On Monday, May 4, Samita Wolfe of Film Biz Recycling created a Facebook fundraiser asking the community to help her raise enough for one months rent on the 3,600 square foot warehouse space her business calls home. Due to the health crisis, she had her last paying customer on February 27. During our phone conversation for this week’s episode of Art on the Air, Wolfe admitted that she was “a little bit scared” and hoped that the fundraiser would buy her enough time to “figure stuff out.”
Within four hours Wolfe had reached her goal, and within two days she’d doubled it.
“I’m not necessarily one to ask for help, just because I’m a bit stubborn,” she told me. “And lo and behold two days later I had two months rent.”
At the time of this writing, over 100 people had donated to the cause, including from places far removed from its physical location here in Savannah, like New York, Scotland, and even Australia. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that in many ways the non-profit was under-the-radar for most people. So I asked Wolfe to explain what, exactly, Film Biz Recycling is.
“Film Biz is an environmental non-profit,” she related. “At its core, we keep things out of dumpsters and landfills and the things we keep out are mostly props and set decorations for film, and televisions, theatre, [and] performance art pieces.”
Wolfe added that the props she has for rent are “donations from sets, but we also get donations from the community that just have really cool things that they don’t want to donate” elsewhere.
If you’ve never been to the space before, which is by appointment only, imagine the coolest antique shop or thrift store you’ve ever been to, only weirder. A 1950’s television set might sit next to a pile of old medical equipment. Faux greenery sprouts up from behind vintage kitchen items, including old spices donated by artist and recent Art on the Air guest Rubi McGrory. She’s got two phone booths, one freestanding and one that Wolfe says, “would be something that you would see maybe in like a prison.”
And they have tons of lighting and textiles.
“I’m kind of obsessed with old window treatments,” Wolfe admitted. “I’m a set decorator by profession, so to see a pattern of an old linen pair of curtains with the sun coming through are kind of my happy place.”
Speaking of her profession, Wolfe’s resume prior to opening Film Biz Recycling on Earth Day 2017 is impressive.
She’s originally from Woodbine, and, after a stint in the Navy, she got her degree in Environmental Science from Savannah State University. Wolfe then spent time managing the Unchained Tour, a storytelling circuit founded by George Dawes Green, originator of The Moth, which featured such luminaries as Neil Gaiman and Elna Baker. From there, Wolfe spent three years doing production work in New York, with her last gig being the critically acclaimed FX television series, “The Americans.”
That’s where the seed of what would become today’s Film Biz Recycling was first planted.
“I was a set dresser [on the show], but I was in charge of the set decoration of their house, full of all their cool old eighties and seventies props,” she said. “I was really good at organizing all of that stuff. So I just kind of cleaned up the warehouse and was like maybe I should open a prop house in Savannah when I go back.”
She didn’t have the capital to make such a thing happen at the time, but she knew Eva Radke, who ran the original Film Biz Recycling in Brooklyn. That version of the business, which was primarily a retail space, was being forced to close due to a massive jump in rent on their warehouse. Wolfe took Radke out to lunch to talk to her about how she might make a similar model for Savannah. Instead, she was offered the opportunity to take over the non-profit.View this post on Instagram
After the meal, Wolfe called up her partner to tell him the good news.
“I guess we’re going to move to Georgia and open a prop house,” she recalled with a laugh.
The two of them packed up a 26’ truck with the three Long Island storage units of props Wolfe had already collected, and the rest is history.
Today, she and a number of volunteers are involved in “almost every production that comes to town in some way,” Wolfe told me. “Whether they’re renting things from us or donating on the other end.”
Thanks to the generosity of the community, Film Biz Recycling will continue to service those productions, as well as local stage shows, SCAD student projects, and performance art pieces, into the foreseeable future.
“[That’s] the reason that I came back to Savannah,” said Wolfe. “I don’t want to be anywhere else. And I knew that I could only make Film Biz Recycling work here because I had the community of people who support me and my endeavors.”
Listen to my entire conversation with Samita Wolfe embedded here. You can learn more about Film Biz Recycling at FilmBizRecycling.org or @filmbizsav on Instagram. Next week I’ll be speaking with fine artist Tiffany O’Brien.
Tune in to “Art on the Air” every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show “Art on the Air.”
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.