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Providing Period-Correct Pens for a Movie

Providing Period-Correct Pens for a Movie

Posted by Teri Morris ,Dec 5th 2021

We got an interesting email in late 2019. The folks assembling the props for the Jane Campion NETFLIX movie The Power of the Dog needed three pens to use in the movie that would be correct for the 1924 Montana cattle ranch setting and characters. The pens would be used on camera, and it was important to the production designer Grant Robertson that the pens be authentic to the era.

We were given info on the characters who would be using the pens .... a no-nonsense cattle rancher, a young man, and an old lady living in a hotel. No problemo!

There were a few special requirements. Once the models were selected, we'd need to provide two of each so that they would have a back-up on set. Okay, a little more challenging.

We selected Waterman models that would have been readily available and in use at the time. 1) a classic Waterman 52 in simple clack chased hard rubber for the cattle rancher, 2) a 12 1/2 eye dropper for the young man, and 3) a 12 1/2 sterling filigree eye dropper for the old lady (whose character is actually just called "Old Lady" by her sons).

Since the pens would be in usage on set in New Zealand, we made sure they were fully checked out and ready to write. This is something we strive for with all our pens, but we felt extra pressure knowing that filming would depend on them functioning when needed. No hard starts, no skipping, no blobbing!

Filming was delay and impacted by the pandemic. The props people on set had to make sure the pens were wiped down between handling to reduce the COVID risk. Western movies have horse handlers, cow handlers, but this movie had to have a pen handler! We worked with the props assistant who would have the job, so that they would be comfortable with the process of filling and using the pens.

We eagerly awaited the release of the movie, which was getting a lot of publicity due to the esteemed director and high profile lead actor (Benedict Cumberbatch). It made quite a splash at the film festivals and took home some awards, eventually debuting on NETFLIX December 1st.

You'll see one of the pens in action at the 30 minute mark. It's a close-up of the Waterman 52 writing a few lines, and it looks great and performs well. Whew! Mr. Cumberbatch obviously spent some time practicing with the pen, and handles it expertly. 

In the end, only one of the three models we sent was shown on screen. Oh well, that's showbiz, and stuff ends up on the cutting room floor.

You might be curious about the business arrangement, especially if you are working on a movie and need the right pens. We were first asked if we could rent pens, but since the pens were going to be written with by inexperienced actors and were somewhat fragile, this made us nervous. We finally agreed to sell and then buy back the pens when they were finished being used by the movie.