Phone books piled high on Allen Reid's kitchen table show that he's working, searching, scrounging. "Actually, what I'm doing is dog-robbing," he says. "You never heard of that? Proves you're not in the Industry. Industry people know what that is."
Reid is a forager, of sorts. "You put me anywhere, give me a Yellow Pages, and I'll get what you need. I don't even have to know what it is. I just need to know what it's called."
He's an independent, someone who finds things for TV and film people who are paid to find them but can't. He's a prop man's prop man, a costumer's secret consort, a set decorator's last resort. A guy to call when people with real 9-to-5 jobs have already scoured EBay, swap meets, secondhand stores and still can't come up with the requisite stuff. He is proudly a part of what he frequently refers to as The Industry--but just barely.
Like thousands in Hollywood who help make films, he's so far out on the edge that his name will never appear, even in those credits that flash by so briefly, proclaiming the identities of gaffers, best boys, greensmen and caterers attached to a film. Yet he's a part of Hollywood's pulse. And that's enough for him.
Reid does business as "Anything Found Reliably"--a catch-all name that accurately reflects the idiosyncratic nature of his work--and his life.
He gets calls day and night, and almost always last-minute. "You wake up in the morning, and you never know what's going to happen. It's a really cool way of life."
The reason he gets so little lead time on each job, he says, is because "everyone thinks they can find things on their own. They try to do it themselves to save money." When the clock runs down, and they haven't found it, he says, they call him, willing to pay his rate, which he won't discuss. "My rates vary. I can be hired for a half or full day, a week or month. There are different degrees of difficulty for each job and different rates for various media."
He is neither the biggest nor the best in his business, he tells you. There are dozens of other dog-robbers in town. Many have specialties. He's partial to military garb and gear. "Medals, badges, guns and stuff. But I'll find anything you ask me for."
Not too long ago, there was panic on the set when a prop man--the kind who gets screen credit for his work--was unable to come up with a huge clam shell from which a magnificent sea nymph was supposed to emerge. An emergency call was made to Reid, who produced the humongous shell. From where? "I never tell trade secrets," he says. "I started with nautical places and worked it from there. People all the time ask me my sources, and I say no."
In this Industry town, filled with workers paid handsomely (or at least union scale) to bring stories to the big and little screen, people like Reid, with odd lines of ancillary work, get little recognition or thanks. That's why the satisfaction and pride they evidence in their work is somehow inspiring.
"I'm from an Industry family," he says. "My mom and at least seven other close relatives were in The Industry." He says the words as if it were an exclusive club, something you "belong to," with its own vocabulary and rules--even its own code of dress. "If you see a bunch of industry guys and gals anywhere, you can pick them out. They have a certain demeanor, a certain look, a certain way of wearing the shorts, the T-shirt, the belt, the baseball cap. There's just a certain way of telling who's in the business and who isn't."
Mike LeVitre is. He's a sculptor, another unsung toiler who helps make Hollywood tick. He does mostly large-scale works these days, he says, but he can sculpt anything. What some might find weird about his work is that he sculpts mostly in polystyrene foam, otherwise known as Styrofoam. LeVitre makes movie magic by helping carve things like the boat in "Hook," a full scale replica of the Lincoln Memorial for the movie "Nixon" ("Lincoln's head was 6 feet tall," he recalls).
He worked on the Disney TV movie "Cinderella," which he proudly reports won an Emmy for art direction. "Of course, I was not listed in credits for the film. It runs about 60-40 against credits for people like me," he says. "We're in Local 755, which is the plasterers, model makers and sculptors local. We don't even have a category in the Academy Awards."
Not that he's complaining, he quickly adds. But people like him and Reid, who is his friend, do unusual kinds of work that merits recognition sometimes.
"It amazes me that people who drive the honey wagons get credit, and people like me do not," LeVitre says. "We sculptors provide a lot of the visual entertainment on screen." (A honey wagon is the truck that carries portable toilets, in case you wanted to know.)
LeVitre has worked on two "Jurassic Park" films ("for those I did mostly rocks and trees"), "The Flintstones," "Hook," "Scary Movie"