Yesterday, Ashley Flowers and I published the first episode of our new podcast. Both of us have been wanting to start a props podcast for awhile, and we got the ball rolling on Facebook a few weeks ago. “Silk Flowers and Papier Mache Hearts” (get it?) is all about props for the stage, screen, and beyond. We will be discussing all sorts of topics relevant for the props person in performing arts, as well as interviewing other props people.
The following is the press release for an exhibition I am a part of:
Props and Fine Art From Movies, Television & Theatre and Working Objects: Props by Ross MacDonald Open at The Beard & Weil Galleries, Wheaton College, Norton, MA
March 1 – April 13, 2018
In film, television and theatre, a hero prop is any item intended to be held or used by one of the main actors. Examples of hero props might include Shylock’s money box, as used by Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice at New York’s Public Theater; the Red Apple Tobacco tin used in Quentin Tarantino’s film Hateful Eight; or the Mendl’s chocolate box from the film The Grand Budapest Hotel.
All of these objects, plus watercolors from La La Land, sketches from Moonrise Kingdom and other beautiful works of art, appear in Props and Fine Art from Movies, Television and Theater and Working Objects: Props by Ross MacDonald, opening in the Beard & Weil Galleries at Wheaton College in Norton MA, March 1 through April 13, 2018.
On March 1 from 5:00 to 6:00 pm, Haas Visiting Artist Ross MacDonald will give a talk about his work, followed by an opening for both exhibitions from 6:00 to 8:00. The public is invited to attend.
Curator Elizabeth Keithline commented that “prop makers are required to make objects that integrate perfectly into the action, both historically and aesthetically. Prop makers often have deep background knowledge on their subject, yet to create something that would take audience attention away from the action would be the worst kind of mistake. Hidden in plain sight, the props and artwork in this show often remained unnoticed by the audience, yet they drove plot completely.”
In the Weil Gallery, Working Objects
Ross MacDonald illustrates for Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, Spy and Rolling Stone. He has authored and illustrated 4 children’s books, as well as the adult humor books In and Out with Dick and Jane, (with co-author James Victore) and What Would Jesus Craft?. MacDonald recently designed the bandana worn by Justin Timberlake in the 2018 Super Bowl halftime show.
Yet all the while he has led a secret double life designing and fabricating props for over 40 movies and television series. He has made everything from the book Bradley Cooper’s character throws out the window in Silver Linings Playbook, to the titular Book of Secrets for the second National Treasure movie; Jennifer Lawrence’s mop patents for Joy; baby’s favorite book in Baby’s Day Out; Nucky Thompson’s checkbook and Arnold Rothstein’s calling card for Boardwalk Empire; the morgue toe-tags in The Knick; the Pawnee town charter for Parks and Recreation; the Red Apple Tobacco tin in Tarantino’s Hateful Eight; Versace’s book in the latest season of American Crime Story and thousands of other props. For more information: https://www.ross-macdonald.com/.
In the Beard Gallery, Props and Fine Art from Movies, Television and Theater
Annie Atkins specializes in graphics for filmmaking, which means that she makes any graphic pieces outlined by a period film script—like postage stamps and banknotes to help create Wes Anderson’s fictional State of Zubrowka in the Grand Budapest Hotel; or shopfront signs and fake passports for Steven Spielberg’s New York as depicted in Bridge of Spies. Other films she has worked on include Box Trolls, Wonderstruck and Isle of Dogs. For the Mendl’s chocolate box exhibited at Wheaton, Ms. Atkins also credits the artists Wes Anderson, Liliana Lambriev, Jan Jericho and prop master Robin Miller.
Buist Bickley – According to Crains New York Business, “Bickley is one of the most in-demand prop supervisors on Broadway.” Current productions include Spongebob Squarepants, Frozen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dear Evan Hansen and Fun Home. In the February 4 Playbill, Bickley was quoted as saying “Picture frames, rugs, chandeliers, sconces, any picture on the wall—those are all props… I always say that the ceiling, the floor, and the walls are sets. Everything that makes it what it is, is a prop.”
