DOL’s Hollywood connection

April 13, 2010

By Brad Benfield

From time to time, representatives from major Hollywood movie studios contact the Department of Licensing to get help making feature films that have stories that take place in Washington. The production of  a Twilight movie is a recent example.

These studios generally hire a “prop house” to provide all of the various items surrounding—and used by—the actors to make their movie seem realistic. If a movie takes place in Washington, they need to put Washington license plates on the vehicles to make them look authentic.

But here is the secret: these prop houses generally make their own Washington state license plates so they can control the numbers on them. To make realistic license plates, we are often asked two kinds of questions.

First, the prop houses want to know about our state’s license plate configurations, meaning the combinations of letters and numbers used on various types of vehicles. They want to make sure that each type of vehicle in the film has the right type of plate number. This seems to be particularly important to them if they are making action movies, because they want to make sure that any police or emergency vehicles used in a production have authentic-looking plate numbers.

We also get questions about what the movie folks call “clearances.” When they make their license plates, they want to make sure they aren’t using plates with numbers that are already being used on a vehicle currently registered in our state. They provide a list of plate numbers they would like to use and we let them know whether those numbers are in use.