A Prop Master (i.e. Property Master) is an artistic and organizational employee in a film, television or theatrical production who oversees, and is responsible for the procurement or production, inventory, care and maintenance of all properties associated with productions, ensuring that they are available on time, and within budgetary requirements. He looks after the theatre’s supply of props.
Prop Masters are responsible to production designers, and work as part of the art department. They are responsible for any portable objects on a set. They usually start work five weeks before shooting begins.
Besides theatrical productions, prop masters are needed on film and television sets, in the theme park industry and in venues like museums. Many prop artists and technicians also find opportunities to apply their skills to makeup, special effects and set decoration.
It is always the goal of a good prop master to ask for as much money as they can get and use as little as possible. Every show presents a new challenge; one day you’re carving 15th-century battle axes from foam, the next you may be hunting all over town for a rocking horse.
- Liaise with production designers and art directors to break down the script, and determine what props are required.
- Draw up complete properties lists, set up and label the properties tables, which are used during production.
- Work with production buyers who carry out research into period props, styles of furniture, etc.
- Select which properties are to be bought in, or hired, and which are to be made.
- Plan, allocate and manage budgets to purchase, hire or create props
- Prepare the overall production schedule for their department
- Ensure that accurate lists of sources are drawn up and maintained by production buyers and props store men.
- Plan, design and adapt any special hand or set props
- Attend all rehearsals, in order to note props’ placement and use, and any change in action that affects props.
- Ensure that all hand and hero props are in place for the actors and standby props.
- Oversee the continuity of props between takes (via the standby props), and coordinate props storage between shoots or rehearsals.
- Oversee the return of all hired props to their sources, in the appropriate condition, and organize the sale or safe disposal of any other properties.
- Excellent leadership, management and motivational skills.
- Cope with pressure, and be willing to work long and unorthodox hours to meet tight deadlines.
- Excellent practical, organizational, planning and time management abilities are vital, as are written and oral communication and presentation skills.
- Good computer skills (Mac and PC)
- Solid financial skills, and be able to work within budgets.
- Craft, repair and research skills are useful, and a full driving license is essential.
TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE
It’s a good idea to begin your career in the art department of a television series or film production office. The Property Masters’ role is not an entry-level job. They usually have many years’ experience in the props department, and have worked as standby props, dressing props, props store man, and assistant property master, on several feature films, in a range of genres. But they need a background design and take a film production course in college.
Don’t be shy about approaching local theatres or theatre groups for work experience in the props department. You could also try volunteering or asking for work experience in shops or warehouses which sell theatre supplies. A sword hanging on the wall is a set decoration, but a sword in an actor’s hand is a prop.
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