Property Department

Property (props) is any object touched or held by an actor in accordance to script requirements or as deemed by the director for use in furthering the plot or story line of a scene. Smaller props are referred to as “hand props”.

The following photo shows a group of props assigned to different reporters for a scene where Laura Roslin is giving a statement to the fleet.

Props table,

Prop Description
Walkie-talkie Motorola HT440 “Handie-Talkie” radio
Adama’s Lighter Regens lighter from Season One
Tigh’s Flask Two-in-one 5.5oz stainless steel combination liquor flask
Helo’s Caprica Toaster Vario line of Dualit® bread toasters
Homing Beacon Sony TFM-116L Three Band Transistor Radio
Tigh’s Radio TEAC Nostalgia SL-A100 AM/FM radio with turntable
Weapons Overview of the weapons
Clipboards Overview of metal clipboards
Paper Overview of the paper products

Property Department Crew:

Ken Hawryliw – Property Master
Michael Love – Assistant Property Master
David Goodman  – Assistant Property Master / First Assistant On-set Props
Santino Barile – Prop Maker / Assistant Property Master
Nina Polkinghorne – Assistant Prop Maker
Don McGill – Assistant Prop Maker
David Asmodeus –  Property Buyer

Read my exclusive interviews with Ken Hawryliw, Battlestar Galactica Property Master, and a whole host of cast and crew about the props created and used in the series.

What does a Prop Master do?

Prop Masters (i.e. Property Masters) control all aspects of property departments. They oversee, and are responsible for, the procurement or production, inventory, care and maintenance of all props associated with productions, ensuring that they are available on time, and within budgetary requirements. They also ensure that selected props suit the film’s style and overall design, and that they accurately reflect the production’s time period and culture. Property Masters oversee the staff, and the smooth running, of the property department, working to high standards of accuracy and detail. As much of the work involved is administrative, the role is often office based. Property Masters are responsible to production designers, and work as part of the art department. They are the first members of the property department to be recruited onto productions, usually approximately five weeks before principal photography begins.

During pre-production Property Masters liaise with production designers and art directors to break down the script, and to determine what props are required. At this stage Property Masters may work with production buyers who carry out research into period props, styles of furniture, etc., by referring to archives, internet files, books and photographs, or by discussing the requirements with specialized advisors. Property Masters subsequently draw up complete properties lists, and set up and label the properties tables, which are used during production. From the lists, Property Masters select which properties are to be bought in, or hired, and which are to be made.

Liaising with production buyers, Property Masters allocate budgets to purchase, hire or create props, and plan and manage these budgets. They prepare the overall production schedule for their department, and work with other members of the team to produce the day to day schedules. For purchased or hired props, Property Masters ensure that accurate lists of sources are drawn up and maintained by production buyers and props storemen*. For props that must be made, Property Masters work closely with carpenters, prop makers, or other artists, to oversee and coordinate the construction and completion of these props.

Depending on the craft skills of individual Property Masters, the work may include planning, designing and adapting any special hand or set props required by the production. They attend all rehearsals, in order to note props’ placement and use, and any change in action that affects props. Property Masters may also discuss the selection of appropriate hand props with actors, and instruct them on the care, maintenance and possible operation of these and other props. Prior to the shoot, Property Masters work closely with set designers, set dressers, props storemen, and dressing props, in order to detail the furniture and set dressing requirements.

In the weeks immediately before the shoot, and during filming, Property Masters and props storemen coordinate the loading, transport and storage of all props, and ensure that dressing props are correctly placed for the use of the dressing props team. During the shoot Property Masters ensure that all hand and hero props are in place for the actors and standby props. They also oversee the continuity of props between takes (via the standby props), and coordinate props storage between shoots or rehearsals. During post production Property Masters 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.

Property Masters usually oversee the work of a number of people, and must therefore have excellent leadership, management and motivational skills. As heads of department they should be able to 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) are important. Property Masters must have solid financial skills, and be able to work within budgets. They need confidence in order to negotiate successfully with suppliers and manufacturers. Craft, repair and research skills are useful, and a full driving license is essential. The role may involve significant manual labor and can be physically demanding. They must be aware of the requirements of the health and safety legislation and procedures relevant to their role.

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 storeman, and assistant property master, on several feature films, in a range of genres. No specific qualifications are required for entry into the art department, but a background in art or design is preferred.†

What does a Prop Maker do?

Prop Makers work in the properties departments of feature films and/or TV shows, making any props that are not being bought in, or hired. Prop Makers use a wide variety of materials, techniques and tools, to design and create the required props. These represent a huge range of objects, including ‘stunt’ props (which are replicas of other props, made of soft or nonhazardous materials), and specialized objects that move or light up. They may also adapt or modify props that have been bought in, or hired. Prop Makers may work alone, or as part of a larger props team in a specially created production workshop.

Prop Makers are given instructions, designs or rough ideas by the production designer, art director or property master, prior to the shoot. From these designs Prop Makers must plan and create the props necessary for production. They may carry out their own research into the style and specifications of the props required. On period films, this may also involve investigating how the objects would have been created during a particular historical period, and within a specific culture. Liaising with production buyers, Prop Makers acquire the necessary tools and materials needed to make the props. Prop Makers make the props, working within budget, and to strict timescales. They may also adapt hired or bought in props according to the production’s requirements. They normally produce a minimum of two of every item, in case of damage. During the shoot Prop Makers may be responsible for operating any special props, or for instructing actors in their operation.

Prop Makers must be flexible and versatile, able to work with imagination and ingenuity. They need creative problem solving skills, and must be open to new ideas, and to learning new skills and techniques. The ability to work to external deadlines, under their own initiative, is essential, as is an eye for detail and accuracy. Working as part of the larger properties department, and at times as part of a prop making team, Prop Makers must have good communication skills and enjoy interacting with others. As they work with hazardous equipment and materials, an in-depth understanding of the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures is vital to the role.

Prop Makers should have a wide knowledge of the basics of prop making: technical drawing, a good knowledge of computer design packages, the ability to work safely with typical industry materials (e.g., fibreglass, latex, foam, polystyrene, wood, cotton and steel), and the ability to work with a variety of different machinery and tools. Prop Makers may also have specialized skills, such as: sign writing, upholstery work, mould work, woodturning, sculpture, casting, furniture making, modelling, electrical engineering and electronics, working with papier-mâché, etc.

Prop Makers need no standard qualifications or specific training. However, they should have a background and/or qualification in art and design, or model making, and experience in the basics of prop making. Many Prop Makers train in stage and set design, or stage management, or complete a theater technician’s course in performing arts. They may also have a more specialized background or training, e.g., in graphic design, furniture making, fine art, etc. Alternatively, Prop Makers may have started in junior roles in the art department and learned their skills on the job.†

† Job description sources include (but are not limited to), and wikipedia., 20 May 2012.