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Paper Props

One of the aspects which really sets Battlestar Galactica apart from other science fiction shows is it’s use of paper props. In an interview I did with Ken Hawryliw back in February of 2008 we discuss some of the aspects of the paper props used on the show.

Highly Detailed Paper Props

In the series we see extremely detailed documents, such as Starbucks service records and CIC flight manuals. Who is in charge of creating these realistic highly detailed paper props?

I’m responsible for it. Sometimes we work in conjunction with the art department, sometimes we don’t. It depends on what it is and what their work load is like.

As a side note: Property Master Dan Sissons was originally responsible for creating the paper props for the Pilot MiniSeries. Ken was responsible for the paper props starting in Season One.

A lot of it comes down to… detail. We put in a huge amount of detail into this kind of work. I feel that even though you’re not going to necessarily see it on camera it’s really important for those things to look authentic and read as authentic for the actors. There’s nothing more distracting for an actor than picking up a piece of paperwork they’re suppose to read from and it doesn’t have the information on it that it should. At the very least it’s not helpful and at the very worst it’s distracting from their performance. We go to great pains to make all of the paperwork as real as possible.

My wife actually does a lot. She’s a writer and she does a lot of stuff for us. I get permission from the producers to give her a script and she’ll read it over to know what that episode is about, then she’ll write up a lot of the documents. Particularly if it’s something to do with a log or something that has to express what one of the characters was thinking or was doing at the time. Not all the information is necessarily in the script; she can look at the script and extrapolate to create a huge document that’s very helpful for the actors. Edward James Olmos has commented many times on how much he appreciates that detail work that we put in. He’s been very glowing in his praise about how detailed paper props are in terms of authenticity and having the right material there to help the actors.

Cut Corners

Ken sets the record straight on who’s idea it was for the iconic “cut corners” seen on all of the BSG books and paperwork.

Well, I’m going to give you once and for all the real story of how it happened. The idea came from first assistant property master Max Matsuoka who worked on the original Miniseries. There was a serious budget crunch and they were doing up a bunch of documents. They were trying to figure out how they could make these unique and different from everything they’ve ever seen before. “We’ve got to make them look different.” Well Max says “Why don’t we cut the corners off? We’re cutting the corners on every other aspect of this production, why don’t we cut the corners off these documents too.” And, that’s where it came from. That’s the true story. It’s official. I’ve read so many accounts of so many people who’ve taken credit for it but that’s where it came from.

Ken gives further insight into the process of working with BSG paperwork.

That’s one thing about the show, everything you do in terms of a paper prop, it’s not done till the corners get cut off. So, no matter how good it looks they have to be designed knowing the corners are going to be cut off. And even when it’s finished, it’s not finished cause you have to take it to the paper cutter to cut the corners off.

We can’t pre-cut the paper because it doesn’t feed into the copiers or printers very well with the corners cut off. It’s all got to be done by hand. So, all of the paperwork you see on the show is “hand done.”

MiniSeries Paper

There are several distinct types of paper used in the MiniSeries. There are two distinct papers used for the paper props..  The first is individual manila sheets cut to 7.5″x11″ with cut corners. Most of the printer feed paper as seen in the CIC is this first type of paper. It is seen with perforations on the edges like old “matrix” style printer paper but actuality does not have and holes on the edges at all. The art department cleverly printed the marks on the paper to simulate the printer feed perforations and scotch taped the pages end-to-end to simulate printer feed paper. This paper was mostly in the background or used as filler.

Hero paper does have perforations on the edges like the old style dot matrix paper. This paper was comb punched. The comb bind punch pattern as seen below is used in plastic coil bindings. Most all of the paper used by the actors in close-up shots used this paper with holes in it.

The paper used in the detailed flight manuals and operations binders had the corners cut on one side while the other side was three hole punched. All of the text seen on these pages was mass “Xerox” copied onto huge reams of paper and then collated and placed in the binders. Some binders had copied pages followed by blank pages while others had only blank pages.

Season 2 Paper

After the Galactica teams up with the Pegasus we see the first introduction of Battlestar Pegasus style paper. The Pegasus uses standard 8.5″x11″ paper with very little of the corners cut off. The Pegasus paper colour differs from the old Galactica paper quite dramatically. This new paper colour has a distinctively greenish hue when compared directly to the manila hue of the Galactica paper. Pegasus paper is made from CLASSIC CREST© Recycled Natural White paper.


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