Film and TV drama
Also known as: Property master, Prop professional
What does a prop master do?
A prop, or property, is any moveable item that can be seen on a film. It could be a hat, gun, cushion, wine glass, lightsaber, carpet, kitchen unit, tree or aircraft. Prop masters run the property department which makes, stores and transports the props as well as preps the props for each day’s shoot.
Prop masters usually start work a few weeks before shooting begins. They work with production designers, set decorators and art directors to work out what props are needed. They do research and then draw up properties lists, deciding which are to be hired and which are to be made. They create a ‘set and strike’ schedule to share with location and construction departments
Where props are to be made, prop masters recruit the carpenters, artists and prop makers and manage the schedule for production. Where they are hired, they work with the production buyers to source them.
When shooting is finished, they return of all hired props and organise the sale or safe disposal of everything else.
What’s a prop master good at?
- Understanding film: pick up the director’s vision, break a script down for props requirements take account of the need for continuity
- Historical knowledge: research different eras, dress a set authentically
- Craftsmanship: work with a wide variety of materials, craft and repair items
- Moving items: handle large, heavy but fragile items
- Communication: work closely with the production designer and other departments, share the vision with the props team
- Organisation: manage staff, budgets, complex schedules, transport and storage
Who does a prop master work with?
Prop masters report to production designers and set decorators as part of the art department. They work closely with the director, art director, set decorator, prop buyer, location manager and construction manager. Their team usually includes:
Standby props are on hand while the film or TV drama is being shot. They are ready to make any changes to prop requirements and provide whatever's needed during filming. For example, if a character smashes a glass, standby props will clear up the mess and give the actor the replacement fake glass. They keep the prop master updated with the changes.
Prop hands organise the transporting of all the hired props. They make sure the props that are ordered get to the unit safely and are stored logically. When the props are no longer needed, they get them back to the hire company and complete the paperwork.
How do I become a prop master?
This is a senior role. Most people become a prop master having worked their way up from standby props, dressing props, props storeman, and assistant props master. A good route is to get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme and become an art department trainee. This will help you make the contacts and build up the industry knowledge to get work in the art department of a film or TV drama.
At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in art and design, photography, theatre, graphic design or graphic communication. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design)
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Graphic Design)
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
- BTEC National Diploma in 3D Design and Crafts
- BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Production
- BTEC National Diploma in Photography
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training, so they can be a great opportunity to earn as you learn. However, it can be challenging to find jobs as an apprentice with production companies as many are not able to take on people for a whole year, which is an apprenticeship requirement at the moment. It might be worth looking for a job as an apprentice in an industry that uses similar skills, such as being a furniture maker. This could help you develop your craft and create a body of work for a portfolio that you can use to find your way into film and TV drama at a later point.
These are the standards and frameworks through which relevant apprenticeships might be available throughout the UK:
- Creative and Digital Media (Level 3, Northern Ireland)
- Creative and Digital Media (Level 3, 4, Wales)
- Design (SCQF, Level 5, Scotland)
- Furniture, Furnishings and Interiors (SCQF, Level 5, 6, Scotland)
- Design (Level 3, Northern Ireland)
- Design (Level 2, 3, Wales)
- Design Practice (Level 5, Wales)
- Furniture and Furnishings (Level 2, 3, Wales)
In Scotland, you might be able to find degree-level apprenticeships through the following frameworks:
- Creative (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
- Creative and Digital Media (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
- Design (SCQF Level 5, 6/7, Scotland)
Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will be giving you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.
Learn how to drive a van or a lorry
Being a prop master can often involve moving heavy props and travelling around different locations. Learning to drive is essential for this, as is learning how to move large, heavy but fragile items safely.
Get a degree:
You don’t have to have a degree, but you might want one. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in film and TV. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the film and TV industries.
Go to ScreenSkills’ events like Open Doors to meet people working in art departments. Show them your portfolio and give them your number.
You might also be interested in…
Being a production buyer or a set decorator in film and TV drama or in unscripted TV.
- The British Film Designers Guild
- The Production Guild
- Concept Art World
- PACT: Producers Alliance for Film & Television
- Women in Film and Television (WFTV)
- BECTU (the creative media union)
- Shooting People
- Soho Runners
- Production Base
- Screen Daily
Visual effects (VFX)
Involves making sequences on a computer that can't be created on set, like enormous crowds and fire-breathing dragons
Combines art with programming as well as production, design and testing - the UK’s fastest growing entertainment industry
Creates the illusion of movement, includes computer-generated, stop-motion and hand-drawn animation