We spend a lot of time on sets for a multitude of different shoots. No two are ever the same. Even episode to episode. We’ve worked with Prop Masters of every age, educational background and experience level. It doesn’t matter if it’s print media, advertising, TV, low or big budget productions, there’s a series of common themes that all great Prop Masters operate from
PowerPortal Productions, www.p3rents.com is your best provider of vehicles of all types. We’ve meet great Prop Masters in this industry. Here’s a few of our observations and experiences from the industry’s master Prop Masters.
MacGyverism – Maybe you remember the character’s extraordinary knack for unconventional problem solving and an extensive bank of scientific knowledge. Prop Masters have that same savvy ability to build a complete kitchen from a roll of duct tape, some toothbrushes, a few two by fours and a box of dog biscuits.
2. The ultimate “Shopaholics” and bargain hunters
Prop Masters of the pre-internet had it a bit rougher than it is today. But the song remains the same. Dig, dig, dig. And then dig deeper. Where do you find that obscure Parking Meter from the 1930’s, that works, and you need a street full of them? Ebay? Craigslist? Prop Masters have an uncanny ability to locate the unusual and magically make it appear on set, on time. They develop a vast catalog of locations, stores, vendors, friends and family that can lead them to the prey they’re looking for.
3. One prop ain’t enough Jack, ya’ better make it three
Because sets are extremely active with dozens and dozens of various trades people running around, all under extreme pressure, props get lost, broken or misplaced. The PM knows that while the script calls for one, they better have a multitude of exact duplicates around. Because it’s not IF something is going to happen, but when, and they know it.
4. Better be organized
Notebook after notebook gets filled with, well, notes. The best PM’s probably have five pens of all different colors, Sharpies covering the rainbow and tape measures, rulers and plenty of battery power on their phones for pictures.
The multitude of changes that take place in 60 minutes is enough to fill one notebook. Red ink for the Art Director, Blue for the Assistant Director and so on. Their notebooks are their lifeline and many times, lifesaver (AKA, CYA).
5. Weird Experts
Some PM’s have a vast knowledge of what others would deem the most useless information rolling around in their heads. But have the Director ask where the first traffic light was installed in the United States (For authenticity purposes of course.) and the savvy PM will say; “The electric traffic light was developed in 1912 by Lester Wire, a policeman. On August 5th, 1914, the American Traffic Signal Company installed a traffic signal on the corner of East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. Would you like to see a picture of it?” Who knows this stuff? A smart Prop Master does.
6. Well, he’s just an excitable boy.
The pressure on set can be maddening. Everyone has different opinions, ideas, concepts and thoughts. We know what rolls downhill and where it lands. A lot of ego’s, adrenaline and excitement is bouncing around the place like popcorn in a movie theater. The best PM’s know to let it all to roll of their backs and continue moving forward. Here’s a very apt saying that hits it on the head.
“We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful and have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”
7. Know the production
Read the script, read the script, read the script. We’ve seen Prop Masters sitting on the curb in a snowstorm reading and re-reading the script. Anticipation, preparation and expectation makes life so much more fun when you know what’s between the lines of the script and are prepared to act on your hunches.
8. The best Prop Masters take drugs*
*No, they don’t. But they know that if Tony Montana is going to snort a mountain of cocaine it better taste good and not be harmful to him. So, they test the fake stuff to make sure it’s the good stuff. They make sure the soda has the correct fizz, that the pizza is hot and to the actors liking and that the scotch is the right color for a single malt or a blend. Any wonder the Prop Master knows where the first traffic light came from? Or the right color of a single malt?
9. So much of what a Prop Master does goes unnoticed by the cast, crew and audience*.
*Unless it doesn’t. In a perfect world you want it to go unnoticed. A job expertly done doesn’t stand out. The props provided were period correct, the right color, worked as should and made the scene work exactly as it should. Right down to the weighted dice landing on 7 every time.
But let the spinner on the Twister board stick and you might as well eat a bullet. That’s why you see the best PM’s protecting their props like a mother bear. Don’t even think of touching it.
10. Being a Prop Master is dangerous work.
You don’t think so? Take an A-rated actor and put a Norelco electric razor in his hand, without specific instructions on how to plug it in, and watch out.
Long before McDonald’s, Prop Masters were telling actors to be aware that the steaming coffee in the cup is very hot! Forget to point out the incredibly obvious and you might just as well as flip that million-dollar baby the finger.