Like a lot of other nostalgic adults, Tom Biolchini – a Tulsa-based banking executive and immediate past president of the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce – made the happy discovery some time ago that he could pick up lost pieces of his childhood via the vendors on eBay. During his youth, for instance, he’d had a nice collection of action figures representing the characters on the popular ‘80s animated series, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. 

To his joy, he found he could put it together again. 

“I loved He-Man,” he remembers, “and when I went on eBay, I saw I could get something like 20 of these action figures for 18 bucks. I was saying, ‘Look at these. Look how much fun this is!’ And my wife was rolling her eyes.” He laughs. “Then I got into action figures from the movies. I got the whole set from The Goonies. And Rocky Balboa from Rocky IV, and Ivan Drago, and Clubber Lang from Rocky III. I knew these weren’t wise investments, but it was fun for me.”

Assembling a movie-based action-figure collection, he says, was “an absolutely gateway” into collecting actual film props. Although they cost considerably more, Biolchini found he could acquire them in the same way. 

“About 10 years ago I was on eBay, looking around, and I saw Mel Gibson’s gun from Lethal Weapon, the first one,” he says. “And I said, ‘Well, that’s the coolest thing ever.’ So I contacted the seller. He’d worked on the movie set, and he came with credentials. I bought it. That was my first prop. I used to bring it around to parties and say, ‘Hey, can you guess what famous actor used this famous gun in a famous movie? If you get it right, I’ll buy you a drink,’ or whatever.” 

And so began Biolchini’s adventures in prop collecting. He continued picking things up from eBay, which eventually led him to the Prop Store in London, an auction house specializing in authentic pieces from theatrical features. 

“I watched how these auctions went off for a couple of years, and then I started bidding,” says Biolchini. “I noticed the prices on these things were getting ridiculous – I mean really high – and I’d be missing out on all these items. 

“I thought, ‘Who’s doing all this?’ So I dove deeper, and I saw that it was going all over the world. I was competing with people in, you name it – the Middle East, Africa, Europe.”

As he got savvier, he began winning more and more pieces. At the same time, he was becoming acquainted with other collectors and finding himself more and more intrigued with and enthusiastic about the whole worldwide prop-collecting culture. Finally, he became convinced that it would make a dandy topic for a television series.  

So, Biolchini wrote an outline and got it to his former Cascia Hall classmate Juan Pablo Reinoso, a producer, director, writer and actor who’d recently returned to Tulsa after working for more than two decades in New York. 

“He came to me and said, ‘What do you think? Is there a TV show here?’” recalls Reinoso. “I told him, ‘Yeah, but the problem is that the two most impossible businesses to get into and really have any sort of success are music and TV. Television is so incestuous that unless you already have your foot in the door and know somebody, or you’re a legacy, it’ll take you years and years to even direct an episode of anything, much less pitch a real show.’

Reinoso suggested that instead of trying to launch a TV series, Biolchini’s idea might be better realized with a feature-length documentary. “‘That way,’ I said, ‘you might actually be able to make something off of having a movie, and we could use it as a way to pitch an eventual TV show, because we’d have something tangible that they could see.’”

And that’s how the brand-new doc, Mad Props, became a reality. 

It’s tempting to define Mad Props as a movie about movie props. However, that’s not wholly accurate. With Reinoso directing and Biolchini as the on-camera narrator and interviewer, Mad Props takes viewers to prop-intensive locations in various cities in America and around the world, from sites like a tattoo parlor in San Marcos, Texas, and a prop museum in Las Vegas to Italy, France and the U.K, presenting along the way not only a relentlessly upbeat and fascinating look at movie props, but lots of affectionate glimpses of the people who love them. Biolchini and the crew also travel to Hollywood, where he talks to some original prop creators and brings in veteran character actors Robert Englund, Lance Henriksen and Mickey Rourke to give some Tinseltown sheen to the proceedings. 

“My producer and partner out in L.A., Keli Price, has relationships with all the major agencies, and we brought him in to help produce on Mad Props,” notes Reinoso. “We basically said, ‘Here’s a laundry list of [actors] who would be great.’” 

Henriksen and Englund were “obvious” choices, he adds, because of Henriksen’s starring roles in three of the Alien movies, whose props are extremely popular with collectors. And, of course, Englund will be forever known as Freddy Krueger, from another series with highly collectible props, the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Krueger, as it turns out, was one of young Biolchini’s absolute favorite movie characters. 

For the documentary, he says, “I got to go out and find the other nerds who collect these things, and they treat them as art, just like I do. But then to talk to the guys who got to use the props, to actually talk to him [Englund] and say, ‘So what did you do with your first glove [from the original Elm Street]?” He laughs again. “And then, to talk to the people who created them – it was all really intriguing to me.”

Although collectors in other areas – baseball cards and comic books, to name a couple – can be ruthless, there’s none of that aggressiveness in Mad Props. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Prop aficionados, including Biolchini himself, are presented as helpful and kind to one another – competitive, maybe, but hardly to a fault. 

“I think that’s the absolute truth,” says Biolchini. “That’s what we discovered on our journey. With the people we interviewed, it wasn’t like, ‘I’m trying to turn a 200% profit.’ It was more like, ‘I hope it’s worth something, but I just love having it.’ And they’d geek out about other people: ‘What do you have?’ 

“I’m not a collector, so when we started making the film, part of it for me was making the discovery behind the ‘why,’” adds Reinoso. “I understood the sentimentality, because there are movies that I’ve seen a million times, and I wanted to see whether it correlated with the financial aspect – to figure out what it was really more about.”

It all came home for him, he says, when Biolchini interviewed a man at a live Prop House auction in London, who was there to bid on only one thing – a relatively inexpensive technical drawing from a lesser-known British TV series, Blake’s 7. 

“That to me was the summary,” says Reinoso. “There’s really something for everybody, and everybody has a different connection to everything. It just makes it [prop collecting] so universal.”

It’s indeed universal, but Biolchini wants viewers to know that the movie about it came out of his hometown.  

“The documentary’s not about Tulsa,” he says, “but I try to do my best to show where it came from – wearing my Tulsa cap, and talking about Tulsa, that sort of thing. Just a little nudge to anybody who’s outside the state.” 

Mad Props played Tulsa’s Circle Cinema in March, part of what Reinoso describes as a series of “staggered theatrical dates across the country.” By the time you read this, it should also be available on DVD and via streaming services.  

Previous articleWiping Out Absenteeism
Next articleUnderstanding the Spectrum