The TV and film business is worth 286 billion dollars. That massive amount of money means that some area’s whole economies (Los Angeles, for example) are powered by the production of moving pictures.
When people think about jobs in the movie business, many defaults to high-exposure positions like directors and actors. That’s a shame because there are a ton of unsung heroes that work in “the biz” who enjoy fulfilling professions.
Among our favorite seemingly unconventional video jobs is that of the prop master.
Prop masters are responsible for all of the things that you see actors using on camera and many of the items that fill a scene’s background. If you’re interested in being a prop master, be prepared to work with a multitude of materials that will enable you to meet your production’s various needs.
Here are a few things that you’ll be working with the most:
If you’ve ever been on a movie, TV or theatrical set before, you’ve probably noticed just how many things are made out of wood. Doors, walls, tables, prop fridges… The list goes on.
Why is wood so popular when it comes to prop/set building? Because it’s cheap to buy and easy to work with.
As a prop master, prepare to be cutting, nailing and gluing wood a lot!
A prop master’s job, in a nutshell, is to take seemingly unrelated pieces and to put them together in a way that makes them something else entirely. Consequently, you’ll always find a bottle of glue sitting in a prop master’s smock or in their utility belt.
As a matter of fact, one of the most interesting realizations that you’ll come to as a prop master is just how many kinds of glues there are! There are glues for wood, plastic, fabric, and more.
When glue is going to take too long to set, guess what prop masters turn to in order to get a job done? Tape!
The tape is used a lot more in prop masterwork to keep set pieces together than it is to mend props that actors will be handling. That’s because, unlike glue, even clear tape can get noticed by today’s high-definition cameras.
If you’re trying to keep a leg attached to a table in the background of a shot, though, a few strips of tape will have you covered.
A little bit of glue, wood, and black spray paint can turn a modern house phone into one that looks natural in the background of a 1940s period piece. That truth captures the value that paint can bring to a prop master’s arsenal.
If you have aversions to coming home at the end of the day paint-splattered in just about every color of the rainbow, prop mastery probably isn’t the right career for you.
On fun days as a prop master, you’ll have the opportunity to work with spray foams when coating concrete molds, crafting busts, and doing several other things!
One of the most common and exciting applications of foam that we see used in the film is to create breakaway doors and walls. For the uninitiated, breakaway doors and walls are what you see actors get thrown through during action movies.
6. Needles and Threads
While most needle and thread work will be left to a costume design team, you never know when your props are going to need fabric. In those moments, it’s important that you are comfortable wielding a needle and thread as a prop master.
This isn’t talked about nearly enough when people describe prop master positions. In addition to being a master crafter, prop masters are also outstanding buyers.
Film budgets are usually razor-thin, which leads to prop masters needing to be frugal when buying materials. Having access to cash allows prop masters the flexibility to shop in wholesale districts where they can haggle prices.
8. Notebooks and Pencils
There’s no such thing as a disorganized prop master. Given the amount of pressure that’s put on these professionals and the changing needs of production, prop masters need to be armed with a notebook to jot down what needs to be done and to sketch out creative solutions to prop problems.
9. Reference Materials
What would a typical house painting in the 1930s look like? What kind of cups would a family have in their cupboard in the 1890s?
These are questions that prop masters have to be able to answer quickly so they can supply their production with what’s needed before principal photography begins.
It used to be that prop masters would have history books, encyclopedias, and other reference materials handy to come to historically accurate conclusions on appropriate props. Today, having access to a reputable internet database suffices.
While not a material in the traditional sense, there’s nothing that you’ll use more of as a prop master than your imagination. People that don’t feel comfortable with creative problem solving need not apply.
Does Being a Prop Master Sound Like a Dream Job to You?
We’ve just stepped you through the bevy of things that you’ll need to work with if you want to be a prop master. After what you’ve read, does being a prop master sound like a dream job to you?
If it does, chase down that aspiration!
The film and TV industry can always use another talented prop master. With the right stuff, you’ll undoubtedly be able to string together a great career for yourself.
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