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If you need a costume, who ya gonna call?

Building props is a passion for magician

POSTED: October 25, 2011 1:30 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Gainesville resident and magician Jeff McClure wears one of his custom-built Proton Packs replicated from the movie "Ghostbusters."

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Around these parts in North Georgia, most hobbyists have fairly typical interests ... classic cars, wood turning, lure collections. But every once in a while, like the odd egg in a chicken nest, comes someone whose hobby can only be classified as "unique." Meet Gainesville resident Jeff McClure.

Magician by day — as if that weren’t kooky enough — McClure spends his spare time building movie prop replicas. His most popular prop? The Proton Packs carried by Egon, Ray, Peter and Winston in the "Ghosbusters" movies. A fitting tribute to a movie that’s soon to become a trilogy in 2012.

"It’s a great time for ‘Ghostbusters’ fans. The movie has been playing every Thursday this month in theaters nationwide," McClure said.

The toy company Mattel has a high-end collectible toy website called MattyCollector.com, and it has released two incredible props from the movie, the Ghost Trap and PKE Meter.

McClure began building his own replicas of the Proton Pack when the one he bought didn’t quite meet authentication in his mind.

"It was well made, but not 100 percent. So, I did some work to it and sold it. I changed hoses, connectors, added better-made parts," says McClure.

I either built it myself, or found someone who had them for sale. And it sold for a ridiculous amount of money. I bought another one from, at the time, one of the best builders in the market. That pack was still not exactly what I wanted. So, I made some changes to it and sold it, too. After a while, I got very good at scratch-building them in my quest for the ‘perfect’ Proton Pack. And, I learned a lot of techniques along the way that made building them easier."

Tinkering with costumes and props is something McClure said he’s always been interested in since his days in the Gainesville Theatre Alliance.

"I kept drifting into the prop department," McClure said. "I worked on several productions as the assistant property master. After the current property master left, I was asked to take over. I learned a lot from experiments gone awry, mistakes, trial and error and from lots of advice from instructors. They let me experiment and I grew a lot creatively."

But even as a kid, McClure knew he liked building and creating.

"I would tinker with stuff in my dad’s shop while he rebuilt old cars. I think I’m just ‘wired’ that way. I used to repaint Matchbox cars and build model cars and airplanes."

McClure’s Proton Packs come complete with lights and sound effects, and even play the theme from both movies with the flip of a switch. Taking nearly 200 hours to complete, he uses a combination of kit parts and machined parts custom built for his packs.

"The parts are fiberglass. Some are real industrial parts and some are custom made from various machine shops around town. I even use a local print shop for my labels. Everything is custom made. I like to keep as much of my farmed-out work with local businesses. I think that’s important."

Collectors from around the globe have called on McClure for his custom prop. He gets a lot of inquiries on his packs from his YouTube video, recently selling one to a bride-to-be in Nebraska who was buying the replica for her fiance as a wedding gift.

"I like ’Ghostbusters’ for the fan base. People love ‘Star Wars,’ but some people scoff at someone in a ‘Star Wars’ costume. Even if it’s dead-on movie accurate. But if you show up at a Halloween party dressed as a Ghostbuster, everyone freaks out. You might be too short to be a stormtrooper, or too out of shape to be Superman, but anyone can put on the tan flight suit and strap on a Proton Pack and everyone loves it. Isn’t that cool?"

McClure makes other prop replicas and costumes for people, especially around Halloween. From Willy Wonka to the new Captain America, McClure has been busy in his garage getting every detail right. Need to saw a woman in half? He can build that prop, too.

"Stuff you see in movies is never as nice as you think it is. But when you’re replicating a costume or prop, people want to see it as they think it was in the movie, which means you have to build it better than it actually was."

So where does he think his hobby will take him in the future?

"I would love to work for the movie industry and build new props people have never seen. And maybe one day see legions of fans building a prop I originally envisioned."



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