The following is one of several interviews conducted by students of Ron DeMarco’s properties class at Emerson College.
Across the World in Props, with Tina Stevenson
by Jeremy Stein.
“Be flexible, smile even when you’re frustrated, if you don’t know the answer say so, learn something new everyday, never be afraid of a challenge, but never stretch yourself or department because of it.” Continue reading Interview with Tina Stevenson→
Those at USITT may have seen a video playing on James Bakkom. Bakkom is a Minneapolis-based artist who has worked as an art director on over 500 productions, as well as a set designer around the country. He was also the props master at the Guthrie Theatre in the sixties and seventies. I heard a lot of props people raving over the short documentary about Bakkom that was screening at the conference, and it turns out it is online. So if you missed it, or couldn’t make it to the conference, check it out. It is a half hour long, so make some popcorn, shut the door, and tell everyone in the shop not to bother you because you are “doing Internet research”.
If you ask ten prop makers how they began building props for film, you will get ten different answers. It usually involves some combination of luck, timing, and knowing the right person. While theatre has seasonal employment, apprenticeships and internships which you can find advertised as well as job fairs which feature employers that regularly hire prop people, the world of film has no such thing. You can’t learn about it in a book (believe me—I’ve looked). So how do you get started?
I also want to add that I am writing this as I figure it out; I am pretty much a prop maker for theatre, and my film credits are, well… I haven’t done any film. But this is similar to how I began to get work in the display and exhibition world, and that kept me fairly well employed for a few years. So if any of may readers have advice to add, I’m sure all of us, myself included, will be grateful for it.
I found an interesting little article about props in photography, which is actually a reprint from a 1922 article in Abel’s Photographic Weekly.
[T]he photographer felt moved to point out the fact that the modern camera specialist must have at hand more “props” as they are called in theatrical circles, than many a small sized theatre.
Some of us working in props already know the world of photography props is another outlet for our skills. I know other props artisans who have worked full-time for photography studios, and I myself spent a day at a studio doing carpentry during a shoot.
In photography, it is often the art director responsible for putting together the set and props. The art director will either pull this all together on their own, or hire outside help, sometimes even contracting the work to a scene shop. Some photographers will work on their own, either with an in-house staff of carpenters, decorators, and painters, or as in the case with many portrait photographers, by acquiring their own inventory of props one by one. Photographers will often post on the internet, either through Craigslist, Etsy, or some other site, when they are looking for custom props to be built.
So if you’re ever looking to branch out, or find some work in the off-season, don’t forget about photography.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies