David Mandel, the famed showrunner of Veep and writer on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, has a well-documented love for movie memorabilia. Back in 2016, the New York Times ran a piece on his passion for prop collecting, which is so extensive as to fill up an entire second apartment that he keeps in Los Angeles, and Variety had a piece in 2017 about the props that line the Paramount Lot office where he led Veep.
Ryan Condal, the writer-producer who’s currently showrunning the Game of Thrones prequel and previously worked on Colony, is another big collector; he eventually became close friends with Mandel through collecting. And next Thursday, the pair is launching The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, a 12-episode podcast series distributed by Rooster Teeth that’s set to go deep into the world of Hollywood collectibles — one that’s fascinating, rich in history, and comes with its own seedy underground.
Check out the trailer for the show here:
We checked in with Condal and Mandel to talk about making the podcast, the memorabilia community, and the props they’ve swiped from their own shows.
So I’m generally unfamiliar with the movie-memorabilia or prop-collecting community. My sense is that it’s kinda big, that it tends to be really expensive, and that it can get pretty intense. Is that an accurate interpretation?
David Mandel: It’s definitely bigger than you would think, as they say. It’s always surprising when someone reveals themselves to be a collector, you know? There are a lot of known collectors out there, but there’s also a lot of rumors about who may or may not be one.
Guillermo del Toro is a big one. He had a giant exhibit at LACMA [the Los Angeles County Museum of Art] in 2016, and it included his massive collection of movie props, not only of his own stuff, but from other famous horror and sci-fi movies he’s collected over the years. Peter Jackson is another collector. Frank Darabont. The late Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft, built an entire museum. And that’s just on the high-end side.
In terms of intensity: absolutely. When it comes to collecting, I always like to say that just because we collect the same things doesn’t mean I want to have a meal with you or watch you eat, if the case may be, because, totally, there’s crazy people. There’s terrible people. There’ve been insane moments. But, also, I’ve made a lot of friends through collecting, including Ryan. We met through this. We wouldn’t be friends in real life; we wouldn’t know each other’s families if it wasn’t for collecting. You get the good and the bad.
Ryan Condal: People don’t tend to be casual collectors of this stuff. I think you can be casual collectors of other things, but this requires a substantial investment, obviously, and it requires paying attention and going to auctions and things like that. But that’s what I love about it as a community. It’s this shared passion. You can always tell when you’re speaking to another collector because there’s a certain language to all of that.
What are the topics that you were more excited to talk about on the podcast?
R.C.: We were actually just working on the cut of an episode about this wonderful book that’s kind of a rite of passage for everybody that gets into collecting. It’s called The Ruby Slippers of Oz, written in the late ’80s by a journalist from the Los Angeles Times, Rhys Thomas. He had started out, as a lot of these books do, writing an article about what happened to the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and then just fell down this rabbit hole.
It’s a pretty old story by now, because Rhys was writing in the late ’80s about guys in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when Wizard of Oz was newly popular again because it was being televised on CBS, but the story he found was just too bizarre to be fiction. He went in with the hope of uncovering the mystery of the ruby slippers: Where there more than one pair? Where were they? Who had them all?
And he quickly learned that everything came back to this one guy, Kent Warner, who is kind of an icon in our field. He was really the original collector. Kent was a costumer who worked in Hollywood, and he went into all these studios and found all this stuff being thrown out or not being cared for. So he took them out of the dumpster, saved them, and preserved them. It’s a fantastic story, and we’ve been trying to have lunch with Rhys for, like, eight years, but it never came together, and now, with this podcast, we were able to coax him out, and he spoke to us for two hours. We were able to get a wonderful interview with him.
In the first episode, you talk a bit about this idea that people either have the “collecting” gene or they don’t. I don’t have that gene, I don’t think, so I’m curious if you could tell me about the feeling you get when you acquire a piece you want. What do you feel that I’m not feeling?
D.M.: I wish I could tell you that I knew what a runner’s high was, so I don’t like throwing words like that around [laughs]. It’s really hard to explain. It’s like you’re trying to capture a piece of your childhood again or, dare I say, a piece of your soul. It puts a smile on your face. You walk by, you look at it, you remember, you smile.
When I get a Star Wars piece for my collection — and Star Wars is a big part of my collection — I get taken back to 1976, when I was 7 years old, going to Times Square and sitting through Star Wars twice in a row with my dad. It’s that, I don’t know, pure nostalgia injection that just puts a smile on my face.
R.C.: The pieces that I have the strongest connection with are things I loved in my childhood. I think what’s particular to movie memorabilia is that it gives movie fans a tangible connection to an intangible thing. Movies are not tangible objects, right? Yes, you can buy the VHS tapes or the collectible magazine or whatever, but these pieces are things that connect you back to something you otherwise couldn’t hold in your hand.
What proportion of your collections are stuff you swiped from your own shows?
D.M.: I have a ridiculous amount of Veep stuff. I have more Veep stuff than anyone should possibly have.
For Seinfeld, I have a set of plates and a coffee cup from Monk’s Café. They look like nothing. I also have the Bizarro Superman statue from my episode, “Bizarro Jerry,” which sat in place of the regular Superman statue in Bizarro Jerry/Kevin’s apartment.
R.C.: Most of my collection is stuff from my childhood and things like that, but I’ve kept a good amount particularly from my TV shows. I kept a lot of stuff from Colony. As it went along, I would pick key pieces out. Nothing huge, but things that happened along that would be significant plot points.
I will say, and this is something I’m not very proud of, but for my movies — and Dave can also attest to this — when you’re a movie writer, unless you’re also directing the movie, you’re not generally invited to set. So I had to debase myself and go back and actually buy things from my own movies.
Have you called dibs on anything from the Game of Thrones prequel yet?
R.C.: I haven’t … but I have. I’ll just say that I will very much enjoy the last day of shooting.
Do you guys have any white whales when it comes to props?
D.M.: I feel like it would be an honest-to-gosh, scratch-built X-wing or TIE fighter. Preferably from the original Star Wars, like an Industrial Light & Magic model.
R.C.: When Viggo Mortensen worked on The Lord of the Rings, he very famously got into the role of Strider and took method acting to a whole new level. He kept close to his sword, which was made out of real steel by a swordsmith named Peter Lyon, and he slept out in the wild with it and used a whetstone to take care of it and he oiled it himself. And then he allegedly kept it and took it home from production.
I love those movies, and the first movie in particular, when Viggo was still Strider instead of Aragorn. So I would say: Viggo Mortensen’s personal Strider sword from The Lord of the Rings.
D.M.: Let’s be clear: If Viggo Mortensen is murdered anytime soon in the next couple of months, you might want to cut out Ryan’s response here. That’s all I’m saying.
R.C.: Unless he’s found crushed under a Millennium Falcon, I might be okay.
The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of drops its first episode on Thursday, October 22.