Kevin Mitchell is owner of Gulfport’s Sideshow Props 2.0, an 86,000 sq. ft. prop house and studio space. It’s the second location of Sideshow Props, which was started in New Orleans by Mitchell’s business partner Lawrence Barattini. During the Halloween season, Mitchell’s warehouse is also home to Terror on the Coast, a popular haunted house attraction he started. Terror on the Coast will be open from Sept. 16-Oct. 31.
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in the old Orange Grove area in Gulfport. It’s no longer called Orange Grove except by the people who grew up there. Gulfport annexed north of I-10 on Highway 49, and that used to be the Orange Grove area. I went to elementary school at Bel Air Elementary and graduated from Harrison Central High School and then went to USM. I came back, built my first house, and I’ve built five houses since then in the Orange Grove area. That’s where I reside now, I’ve basically never left.
At what moment did you discover an interest in working in film and TV?
I got a degree in accounting and after I did my internship with a group here in Gulfport, I decided that’s not what I wanted to do with my life. So I went back and took a couple more classes and got a degree in management/marketing. From there I got into outside sales with a copier company and did that for about five years.
I have an entrepreneurial spirit, so I bought a Steak-Out franchise and had that for about two years, and it didn’t work out so well for me. I learned a lot from it though. I left that and got into pharmaceutical sales. I worked in a cardiovascular division for a pharmaceutical company here on the coast for about 10 years.
It was about 18 years ago that I went out one night with my wife, and a friend of hers introduced me to my business partner, Lawrence Barattini. He had started his prop company in New Orleans a couple of years prior to me meeting him. He was a third-generation jeweler with one of the oldest jewelry companies in downtown New Orleans. He had gotten involved with the movies by renting them stuff out of his jewelry store. And he was a longtime picker, and I was a longtime picker. I had a warehouse full of stuff, and he had a warehouse full of stuff. That’s what our passions were.
We figured out really quick we had that in common and got to be friends. But he was on a completely different level than me. He had already started the business called Sideshow Props in New Orleans. He kept on me for several years, saying you need to jump ship and you need to come into the prop business and we’ll open one up in Mississippi, but I couldn’t leave my job. I was making really good money, but I hated my job. I was just showing up to work every day collecting the check. I hated what I did for a living.
But he finally convinced me. We work well together because I’m a builder and he’s more of a scenic artist. He started sending me work from New Orleans. At the time I had a personal shop at my house. He would send me stuff from different movies he was working on, I’d build it and send it back to him and he’d pay me, and next thing you know, I resigned from my job and I started my own little company.
Lawrence has been my mentor. He’s the one that brought me into the movie industry. But once I had made a name for myself, everything I was working on was in New Orleans, but I was still living here in Gulfport. So we started searching for a building, and we ended up leasing a building here and we went into partnership together, calling our second Gulfport location Sideshow Props 2.0.
How did Terror on the Coast come about?
We got this building in 2013. At the time we were working on “American Horror Story,” “Texas Chainsaw” and a couple more indie films. They were all horror films. Whenever we got all the props back, we brought them to our building in Mississippi because we had a lot more space. We got to looking at them and thinking, “Man, we’re in an 86,000 square foot building, and you know, we need to pay rent here.”
There weren’t a lot of movies being made in Mississippi then. They were mostly in New Orleans. So that’s how we got the idea to build a haunted house, and that was the birth of Terror on the Coast. We started with 15 rooms. Now we have 42 rooms and we have a massive amount of people that come out. It’s been a huge success for us. A couple of years ago we got rated by a third-party company called The Scare Factor. They rate 250 haunted houses in the United States, and we ranked number eight. That really put us on the map to where we started seeing people come from as far as California. They were flying in to see our haunted house.
What about the movie prop business, how has that been going?
I’d say in the past eight months we’ve worked on more movies in Mississippi than in the past six years. The movie industry has picked up here in Mississippi tremendously, and even the budgets of the movies have picked up. We’re working on some higher budget films and we’re the only game in town. We’re the only real prop company in the state. And we also have access to all our props in New Orleans that we bring here for Mississippi films. You can also film in the building. We’ve built whole city sets inside this building. We’ve got an upper deck of the streets of Paris. A bar that you would see in Havana, Cuba, that’s operational. We have a 1,500 square foot stage. We have a whole western town that you can walk through.
What was the first movie you worked with?
The first really big movie that I worked on by myself was “The Magnificent Seven.” I built tons of stuff for that movie, I worked on it for four months.
What are some current and recent projects?
We do work for somewhere between 120 and 160 films a year. A lot of times, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even keep up with the names. I’ll know the name of the LLC we do the work for, which is different from the name of the movie, right? I do remember that recent Morgan Freeman movie “Vanquish” because they filmed for a couple of weeks in our warehouse, and I built some stuff for that movie.
Sometimes family will ask me, “What movies are you working on and what stars are in it?” And I’m like, “I don’t know! I just build the stuff and rent the stuff to them!” It just doesn’t affect me the way it used to. I can name a lot of the stuff we worked on my first year. But once I started getting acclimated in the business, the only thing I know is the LLC because that’s what I bill to. (laughs)
What has been the most surprising thing for you about working with the film industry?
