Fake Books

bobgaggle

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Nov 19, 2007
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Philadelphia, PA
In an upcoming production of Jekyll and Hyde, my director wants Jekyll's lab to be filled with stacks of books, at least 6' tall (taller than the actors) Rather than dealing with the price of buying hundreds of used books and dealing with the weight, i thought that making fake books would be easier. I had two ideas that i would want to run past everyone out there, maybe you all have experience with this or have a better way:

idea 1: take heavy duty (grilling) aluminum foil and cover one side in glue. lay cloth (cheap bedsheets etc.) over it and allow to dry. once dry, you have a malleable material that you can cut and form into the shape of a book. a bit of paint and bam, you have a book.

idea 2: get 1" thick sheet foam and simply cut it into book sized squares, stack them up and glue. paint and there you go. the only problem is that it will just be a square with preset thickness. with the foil and cloth you can mold it around and actual book and get the contours of the spine etc.

thoughts?
 

derekleffew

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Idea#1 will probably be more work than you think. You'd have to make a six-sided box out of your flexible material, and a 6' column of books would most likely crush the ones on the bottom.

Idea#2 is more workable.
a) you could get up to 12" thick white foam, or glue-up 6" thick stock and cut it to a 12"x12" x6' column, then carve, using either a hot wire or electric knife the books,
OR
b) buy blue foam in 1", 1.5", and 2" thicknesses and cut random sized books, paint sides first, then glue together. Either method will not be vertically stable without a base of something heavy on the bottom (I'm thinking the bottom books could be stageweights?)

In either case, be sure to observe all safety precautions when working with styrofoam: proper ventilation, respirators, dust collection, it makes a huge mess.

Might be easier in the long run to just obtain real, unwanted books. I've heard that Salvation Army and Goodwill for instance will not accept enclyclopedias, which seem appropriate for this play. Perhaps a "wanted" ad on freecycle.com or craigslist.com would get you what you need, and you can take them to a recycling center after the run. Or check with your local libraries about books they can't sell and intend to recycle.

Hope this helps. If not, I'm just a lighting guy who hasn't done props in 25 years!;)
 
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soundlight

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NJ & NYC
I like the foam idea, but as Derek said, use different thicknesses of the blueboard type stuff, cover it with muslin for a spine, and paint. Before attaching the muslin, round over two edges with sandpaper to simulate the spine. I'd advise making the stacks by putting all of the books on a rod of some sort, with a heavy base, so that this doesn't fall over.
 
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icewolf08

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When I worked on a production of Musical Comedy Murders of the 1940's which is set in the library of a mansion, we just went to all the local libraries and took whatever books they were getting rid of. We had something like 2000+ books on the set, and they were all free. We had a lot of sets of old state law, as they get updated and then become obsolete. Most of the books we left in one piece, some we just cut the spines off and mounted them on the shelves, some we foamed, and some we cut to fit in shelves that were not very deep. Worked well.
 

avkid

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Freecycle will definitely produce several encyclopedia sets on any given day.
 

cvanp

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Oct 19, 2007
I visited the set of "Dawson's Creek" a few years ago down in North Carolina. For book shelves, they just took tons of books, cut off the spines, and stuck the spines to a sheet of plywood. It's lighter than having the whole book, and since (in most cases) the audiences doesn't see the backs or sides of the book, it's very effective.
 

gafftaper

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Real books are the way to go. I used foam to create the mattresses for an 8' tall bed in Once Upon a Mattress. It worked great. But it's really messy and it isn't all that cheap. The foam dust gets into everything. It creates quite a static charge. It's hard to cut accurately. It's a real pain... and I was only doing a bunch of random sized strips. I can't imagine the pain of trying to do it for a couple thousand books.

You are MUCH better off calling all the libraries you can find. Don't forge schools, colleges, universities, thrift stores, used book stores. You might get a used book store to loan you the whole lot in exchange for an ad in the program.

The other problem is how do you stabilize the stacks. If you are talking 6' piles of books they are not going to stay upright easily. If you can get books that you can destroy try running dowel through them to secure them together then screwing the whole stack to the floor.
 

Van

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There are a ton of good ideas mentioned so far. I would suggest you try the one that appeals the most to your shop and artistic capabilities. I hate the idea of destroying real books, it's just a thing of mine. The idea of cutting of the spines then gluing them onto a piece plywood is one way I've seen it done. Another way I've seen it done is to get real books and cut out the center of all the pages, to reduce the weight, or replace the pages of real books with foam. As someone esle pointed out, remember that there are several "stock" sizes of foam and stacks can be made out of layers of varying sizes. A one inch thick piece of foam can be carved, with a "sureform", very easily, to appear as a the spines of several books, then just cut the top edge to appear as differeing heights of books. Hope that helps.
 

jowens

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Centerport, New York, United States
I directed Beauty and The Beast last year, and told my prop kids to figure out a way to make a TON of books, light enough to move on a cart, able to be covered with a cloth to do an on stage reveal.
They came up with this idea...
4x8 sheets of cardboard and a bunch of box cutters and straight edges.
They cut rectangles from 5"-8" tall, and about 10" wide. Two folds with a straight edge to create a 1.5" spine, and attach the other side with the brass paper fasteners from staples.
Paint the spines, velcro to the shelf and done.
It looked awesome - with depth, colors, and everything. It took 3 kids a few days to make it but they were so excited about how good it looked it made it worth it.
Happy to provide more detail if need be.
~Joe
 

chausman

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What about just painting books onto a piece of plywood? We have done that many times.
 

ptero

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THE Great Lakes State
This may not be not relevant to the OP. With a bunch of old law books, and others, we bandsawed out most of the pages in a u shape leaving the top and bottom of the pages intact. This was for filling bookshelves. At least some of the tops of pages were in sightlines. They also held shape if a prop book needed to be pulled and/or placed amongst these.
 

jungle16jim

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Feb 19, 2010
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nashville
For Music Man several years ago, I had the cast collect cardboard tubes--mostly from paper towel holders and I got a fabric store to donate some old fabric spools. I cut them in half (or thirds for the larger ones), painted and named them. The rounded edges gave it a very romantic look. I actually used the back side of flats for the shelves, adding a few horizontal 1x3 supports to create more shelves.
 

GOODCHILD

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Nov 24, 2010
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middlesbrough, UK
what we have done in the past is asked around for old books (which we got hundreds off then ripped the covers of which leaves you with the front back and spine if u which when stood up will look like a bookcase. if you need to lay them down just put a small square of polysterne in the edge
 

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