Props, props, props. Unlike Charles Ross's One Man Star Wars - an early inspiration for this show - I knew that I did want to have some. But only a few. The overall idea was to be cheap, cheerful and lo-fi. But resourceful and inventive, too (just like a certain archaeologist we know).
The biggest single item (in terms of its design, its prominence, and the expense) was the custom-made steamer trunk. I'd had the idea for this very early on in the show's development. I knew I wanted a central, multi-purpose piece of stage furniture, big enough to fit me in it, and strong enough to have me stand on it. I reasoned that a classic 1930s-style steamer trunk could do the job, fit in with the period feel of the show... and double as a storage space for the show's props and equipment. At various times in the show, it would need to serve as a truck, an altar, a table, an elephant, a speedboat, a mine car, the Ark of the Covenant, a bed and a mountain... among other things.
I got in touch with the BRILLIANT Art Director David Triscott, who I'd known for many years, through working on various TV shows together. David is the best in the business, and can make anything that's physically required by a production. In particular, I'd often marvelled at all the things he was called upon to create for Talkin' Bout Your Generation - from a flawless replica of a chair from Blade Runner, to a spring loaded meerkat that popped up out of the host's desk.
Luckily, David had the time available to build this for me, so I sent him very specific instructions, measurements, and a few sample pictures... and just two weeks later, he'd worked his magic yet again!
For my micro-budget show, it was the single biggest ticket item on the expenses sheet, but it was so, so, SO worth it!
(And it had already well and truly paid for itself by the end of the first season.)
Here it is;
For the shadow puppet theatre, a refrigerator box was sourced by my mum. She cut it in half to fit it in her car, which necessitated me putting it together again with lots of gaffer tape. We painted it black together. We cut a window int the front "wall", attached some tracing paper, and attached a work-light attached to the left "wall" of the thing, and it was done.
A slightly sad, not terribly solid and quite droopy-looking specimen, but it still did the trick.
For the shadow puppets themselves, I looked up a few silhouettes online for some of the ones I needed... Indy riding a horse, for example, but the rest were slightly cartoonish designs, invented by me (and my daughter Lily helped with some of the cutting out and attaching rods.)
Well, when I say "rods", I actually used drinking straws - big, fat, thickshake-capable ones... and I made sure they were colour coded too.
You see, I had three shadow puppet scenes - one for Raiders, one for Temple of Doom and one for Last Crusade. I made a separate set of puppets for each. The straws on the Raiders ones were blue, the Temple of Doom puppet straws were pink, and the Last Crusade puppet straws were yellow. This made them easy to find in the heat of the moment, and ruled out any unnecessary confusion in all that frantic scrambling in the half dark behind the screen...
To give you an idea of how this part of the show worked, here's the Raiders shadow puppet scene....
The umlauts on the fuel truck were Russell's idea!
In all, we made 21 shadow puppets, and before each show, I would set them on the small patch of floor inside the shadow puppet theatre in batches, from Raiders to Last Crusade, left to right.
The shadow puppets served me well - they broke up the structure of the show, giving the audience something different and interesting to look at, and they were also just a different, fun way of delivering gags. I'm certainly no expert puppeteer, but I think having them in the show added to the whole desperate, frantic one-man-band vibe.
Here's the full prop list for the show.
- World map (laminated)
- Cardboard backing for map
- Shadow puppet theatre
- Shadow puppets
- Custom made steamer trunk
- Handheld laser pen
- Lid of the Ark of the Covenant
- Model plane (+ white board marker)
- Henry's diary (+ brown paper wrapping + stamps)
- Swivelling stool
Early on, too, I'd had the idea of how to recreate the red line map sequences. I headed to eBay for a model of a plane from the era, and managed to find a 1/100 scale Douglas Delta DC-3 model for $30.77. It was also on eBay that I found the world map ($34.95) and the easel I needed to prop it up on ($18.90).
The cardboard backing for the map (to keep it rigid) came from the 4th wall of the refrigerator box, and the whiteboard marker was one we already had.
After I'd had the map laminated at a local office supply store, the only other piece of this puzzle was a bottle of Spray N' Wipe and a cleaning cloth. As the map needed to be pristine at the start of each show, part of my post-show routine each night saw me on my hands and knees on the floor, bent over the map, spraying and scrubbing until all the white board marker lines were gone.
Ah, the glamour of showbiz!
The only ongoing expense in the prop department was buying a new cantaloupe once a week. This served as the boulder at the start of Raiders AND as the head of the decapitated soldier at the end of The Last Crusade. With all that rough treatment, the fruit tended to be a little worse for wear after a few shows...
There were nerdy things I had fun doing before each show, such as wrapping Henry's diary in brown paper, addressing it to Indy, and adding a few Italian stamps from a the 1940s... (I found these online and printed them out).
So there you have it. All the props for the show.
The cardboard shadow puppet theatre didn't survive past the end of the first season. For the second season of the show, I commissioned a sturdier, plywood version from David. It was vastly stronger, neater and superior.
Perhaps the one prop that I'm happiest with, though (apart from the steamer trunk), was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. After looking at lots of pictures of the original online, I was really pleased with the super cheap facsimile I managed to make. And in my next blog entry here, I'll go into detail about exactly how I did make it, and provide detailed instructions, on the off-chance that YOU might like to make one too!
Until then... so long!