How they come in and they set up and they do all this work for three months, and then they shut it down and it’s gone forever. But that is kind of a cool concept. Because you’re constantly working on something different. It’s not like being in an office every day. That’s kind of a surprising thing for me. And I’m always so amazed at how much money the movie industry can spend. Some of the bigger budget movies, they’ll spend tens of thousands for someone to build something, and it gets out on site and then they change their mind. Then they throw that away and spend $50,000 more for something else. At first, I never understood that, but I understand it now. They’re trying to get the perfect scene, and that needs the perfect props to make it real. And they only have a short period of time to achieve that. It’s a major ingredient for the movie being successful, so they spare no expense. And they’ll need it really fast. They’ll order something and I’ll say, “What’s my deadline?” And they say, “Yesterday.” It’s very demanding.
Who has been an influence on your career and why?
My wife. When I first got into this, I was working for financial purposes only at my other job. When my business partner convinced me to jump ship to follow my passion, most wives would have said “No! What are you doing? There’s no way you can quit this high paying job with all the benefits.”
And it did affect us tremendously financially at first. But she said, “Go for it. We only live once and I’m tired of prying you out of bed every day to go to work. I want you to be happy.” She was the driving force that allowed me to jump ship and to do what I’m doing now. And Lawrence has definitely been my mentor, and there’s also his wife, Alice, who introduced us. Without the three of them I wouldn’t even be here, period.
Do you have a favorite moment working with a project?
When I was working on “The Magnificent Seven,” I built like 20 something coffins for the film and they accidentally burned like eight of them in a scene with a fire. And so they called me and I had to build eight coffins in like 15 hours and get them there right away. I normally don’t deliver stuff, but they asked me to deliver it. So I went to the set and my wife went with me. They were getting ready to shoot a big fight scene, and next thing you know, Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio—all of them—walked in where we were to get some air before they shot the scene because that’s when the AC was. And we had a good conversation with all of them.
And then Ethan asked me where I was from and I told him what happened with the coffins, that it was a last-minute deal. And he’s like, “Oh, that’s cool! Have you ever been on set for a big action scene?” Then he walked over and told the director, “Hey, put these two over to the side. They want to watch it.” It was this huge scene with stunts and horses falling over, and that was really cool.
If you could make a scene or a movie built around one place in Mississippi, where would that be?
I think any of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It’s different from any other place in Mississippi. The people are different. There’s a different attitude down here. I’ve always said it’s a piece of paradise in the south. We’ve actually got a guy who’s written a script about Terror on the Coast. It’s a horror film and we’re in the process of making that come to life. We’ll be doing a lot of the filming here in our warehouse, but there will also be a lot of coastal views and showcasing the restaurants and casinos here, to show what the Mississippi Gulf Coast offers.
What would you say to a producer to convince them to bring a movie to Mississippi?
Will first off, we have the props! We have everything that L.A. has got. But it’s a lot less expensive. The people are a lot nicer. The hospitality for your film crew here on the coast is second to none. Every film crew that comes in says something about that. And the place is beautiful. It’s a great place to film.
And I think, to be quite honest with you, that’s the reason why the film industry is picking up here, because it’s been hard to film a movie during the pandemic in other places, but the state of Mississippi has made it really easy to film here. And that’s why we’re getting these movies, but then they’re finding out, wow, this is a great place. I can’t tell you how many people I know right now that have moved here from L.A. They live here on the coast and they’re filming here on the coast. Producers, actors, directors, special effects artists. I know a ton of people that are transplants. They’re like, “Man, you know, everything I heard about Mississippi is so opposite from the truth.”
What do you do when you’re not working on film?
I spend a lot of time with my family. I have three kids and they’re all living on their own now. I’ve got a new grandbaby from my son and his wife. And my wife and I are now in our mid-50s and we’re starting to vacation a lot. We have a camper and we go all around the U.S. And we’re very active outdoors. We go white water rafting, ziplining, a little bit of everything.
What would your hopes be for the film industry in the state?
I’d love to build a real studio. I’d like to build it on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I’d like to have a place where they could come in and film movies and to have it booked year-round. That’s what I’d really like to see. I’d like to see the movie industry take up residency here. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, because it’s in Georgia and New Orleans. We’re right in the middle.
And I’d like to see the infrastructure grow. When some of these higher budget films come in, there’s not enough people here that are trained for them to hire. I’d like to see some type of training facility that could train for every aspect of a movie so that when movies come in, we have the infrastructure. As it is now, even with the people that work in our prop house, they may have worked at Walmart or cut grass their whole life so we have to train them. So I think a training facility would be incredible. It would increase our chances of getting some of these bigger budget movies.
What would your advice be to someone looking to get into the industry?
Well, we have a program here for Terror on the Coast. We have our own makeup department and costume department, and we build stuff for the haunted house. It’s a volunteer apprenticeship. For example, when we first started, our lead makeup artist, she was in theater here. Well, her real passion was to do makeup in the movie industry. She volunteered her time here for the first three years and proved herself to us and got better at what she did. And then we passed her name along to a movie that came in. And now she’s no longer with us and is working full time in the industry. We’ve actually had three makeup artists, an actor and a set builder go on to jobs in the industry.