Property Master Guillaume DeLouche, PMG, behind the scenes of Jurassic World
Often tinkerers, Property Masters are responsible for overseeing the manufacturing of all custom props, working directly with prop makers to develop the mechanics and fabricate according to the show's needs. While it goes without saying that props need to look the part, they also need to function predictably and reliably. Property Masters work with skilled fabricators, prop makers, specialty shops, and often employ on-site shops according to the needs of the show.
About The Craft
Over the years there have been thousands of iconic and memorable props in movies, television, and commercials. Imagine the film Castaway without Wilson the volleyball, or Indiana Jones without his whip. Star Wars is not the same without the lightsabers, and Dexter is not as menacing without his knife.
When the work is done well, a single prop can help define a whole character and call to mind an entire story.
Property Master Russell Bobbitt, PMG, discusses props from some of his most memorable films. Video courtesy of IMDb.
All Things Props
The Property Master oversees the Property Department and a production's props from prep to wrap. From the first script pages or lookbooks through every stage of production, the Property Master works with the director, actors and key department heads to develop the production's creative story. The Property Master has a unique role in bridging the aesthetic with the practical to make sure every need is met and every possibility anticipated.
History for Hire Prop House
Property Masters are a veritable encyclopedia of where to find anything a show could need. Property Masters maintain a strong network of every local vendor and one-of-a-kind source, and are adept at scouring the depths of the internet for hard to find items. Property Masters also often work with Prop Buyers to source all of the show's props. One key consideration in sourcing is not just the explicit needs of the show, but the unspoken needs - props that no one thinks of and are not explicitly written in the script, but are key components of world building a truly dense and realistic story. These props can be integral to creating a fully realized world and equally necessary for production.
Mad Max: Fury Road, Property Master Andrew Orlando
License plates. News van logos. Squad car lights and electronics mounts. The charm hanging from the rearview mirror and the used take out containers on the floor. All ways in which the Property Master layers storytelling into the visual language of storytelling. While in some circumstances, Property Masters are even required to source and manage the logistics of picture cars, in all instances Property Masters are essential to an authentic and believable vehicle on screen.
Concept Illustration - X-Men: First Class - Twentieth Century Fox - Property Master Hope Parrish, PMG
Property Masters work directly with Illustrators to design and develop the show's props. Often employed early in pre-production, the Property Master is a key creative collaborator, working with the Art and Costume Departments in shaping the aesthetic of the show. Due to the insert-shot nature of hand props, the Property Master is often focused on the unique world and character building details of design.
Now You See Me - Lionsgate
Property Masters are often jack-of-all-trades, but master of none. We become experts on something new for every project, constantly expanding our wide-ranging set of skills and knowledge. There are occasions, however, where an expert on a specific skill is needed to teach and train the actor in the nuances of a special skill so they can perform to their highest level on camera. This can range from chess to pool, open heart surgery to cross stitch.
Ross MacDonald on creating graphics for screen
Newspapers, magazines, books, vehicle skins, text message screens, letters, faux brands, a character's sketchbook, police badges... this barely scratches the surface of the breadth of overlap between graphics and props. Well-made graphics add an unspoken layer of realism and depth to any show. Property Masters work closely with graphic designers and writers to craft show graphics that breathe realism into the production.
Larry Zanoff, Armorer, discusses weaponry in production
Weaponry & Safety
One of the most important responsibilities of a Property Master is safety. Often, hand props are weaponry - from knives to swords, firearms to tasers, whips to hammers. A Property Master is responsible for providing props that meet the needs of the show while protecting its stunt performers, actors, crew, and sometimes the general public. Often a Property Master will employ a weapons specialist or armorer when working with dangerous weapons. Property Masters are also responsible for providing safety gear for crew and cast when required. A safe film set is a sacred and serious responsibility of any Property Master.
Animal Trainer, Teresa Ann Miller, talks animal training for screen - Video courtesy of Insider
Believe it or not, animals also fall under the Property Department on some productions. Often it is the responsibility of the Property Master to secure an expert Animal Trainer or Wrangler for the production and work with them to provide specialized versions of props to suit the special needs of the animal. Whether they be special foods for the animal to eat, or action props safe for the animal, the Property Master is usually involved when it comes to animals on set.
Food Stylist Melissa McSorley, PMG, discusses the unique task of bringing food to life on screen
In addition to the myriad other responsibilities that fall under the jurisdiction of the Prop Department, food in scenes comes up frequently. The colorful goopy food fight in Hook, Holly Golightly’s danish in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or…the entire plot of Chef, The Bear, or The Menu. Handling food on set requires a specific set of skills and safety certifications, and a skilled food stylist can make all the difference in the look of the scene and the overall story. A food stylist’s main job is to ensure the food performs on camera, keeps the actors safe, and is reset properly to maintain continuity. They are hired by and work closely with the Property Master to ensure that all actors’ dietary restrictions are adhered to, and that the food serves the story. Food is often its own character, and requires special attention both in preparation and in action.
Property Master Guillaume DeLouche, PMG, behind the scenes - Image courtesy of Jurassic World
Running the Set
Once cameras roll, the Property Master is an integral part of the shooting crew, working side-by-side with the Actors, Director and crew to make sure everything art related goes off without a hitch. Sitting in every rehearsal, the Property Master is on hand to be a key collaborator and problem solver as the day evolves. As it is rare for anyone from the Art or Set Decoration Departments to be present once cameras roll, the Property Master and their team step in to cover any and every possibility.
Property Master Gay Perello, PMG, helped shape the dense layers of action that shaped the identity of the Oscar nominated film, Babylon by Paramount Pictures.
The totality of a Property Masters work defies definition as it flexes from production to production requiring overlap and coordination with every department of production, a feat most other departments are not tasked with. Even beyond the direct needs of production, the Property Master is a key collaborator with legal clearances, marketing and publicity, merchandising, and studio archives.