When you walk into a prop house, it’s instinctive to wonder how the collection began. Now throw in a photo studio, set design shop and a llama (yes, you read that right), and you’ve got ACME Studio, a hybrid photo hub that sprouted in Brooklyn in 2010.
Founded by NYC set designer and prop stylist Shawn Patrick Anderson, the ACME Studio space in Williamsburg is evocative of its creator’s charisma. Its origins trace back to Upstate, NY, where Anderson used barns to store a collection of props, tchotchkes, and furnishings he had assembled from over 10 years of work as a set designer and prop stylist. “I like junk. I like to dig around, and I like the excitement of not knowing what you’re gonna find,” he says. “The key is not in the buying of the goods, but the logistics of storing and transporting it.”
At the time, Anderson had a set shop on John Street in Dumbo, which was moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yard after its residents were run out by developers. Thing was, it became difficult to persuade clients to come out to the area, not to mention the lack of public transportation in the neighborhood. Anderson then met with a friend who worked in real estate and decided to relocate his operations to a leaky, abandoned space on North 3rd St. in Williamsburg.
“I already had a shop, I started accumulating props, and I build things, so I rented this space that was abandoned for over a year,” he says. “We had to rebuild it, there was nothing in there, and we even had to put in windows. It took me about three years to really get it off the ground.”
Today, this space is home to ACME Studio. When entering the building, you’ll find your way onto a drive-in loading dock situated about 12 footsteps from the front door. Inside, you’ll come across a collection of sofas, taxidermy, vintage cameras, exotic chairs, and a bathroom reminiscent of a wooden ship’s hold interior. On second glance, you’ll notice the studio’s 26 x 26 cyc and 14-foot high ceilings tucked within the prop house. But if you look even closer, chances are you’ll become engulfed in the array of smaller, more decorative props, from vintage cameras and trophies to Thor mallets and rotary wall phones, all of which are indexed in ACME’s online catalog.
“People often show up to shoot and end up going a different direction, adding in things like taxidermy, carpet, and furniture. It’s all right there and you can just grab it the day of the shoot,” says Anderson. “It’s also really easy to load in. At [studios in Manhattan] you often have to fight the elevator, which, for me, can collectively take up to an hour-and-a-half for my team to come and go.”
And of course, in the basement of ACME lies the set shop. There, Anderson builds sets for large-scale editorial shoots and high-end advertising clients, alongside projects such as a brick pizza oven custom-built for Rachel Ray. “Despite all the props and the set shop, we keep the cyc very clean of clutter,” Anderson adds. “We also have blackout drapes, so you can close yourself in there away from the excitement of all the other things to look at.”
Yet, aside from the practical amenities ACME offers, what sets it apart from other studios is its character and culture. Take the annual studio party, for example. Each year, like many others, ACME welcomes its clients, friends and colleagues for a night of partying and networking. But there’s a catch: Each year, the party is attended by a living, breathing llama named Pierre, who is down to take pictures and selfies with the party guests. “It’s hard to get a monkey in this city, so we got a llama. The next year, we didn’t want a pig or a peacock, so we ended up with a llama again,” says Anderson. “Then we thought: ‘Why don’t we just have a llama party?”