Jay Duckworth is props master at the Public Theater in NYC. In over three decades in theatre he has worked from an old Mule Barn up to Prop Master on Hamilton. He’s founded the Prop Summit for all properties people to meet, network and learn; given keynote speeches for KCACTF and USITT. He is currently curating the first Props Lab at USITT’s National conference, he is a contributor to Stage Directions Magazine and is a Professor at Pace University. Jay’s website, the Proptologist, can be explored here: https://www.proptologist.com/.
Eric Hart has been building props for theatre, opera, retail display and other industries since 2003. He is currently the props master at Triad Stage in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. His props were built for theatres both on and off-Broadway, New York’s “Shakespeare in the Park”, the Santa Fe Opera, and the Actors Theatre of Louisville, among others.
Eric also writes about building props and other things. He is the author of The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theatre, Film, and TV, and The Prop Effects Guidebook and writes regularly for his blog The Prop Agenda: http://www.props.eric-hart.com/.
Randy Lutz is the Properties Director for the Santa Fe Opera, where he has held various positions since 1979. Lutz often presents workshops at regional and national theatre festivals and conferences. Lutz serves as a responder for allied crafts and prop construction and design for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
Under Randy’s direction, the heads on loan from the Santa Fe Opera were created by Anna Warren, Hannah Shoemaker, Robin Lu Payne, Eileen Garcia, C. David Russell, Chastity Collins and Nancy Allen.
Carl Sprague is a designer working for film and stage as well as special, site-specific projects. Career highlights include art direction on The Royal Tenenbaums, concept illustration for Academy Award Winners The Grand Budapest Hotel and Twelve Years A Slave. Carl is currently developing a feature adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1916 classic Summer.
Last Thursday, I gave a talk to the Alamance Makers Guild at STEAM Junction in Burlington, NC. I’ve been a member of the AMG since 2012, and it was great to finally give a featured presentation. STEAM Junction is the new Maker Space started by the same people.
My talk was called “From Prop Making to Authoring.” I started off discussing my career as a prop builder and what that entails, before moving onto the blog and how that ultimately led to writing The Prop Building Guidebook: For Theater, Film, and TV.
My wife broadcast the entire talk over Facebook Live, and now the video is up on YouTube. It is a little over an hour long, so only the most diehard fans will make it through the whole thing.
The audience really enjoyed it. I was able to explain how my work informed the blog and how that built an audience for the book. I talked about why I blog, and how I use social media to promote it. Much of what I discussed was relevant to makers of all kinds, not just those who build props. It is all about teaching and sharing knowledge, and how to get people interested in what you do.
Did you see my AMA this week on Reddit? A lot of good questions were asked, and I hope I gave decent answers to all of them.
I’m not the only one starting to use fun foam for everything. Propnomicon has this great video from Evil Ted on heat forming foam for various effects. He shows you not only how to shape and bend it, but also how to add indented details.
This is from a year ago, but the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art has a video showing the inside of their prop department where Deryk Cropper teaches the next generation of UK prop builders.
How many Millennium Falcons have there been? Cinefex looks at the history of Star Wars and talks about all the various physical models of this iconic spaceship, from tiny coin-sized miniatures up to full-size set pieces. It’s a little sad to hear that the full-size version created for the original trilogy was burned at the end of filming.
Ed Lebetkin’s antique tool shop in Pittsboro supplied all the period-appropriate tools for the new film The Revenant. The shop is right above Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s Shop and is just down the road from me. I got to visit the place a few years ago and wrote about it on this very blog. The last photograph and paragraph talk about Lebetkin’s shop.
I am the Master of Props. I am the Devourer of Foam. Ok, that’s a bit much, but you can check out a Q&A with me in this month’s USITT Sightlines. I talk about my blog and reveal a bit of my origin story.
Tested takes a look at this very cool animatronic Skeksis puppet being built by Chris Ellerby. He’s using a great mix of traditional and high-tech techniques to bring this creature from Dark Crystal to life.
Lost Art Press introduced me to the Index of American Design. This WPA project had artists drawing and painting all manner of household items, toys, furniture and tools in an attempt to document and define the American aesthetic. You can follow the links on his page to get to the online Index, which has over 18,000 of these images for your viewing pleasure.
Finally, if you’re really bored, check out this board foot calculator you can use on your next carpentry project.