Props Person

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Props Person


Props play an integral part in any film or theatrical production. The role of the props person, also called the property master, has been steadily evolving and growing in importance. Once thought of as a boring, thoughtless job, today it is a serious and artistic skill performed by creative people. Props are just as important to a production as the wardrobe, lighting, make-up and other artistic contributions. Props people are responsible for furnishings and maintaining set dressings, and all items large and small, which cannot be classified as scenery, electronics or wardrobe.

The props master is in charge of renting and buying props and reports to the art director. They keep track of all company properties used for the staff and crew, maintaining an inventory systems of sorts of items like chairs, tables, umbrellas and equipment. When a production is over, the props person will make sure that the items are safely returned to the producer or rental company. They are also required to work within a given budget provided by the producer. This sometimes interferes with artistic visions and buying better equipment, however if there is only a specific amount of money, the props person must get creative.

Speaking of creativity, since they are often locked into a small budget, props people must sometimes get creative and make their own props -- an arts and crafts session of sorts. When it comes to food, many sets use fake food as it does not waste real food and also does not go rotten or stink up a set. Faced with the task of constructing a tuna sandwich, a props person my think about choosing materials which would correspond in texture, shape and density. For instance, bread could easily be made from foam rubber and paper towel. The tuna mixture might be a combination of wood shavings mixed with colored epoxy resin. Now realistically capturing the shape and texture of lettuce is another challenge in itself.

The props person must read the screenplay or script and prepare a preliminary list of all props that are needed for each scene. They often log such information accordingly by set number and hand props by character name. They meet with the producers and director to discuss and study both historical accuracy and required design and style. This is extremely crucial. For instance, a character in a 1950s film cannot be wearing a digital watch. That would ruin the authenticity of the film. Accordingly, the props must also be consistent with the production. In an old, dirty house, one would not expect to see a newly upholstered sofa. These little details are sometimes hard to catch, but keen-eyed film reviewers never miss such mistakes.

Props people must also keep detailed records of the exact position of props on a set. At the end of a take, they must know exactly where things left off, so that there is consistency in the story. They often use Polaroid or video camera, depending on the situation and only use these pictures for such purposes.
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  Interests and Skills  
Props people should be creative, artistic and crafty. They have the ability to pay close attention to fine details and think quickly. They must also be good at budgeting with money and purchases and constantly aware of how many resources are needed.

On feature films, they often work with a team of props people therefore, they need to be able to bounce ideas off coworkers and formulate a common look. They should be flexible and be willing to work extremely long hours. Props people should enjoy compiling information about character requirements and developing innovative approaches to their work.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Research, build and maintain props and other important set decorations
  • Control spatial perception to rig and control elements of sets that move and function to depict action
  • Fabricate props, miniatures and sets from wood, cardboard, plastic, rubber, cloth, metal and other materials
  • Maintain old props and fix broken props
  • Shop around for the perfect props needed for a film or theater production
  • Operate any props that are mechanical in nature as required by the director
  • Redesign or modify props as directed and required
  • Keep props in the condition necessary to be used during the filming and maintains food and liquid props in an edible condition while in use
  • Keep watch over the prop truck and prop box
  • Responsible for keeping an accurate inventory on all props rented and/or purchased as to their condition and quantity
  • Dress the sets
  • Determine and arrange for all props required by the art director
  • Coordinate payment for props with the unit production manager being careful not to go over budget in any category
  • Provide atmospheric conditions to the set such as rain and water effects, snow, puddles, mud, cobwebs dust and various colors to anything that needs it
  • A typical day for a props person varies from day to day. They spend a lot of time shopping and searching for the perfect props. It is crucial for a film set to have the right dressings; therefore this shopping and renting process can be long and laborious. On set, they are the people who dress and decorate the sets, under the guidance of the art director. In film, the hours are usually long 12-hour days, whereas in theater, the hours may be a bit shorter. Props people spend time both indoors and outdoors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Props people work on a contract basis for employers in the film, stage and television industries, including film and video production companies, recording studios, television studios, theater companies, modeling agencies and dance and opera companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for props people? They can move into interior decorating and design or window dressing. They can also move into set design and become art directors on films and plays. With a university degree, they could teach in theater schools about props and set designing.

  Educational Paths  
There is no standard educational path or minimum education requirement for becoming a props person. Due to increased competition in this field, many take theater courses in stage design and film offered in film and theater schools. Education is always a positive path to take, regardless of any matter. One can only learn more about the field that they are interested in pursuing.

As with all positions in the film and theater industries, apprenticeship and on-the-job training are the best learning experiences. Also, volunteer work for local theaters, non-profit film companies or community cable television stations is a great way to gain experience and recognition. Potential props people should have training in industrial three-dimensional design, sculpture, architecture or theater design, in association with work experience.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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