is not to be snarky, but underline some issues that have been painfully obvious over the years (to me anyway). Seven simple changes could vastly improve the company (it was originally going to be three, but as I started writing this, it grew; still, it is not intended to be comprehensive). The following is my list, based on my personal observations and opinions.
Issue: Photos used in Premiere Props auctions and live auctions are, to be blunt (and in my opinion), some of the worst in the business, if not the worst. Low resolution, bad lighting, and published online in a low pixel count aspect ratio. These photos from auctions online today look like they were shot with 2001 technology, not 2012. There is just no good excuse for such poor quality photos today in this marketplace. I could honestly take much better photos with my phone.
Advice: A DSLR or any special skills are not even necessary. Buy a quality point and shoot, like the Sony RX100 (approx. $650), and shoot on auto with spot metering. For another $150, you can get a basic backdrop and three piece lighting kit. Include more than one photo for each item, including many quality close-up photos. All prospective buyers have to go on, typically, is written description and photos when evaluating a piece to buy. Photos are critical. Quality photos are fundamental in these process, from the perspective of the buyer.
For under $1,000, Premiere Props can dramatically improve the presentation of auction items. With thousands and thousands of items listed for sale each year, as well as eBay auctions and web sales, it seems as if it would be the most modest of investments.
Issue: Premiere Props, with some of their auction descriptions, well, they just use words incorrectly, use words in combinations that are contradictory, and/or draft descriptions that are simply nonsensical. Proper understanding of and use of terminology specific to this art market is critical.
Most people remember Bond’s “Die Another Day” (2002) because it has some of the best chase scenes in some of the most exotic locations. This is the actual hero screen used P99 Gun used by Pierce Brosnan (James Bond) in the movie. It is his stunt version (made of rubber), which he uses in all the scenes where he’s not actually firing live ammo.
I don’t think I really need to pick this apart, in that it appears to just have keywords thrown into the description to make it sound good, by someone who doesn’t have any real understanding of these words. These terms have very specific meaning (and meaning that absolutely has a direct correlation to value of the item). There is, as a general rule, a significant difference in value between the hero version and stunt version of the same item.
Advice: Learn the basic terms of the hobby and employ those terms properly in item descriptions, or simply don’t use these words at all (hero, stunt, screen-used, etc.).
#3 General Knowledge About Film and Television
Issue: Reading some auction descriptions, the reader may be wondering if the author of these descriptions knows anything about film and television (let alone the intricacies of this art market).
Below is an excerpt from another item in the current sale – Lot 120 “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Goblet”:
1989’s “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade” is considered by many to be the best of the “Indian” series (except of course for the grand original). Especially with legendary Sean Connery amazingly cast as Indy’s father. This is a screen used metal goblet from the movie. It comes with Invoice of Authenticity. (approx. 9″ tall)
What in the hell is the “Indian” series? And this is the best film in the series, except the original, which I guess would make it the second best (or the best of the remaining three)? And, as an aside, there are four sentences total in the description, and none of them talk about why it is original, or tells the reader anything about the prop (except that is is approximately 9″ tall – not even an exact measurement). Getting back to Tip #2, it also uses the term “screen used”, and shows a still from the film in which the item for sale is not seen. All in all, the description seems to serve more as “filler” than useful information. When descriptions of films and television programs are this “off”, it really leaves the reader wondering how the auction house can use good judgment on authenticity, when they don’t seem to understand the basics of the underlying productions.
Advice: Given that Premiere Props is located in the Los Angeles area – truly the entertainment capital of the world – at the very least interns (from the top film schools) could be used (for free) to help draft accurate descriptions of the productions from which material for sale is attributed.
#4 Direct Source or Consignor?
Issue: With their live auction events, Premiere Props generally makes no distinction between the pieces that are obtained from direct sources (such as studios and their agents) and those that are consigned by third parties. There is a huge difference. With the former, authenticity is more certain, while with the latter, it can run the full gamut.
I made note of this concern back in March 2011 with their inaugural ‘Hollywood Auction Extravaganza’:
In reviewing the catalog, no distinction is made on a global basis between those lots obtained directly from studio/direct sources and those consigned from private collectors or dealers. However, some lots can be identified as one or the other either by one’s familiarity with Premiere Props studio properties (and one can be brought up to speed by referencing their website) as well as case by case instances in which relevant information is included in the brief descriptions.
Advice: Include a distinction within each auction item description, as simple as “Consignment Piece” or “Direct Source/Studio”.
#5 “Original” Material or Replicas/Memorabilia?
Issue: With their live auction events, Premiere Props mixes all manner of material together, with no separation or differentiation between original material from film and television (pieces made for and/or used in productions) and non-original material (replicas and other general memorabilia not made for and/or used in movie and TV productions).
Advice: I think it would be helpful for buyers in this market if auctions were organized in such a way that original and non-original pieces are not all mixed together, but grouped, so it is clear which is which.
#6 Starting Price, Reserves, and Estimates?
Issue: Well, this isn’t a problem unique to Premiere Props, but it is a problem nonetheless… the complete lack of clarity or any explanation when it comes to the minimum price an item will actually sell for…
Let’s take another real world example from the current auction – Lot 50 “Star Trek: The Motion Picture William Shatner Capt. Kirk Mechanical Puppet” – it has a start price of $500 and an estimate of $18,000-$20,000. And, as far as I can tell, a reserve (the minimum amount the item will sell for) that is not disclosed. So how is a prospective buyer/bidder supposed to know and plan for the auction, if he or she has no idea when fantasy bidding enters the reality of a legal and binding contract between Buyer and Auction House? This is, for me, one of the most frustrating aspects to the hobby, and, in my opinion, is just bad business, especially since there is no real, day to day oversight over these auction house events. And this is, to varying degrees, an issue with most of the major auction houses.
Advice: List a “Start Price”, a “Reserve”, and an “Estimate” for each lot.
#7 Provenance and Authenticity
Issue: In many of the live auction listings, no material details and information is provided as to authenticity and provenance. Again, this is not an issue with only Premiere Props, but many dealers and auction houses in this space.
Getting back to the last example, Lot 50, the auction description merely states, “Comes with a Letter of Provenance”. Similarly, the auction description for Lot 120 states, “It comes with Invoice of Authenticity”. Who issued these documents? When were they issued? What do they say? Why aren’t their photos of these documents included in the auction? What information was considered and evaluated in order to come to the conclusions about the pieces stated in the descriptions?
Advice: Provide real details explaining where these pieces came from, and why they are believed to be genuine, “original” artifacts from film and television. In every item description.
I was inspired to write this as I began to scan the latest online catalog for the upcoming Premiere Props sale, and found that I was bothered and distracted by some of these issues, rather than actually looking seriously at what is being offered in their auction. It just seems to me that they could improve their live auction business dramatically by making some very specific changes/enhancements, some of which are very simple.