By RODNEY HO/ firstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog, posted December 17, 2016
In 2012, Eric Anthony Leong received a crazy request from a new NBC show, “Revolution.” The prop guy needed 23 usable swords in just two weeks.
But Leong wasn’t fazed. He designed and finished a mold, then created an assembly line to speed up production. Actors on the drama — about an apocalyptic world without electricity — used his swords both seasons that the show ran.
“They never broke, and stood up to crazy actors and stuntmen alike,” said Jeff Wolfe, the stunt coordinator for the show.
“I had a lot of fun, but it was a mad rush,” Leong said. As souvenirs, he keeps two “Revolution” swords in his backyard shed behind his home, where he makes his prop weapons and jewelry.
Leong, a 36-year-old Lilburn resident with three kids, isn’t just a master prop maker. He owns thousands of props he has rented to movies and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead” and “Captain America: Civil War.” He also buys props from films such as “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” and resells them. On the side, he DJs weddings.
Since he has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Leong said he needs a lot of work variety. “My entrepreneurial spirit led me to do all this,” he said.
Indeed, he said he loves to network and hustle for business, frequently soliciting work off the growing 1,600-member Atlanta Art Department Facebook page. He is a prime example of a creative person filling demand in the burgeoning entertainment business in Atlanta.
“He’s not held back by any fear,” said Elizabeth Young, co-owner of Southeast Costume Co., which provides costumes for show such as FX’s “Atlanta” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” “He’ll take risks. He’s not shy. He’ll just go up to people and make deals happen.”
Leong, who DJed Young’s wedding, keeps his props at her shop, and they split the rental income.
As both a creator and distributor of props, “Eric is kind of in a unique niche,” said Rich Rappaport, owner of Atlanta’s RJR Props, which has provided props to more than 170 TV shows and films over the past nine years. “And his metallurgy is great. He’s done some wonderful work with swords, with knives, with shanks. It’s not just his skill, but his ability to get things done on time quickly.”
Leong, a Georgia State University graduate who grew up obsessed with ninja movies and martial arts, recently appeared on History Channel’s “Forged in Fire,” a reality competition show in which contestants vie for $10,000 by making the best bladed weapons possible.
He came in second, designing a respectable hunga munga, a four-bladed African tribal weapon. “I played it safe,” he said, noting that the winner was a full-time blacksmith.
As an art major at Georgia State University, he became interested in blades and billets for art projects. He attended a blade show at Cobb Galleria Center, where he heard about Tony Swatton, who did props for the movie “The Last Samurai.” Through a training program, Leong flew out to Los Angeles to become Swatton’s apprentice, and worked on props for the 2005 film “The Legend of Zorro” and a Capital One commercial.
In 2008, Georgia sweetened its tax credits for TV and film production companies, opening the door to more opportunities for Leong.
He got his first break from the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries,” designing a cameo necklace for actress Nina Dobrev. He generated a handle for a vampire slayer, then Cartoon Network needed giant scimitar swords for a large minotaur for the film “Level Up.” And, he built armor, bows, arrows and swords for a Georgia Lottery commercial aping a “Braveheart”-style battle scene.
Leong also knows how to make jewelry. For the upcoming Atlanta-shot Tupac Shakur biopic “All Eyez on Me,” which is scheduled to come out in 2017, he made rings and necklaces for Demetrious Shipp Jr., who plays Shakur, including the rap star’s signature gold Euphanasia medallion. Using an old image of it from the internet, Leong painstakingly replicated an angel of death shooting pistols.
“I wore it at the ‘Fast & Furious 8’ wrap party,” Leong said. (He DJed that event with actress Michelle Rodriguez.)
Angelina, Leong’s wife of six years, marvels at her husband’s stamina and upbeat nature. “He finishes whatever he starts,” she said. “He loves to tackle a problem, whether it’s getting a rental or making a prop. He listens. If he thinks he can do it, he does it. And people find that refreshing.”
Leong said he feels that making items by hand went out of fashion for a time, but is making a comeback: “People can tinker and show off what they create to the world now. That generation is growing up.”