My visit at Old Focals

Do you remember thick black glasses that the actor Colin Firth wore in movie A Single Man or the main character of TV series Mad Men Don Draper’s sunglasses that were later on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, worn by the actor Jon Hamm?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I published several blog posts on both cases. In the first I’ve even found out that Firth himself found the glasses in prop box on the set and chose them. But the most interesting thing about both placements was the source, which supplied the glasses. It was the same company, specialized in providing frames for Hollywood production. Both glasses came from Old Focals.

Don Draper on the cover of RollingStone

Later I had an email interview with the owner of Old Focals Russ Campbell, who has been in the business for more than 20 years and has contributed frames and glasses for countless movies and TV shows so far. He gave me tremendous insight into product placement of frames and glasses in big Hollywood productions.

Regular readers also know that I was on a road trip in USA last autumn. I visited several locations that appeared in movies and TV shows, but I also hoped to get a closer look into product placement business. And that’s why I contacted Russ and Old Focals and asked about visiting their store in Pasadena and check the work they do in person.

I was honored when they agreed to meet me and therefore I made an unusual, but amazing stop for a European tourist on a road trip in California.

Old Focals in Pasadena (photo by Erik R.)

It was our third day in Los Angeles and I was still uncomfortable with LA’s traffic. However, our schedule was tight and ambitious: first we visited Don Draper’s childhood home that appeared in the season 6 finale of Mad Men. Then we drove to Altadena, an area north of Pasadena in the outskirts of Los Angeles, where we found a house from the TV show I watched a long long time ago: it was Brenda and Brandon’s home from Beverly Hills 90210.

And then we drove to Pasadena, where we quickly found the place of our next stop. It’s a tiny building on 45 W Green St. with a sign ‘Old Focals’ on the façade.

Old Focals’ frames (photo by Erik R.)

We met with David who works at Old Focals and what came next were (maybe a little unexpected) two of the most fascinating hours on our trip!

David showed us around the store, explained the nature of Old Focals’ business and shared some interesting details. He told us that Russ has been buying frames from flea markets in the beginning of his career, but now all these frames are “new old stock” or “dead stock” as they say. Frames they use for movie and TV productions have never been worn before.

Old Focals’ frames (photo by Erik R.)

David also told us that in Hollywood it’s not the costume design department that’s responsible for frames and lenses but rather the prop department. Props are in charge of watches and eyeglasses; however David thought that eyeglasses are more character builder than just a prop. There are some typical types of frames that the production usually needs: there are aviators, the nerd frame, the sexy librarian type of frame to name just a few of them.

Old Focals’ frames (photo by Erik R.)

But what exactly is the role of Old Focals when it comes to movies? David explained it in a case of a superhero movie.

A superhero has e.g. laser eyes, so he needs very dark glasses, with a shield by the sides. So they select several frames that match the description or maybe even prepare something new, a combination of different frames for example. If the production chooses one of the frames, Old Focals have to make that frame all over again because the studio needs two or three frames, especially if there are some fight scenes.

Matsuda M3023 sunglasses in Iron Man 3 (2013, Marvel Studios, screen capture)

David also explained that for the movies that were set in the 30s or 40s Old Focals made some frames, which were the same as those from the old times, only made bigger, because everyone’s heads have gotten much bigger than then. One of those is Founders frame, a quintessential frame that everyone from those times would have worn it.

Founders frames from Old focals (photo by Erik R.)

Of course we talked about A Single Man as well, mostly because I got the confirmation that Colin Firth found the famous eyeglasses in a prop box in the aforementioned interview with Russ. David admitted that the frame became one of the most popular and talked about collected frame.

Eyeglasses from the movie A Single Man (2009, The Weinstein Company, screen capture)

We also talked about Mad Men. I’m a huge fan of the TV show, which is set in the 60s, and I was totally excited when David admitted that he is the one, who has to provide frames for the show. He told us that the production puts a great deal of attention in details: cars, wardrobe, glasses … and is pleased that they put a special thanks to Russ Campbell in end credits.

He also showed us Jon Hamm’s sunglasses that he wore in the sixth season and for the Rolling Stone cover.

Drapers frames from Old Focals (photo by Erik R.)

These are just some of the topics we discussed with David. Our visit that should’ve lasted 30 minutes became a two-hour conversation about movies and TV shows, Mad Men and Orange is the New Black, Tom Cruise’s sunglasses from Oblivion, product placement, eyewear, LA’s traffic, living in Altadena and in the suburbs, drinking coffee …

David was amazing. He really took his time for BrandsAndFilms and gave an amazing insight into their business. That was of immense value for a blogger from Slovenia who covers product placement. He also suggested two places in San Francisco which was our next destination: Blue Bottle for a great coffee and In-N-Out Burger for a great burger. We listened to his advice and he was right.

But that’s not all. Before we finished our trip in Pasadena and returned to Hollywood we made a stop at nearby hip coffee place Inteligentsia. Coffee was great, but there was another surprise for us: Casey Affleck was in the cafe. In a split second we decided what to do … and that was … nothing. We left him alone. I’m sure Casey doesn’t like tourists taking selfies with him.

Well, maybe next time. :)

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