Maximizing and Saving on Props

Working with a low budget doesn’t mean your set design has to suffer. Props can instantly make a good film look cheap and a bad film look big budget. So, how exactly do you fool the audience with only a few bucks to spare? Here is what we have found to be cost effective and helpful.

Dollar Store

Dollar store finds are the best. Although most dollar store chains have the same name, they carry different products. This maximizes the chance to find exact the props you’re looking for. It takes some time to scavenge these stores, but there are some hidden treasures to be found in the isles. However, we understand that not all items at the dollar store look like they belong in this century. The good news is, for most of those items, there is an easy fix.

Our Director and Assistant Camera man prop shopping.

Spray Paint

Spray paint is your best friend. During our 3rd short film, we needed to decorate an apartment to have a modern day minimalist design. Our budget however only allowed for a few bucks for props. That’s when we went to the dollar store and bought less than 10 dollars worth of decorations. With some extra spray paint I had lying around at home, we instantly made our cheap finds look classy and expensive. Just about everything can be spray painted so keep an eye out for props that just need some paint touch ups.


Ask friends, family, even strangers. Nothing bad ever came from simply asking. Unless you have a unique prop that needs to be special ordered, chances are someone close to you already has it. But remember, with borrowing from others comes a bit of a risk, especially if you borrow from multiple people. A simple trick we use is to label the bottom of each borrowed prop with a small post it note of the owners name. That way, once shooting is over, you know exactly what item belongs to who. Also, treat the props with respect as they do need to be returned in perfect condition.

Almost all of our camping props were borrowed when filming Sway.

TIP: When you return the borrowed items, give them a thank you card to show your appreciation.

Buy…then return

Are you only going to use your prop once? If so, consider purchasing it from a return friendly store and then returning it once you’re done filming. This works well with clothes and simple house decorative items. By using this method, you can buy a more pricey item and return it later to get all your money back. But, make sure you keep all receipts, leave on all tags, and treat the item with extreme care. While most places won’t question the return, there are some stores that demand the product not be used. So, check return policies before making the purchase.


*Extra Tip

If you plan on making multiple films, we have found it helpful to start a ‘prop box’. Our prop box contains the items we constantly reuse. The best thing about our collection is, we have spent less than $30.00 on all our props combined and we have made 6 films so far.

Do you have any tips on saving money when buying props? Let us know!


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