Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Props for my Peeps

This is a follow-up to my previous post. Recently I was asked to define a "prop".

Prop is short for "property" as in property of the production.

Here's the poop. If an actor handles it
or it's mentioned specifically in the script, it's a prop .

If it's just sitting around looking pretty, it's set dressing or set dec(oration).

Sometimes there's cross-over.

We specialize in hand props, the smaller stuff. The stuff we hope you'll never notice. If a prop is not key (important) or not a hero (very loosely, one that's important enough for a close-up shot and/or to require multiples in case something goes wrong), we hope you'll be so absorbed in the story that you won't notice the stuff, unless of course, it's a key prop or a hero.

It's the job of the prop master and/or prop buyer to find this stuff and take care of it while it's on set.

Here's a scene:

The MAYOR rushes down the steps of City Hall into a throng of reporters. He trips and drops his briefcase which flies open spilling its contents. Flashbulbs go off. Mayhem ensues as he tries to retrieve the contents.

So what are the props needed? The only ones specifically mentioned in this set-up are: (1) briefcase, (2) contents of briefcase and (3) Flashbulbs.

(1) The briefcase has to be right for the period of the film, and right for the character of the MAYOR. Is it bright shiny new, or old and worn? Was it expensive or the economy model? Did he buy it for himself, was it a gift? (Remember: there are no small decisions in making a movie.) It needs to be a briefcase that will (or be rigged to) spill its contents when dropped.

(2) And what are these contents? Are they important to the story, have they been established in a previous scene, what do they reveal about the mayor? Brown bag lunch, kid's rubber ball, porn? Or is it just a bunch of papers that will look good when the wind blows them away?

(3) Are they really flash bulbs? If so, how many? Or modern electronic flashes? Presumably they're attached to cameras. How many of those? What kind? Do they actually have to flash, or will the flashes be an effect added in post-production?

What about the other stuff not mentioned in the script? Reporters with tape recorders, pads and pencils. Are there passers-by on the street? A woman carrying groceries perhaps? A man with a newspaper in one hand, umbrella in the other? A kid on a bike.

And that's without the set dressing: stuff like a newspaper box (empty or with papers (can we read headlines?) the garbage can, the signage and all the other stuff that's always there.

Let's stop now because my head hurts.

Pick your favorite movie, have another look at a favorite scene, ignore the story and have a look at the objects that the actors handle or are in the scene to dress it up.

An example:

In the photo above, a scene from Little Mosque on the Prairie, set in a pawn shop, there are only three props. The rest is set decoration or costume. Those three circles indicate the only things I handled in this scene. (Actually there is one more, but it's off camera.)

By the way, I didn't supply any of the props or set dec in that scene; they came from a competitor.

Some of the things we got called for this week, and didn't have, were:
angel's wings (costume)
trapper pelts
torpedo shells
giant martini glass
a spaceship
giant scales of justice
wagon wheels & tumbleweed,
electric chair,
airplane seats
and a pink limousine.

For a look at some of what we do have go to;


And if you know anyone with an electric chair they're not using any more, you'll let me know, won't you?

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