It was a final resting place for movie props instead of the dump, an innovative thrift store that instead of selling cast-offs from everyday people sold furniture, electronics, sports equipment and even a giant naked man statue that had been used on movie sets. Sadly, after recycling 600 tons of movie set waste and being recognized by the EPA for their efforts, Gowanus’ Film Biz Recycling has announced that they’ll be closing at the end of June due to an inability to raise money to cover their rent. Despite disappointment over having to close up shop, the non-profit’s founder Eva Radke told us she’s still proud of the work Film Biz has done in the past six years.
“My heart is broken, but I’m walking away with my head held high.”
Unlike in other instances of beloved Brooklyn businesses being swallowed by development, Radke told us that this wasn’t a matter of the rent being too damn high. Film Biz had been given reasonable terms by their landlord, Radke said, but the bigger issue was securing funding for the set recycling shop. So much of what film crews dropped off at the store was donated to charity outright, and while Radke said she enjoyed the retail aspect of the store, that aspect was second to providing charitable donations and providing a place for the film and theatre industries to recycle their sets.
“It’s always been a great idea and a bad business model,” she said.
Since Film Biz was more focused on charity efforts than retail efforts, the only way to keep the doors open was through grants and support from the film industry. While there was a grant from the Empire State Development Corporation that helped for a couple of years, Radke told us that government money eventually dried up.
“We’re not curing cancer and we’re not a shelter,” Radke said, when talking about a lack of city money to keep the space up. “If you’re a city councilperson, who are you going to give the money to? A public school, or us, who should be kept alive by the film industry?” she mused.
While she singled out HBO and NBC for their efforts in recycling, Radke said that there needs to be a consensus in the film industry, from the top down, to support efforts like hers to divert the streams of trash coming out of film sets. Radke told us she felt the film industry has a responsibility to make an effort to recycle their sets and otherwise divert their props from the garbage dump, given the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax subsidies the industry gets for filming in the city. Her goal when she started Film Biz was to effect a culture change in the film industry and to change the “perceived convenience of throwing things away.”
Given that Film Biz was getting 10 tons of recycled sets donated every month, Radke feels like she accomplished that goal in the six years Film Biz was open. She worries that without a one-stop place for film crews to drop off their sets and props that more of it will be trashed than be recycled going forward, but she’s also hopeful that with a list of places Film Biz recommends items go to and a stigma now attached to merely dumping sets, the situation won’t go completely back to how it was before Film Biz opened. Despite having to announce the closure of the business on the anniversary of receiving their EPA award, Radke took a positive outlook on the future of film set recycling.
“Obi-Wan and Dumbledore were stronger in death,” she told us, “so maybe my impact will be felt even more now.”
Having provided a place for film crews to get cheap sets and props though, Film Biz’ closure will no doubt have an impact on shoots happening around New York City going forward. For starters, the store had pre-built, professionally made sets that could be rented to student and independent films for less than it cost to buy them. Radke also mentioned that the most popular rental item in the store was a “powder blue coffin,” that came much cheaper than the $3500 it would cost a film crew to buy a whole new one if they were going to do that. Instead, they’d rent is at Film Biz, which means that the same powder blue casket seen in dozens of shows that filmed in the area will no longer be making guest appearances.
As for Radke, she’ll move on to similar attempts to clean up the film industry. She has a peer-to-peer network of film professionals called Artcube that connects people looking for work with film sets, but also provides a way for film crews to recycle their sets. Beyond not having running the space as a job anymore, Radke said what she’ll miss most of all is the positivity Film Biz Recycling brought to the world.
“People would come in and say that it was their happy place,” she told us, choking up.
The good news, if there’s any to be had here, is that you can at least get really cheap prices on Film Biz’ inventory in the weeks to come. Before the last day on June 20, Film Biz is having a liquidation sale starting May 11, with increasing discounts as the weeks go on. From May 11 to May 23, you can get 25% off inventory at the store, from May 25 to June 6 it’s 50% off, from June 8 to June 13 it’s 75% off and from June 14 to June 20 the store will let you name your own price for whatever remains. After which, the easiest way to get pieces of a film set in Brooklyn will be the old-fashioned way: stealing them.
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