Nestled in a quiet Long Beach community, Jewelry Prop Shop has been in existence since 2003. From the street, the establishment could double for a small business complex but one realizes on entry that it’s actually a live-work residence.
About a decade ago, Scott and Jennifer Janiak-Ross quit their nine-to-five jobs, packed up their lives and left the Windy City for the golden shores of California.
With the move came a change of scenery and a new beginning.
Educated at Ray College of Design (Illinois Art Institute), majoring in Fashion Illustration with a minor in Graphic Design and 3D computer graphics catapulted Jennifer into a career as a product and toy designer. Scott was fascinated with model building as a child and had a wonderful eye for detail. His study at Northern Illinois University (majoring in Jewelry), lead to an apprenticeship with Swiss jewelry designer Jean Francois Albert. Under Albert, Scott learned the fine points of gold-smithing and mastered casting.
As a new company, business was difficult to come by in the early years. Scott and Jennifer stumbled upon a marketable product, biker jewelry! They sold custom jewelry pieces at motorcycle and tattoo events. The pieces were a hit! One year during “Love Ride,” the Janiak-Ross’ met a gentleman who said he was in the prop business for television. When he discovered that the couple did all of their work in house, he took their contact information and promised to call. As it turned out the gentleman was the Assistant Prop Master for NCIS. And just like that, Scott and Jennifer were in the film business!
The couple later met Lonnie Goodman, Manufacturing Manager for The Hand Prop Room who helped to restructure their operation. “Lonnie was really good to us in the beginning when we first started working for television and movies. Surprisingly, we can still call on him today if we need him,” Scott chimed.
Goodman mentored the couple for about 2 years, helping them to set fair rates and referring the couple to some of his colleagues. Since prop houses aren’t usually set up to make pieces as detailed as Jewelry Prop Shop produces, the small outfit was in demand.
After providing hand props for 13 features (including, Book of Eli, Green Lantern and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter), 21 TV shows (including, NCIS, Castle and Mad Men),a host of commercials, music videos, made for TV movies and mini-series, Hollywood loves the Jewelry Prop Shop because they meet deadlines, are detailed in the pieces they create and they deliver quality one of kind jewelry pieces that meet and exceed the needs and expectations of industry prop houses.
With the amount of detail that goes into one piece of jewelry (each piece takes 3 to 4 days to produce) film productions calling from out of town lose out. The length of time the work forces compromises between quickness, cost-effectiveness and quality. “It takes us about 3 or 4 days to develop and create a specific piece,” Scott says.
“We don’t have a chance to give a piece that second glance to search out imperfections and to ensure the highest quality when we have to ship a piece to, say Florida.” Scott notes. “We have to charge companies more because a piece has to be done faster so a potentially great job is reduced to just being good,” Jennifer adds.
When projects shoot in other states, other trade-offs have to be made as well. “Face time” with the client is sacrificed and talent cannot be sized for pieces, so accuracy is lost. Also, there is an increased chance of ideas being conveyed incorrectly.
“When working with out of state productions there is no opportunity to sit down with the production team and in some cases we are left to guess at what the desired result for an item should be,” Jennifer says. If the presumption is incorrect, then it’s back to the drawing-board for everyone.
Beginning work for a production that starts in Los Angeles, but moves out of state causes issues including broken or reduced communication due to time differences and/or staff changes.
Communication delays often result in a delay of the finished product. One is left to refer to a chain of emails which creates further frustration for all parties. In addition, proper preparation is stalemated if approvals must be obtained prior to design and fabrication.
Shipping can be a problem as well. Packages can be lost in transit, be delayed and even arrive damaged. In an effort to avoid this, prop staff usually order multiples of a single piece of jewelry. In the event that this precaution is not taken, production could be delayed until the item is ordered, created and finally arrives to set.
“We made the ring that Kevin Spacey wears in House of Cards and Kevin lost it. It took us 2 days to get a new one to set because of shipping cutoff times. The crew had to shoot around the scenes with Spacey in them and go back for re-shoots at a later time. All at the expense of the production,” Jennifer says.
Costs to production are drastic when you add shipping into the mix. For instance, a prop master may order 4 specialty rings for a character. Scott adds, “Ordering multiples is not the issue, the issue arises when separate shipping is requested, and then there is the strong possibility that the shipping agency will lose a package, so unfortunately it’s the production company that pays the price.” At a time when production companies are shopping for the greatest tax breaks and subsidies, unforeseen costs like these are not helpful to the bottom-line.
The Janik-Ross’s, generally do not turn down projects but have had to decline business from productions happening outside of L.A. Time constraints imposed by the production are the main reason for this, since last minute modifications, fabrications, and repairs cannot not be made to pieces going out of state.
“Imax and HD TV really put the pressure on us,” Scott says. As screen resolutions become clearer, the details of a particular piece need to translate perfectly on screen. “We will not compromise the quality of our work for a dollar,” Jennifer says, “It’s just not fair.”