Props maker Zoe Kemp

Outlander © Sony Pictures 2016

Job title: Props trainee
Industries: High-end TV | Film

Zoe’s fascination with the creative arts took her from prosthetic make-up to props but it was mould-making that sparked her interest. She followed up on her prosthetic makeup course by enrolling for a BA in Production Arts and Design at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, where she studied prop making for theatre, film and TV.  

After graduating, Zoe worked for about a year in theatre, filling the gaps between productions, painting sets on TV drama productions like Shetland. “I love theatre,” Zoe says, “but I really wanted to get involved in making props for TV, because of the detail you have to put into the props themselves.” Zoe’s former scenic art tutor, Gary Fry, gave her a call. “Our tutors are real people in the industry, and they really look out for us, passing on information about opportunities. Gary gave me a wee call and suggested the Outlander Training Programme.”

Zoe's journey

Gary recommended Zoe to Outlander’s head of prop making, Rachel George. She rang Zoe and set up an interview. Zoe had heard about the Outlander Training Programme on social media and had applied for the main paint shop traineeship the previous season. “Even though I didn’t get it, the experience was really good.”  Her interview back then, with Gina Cromwell, the head of the painting department, set her in good stead for her interview with Rachel.

“I was so lucky. Everything happened really fast, and everyone was so encouraging. I had the interview and it was great – like, you’re not expected to know everything, just come in with your portfolio. It was an amazing day because you get taken around the whole studio as well.“ Zoe was given a two-day trial in the prop making department at the Outlander studios in Cumbernauld, before embarking on a six-month traineeship in season three. She was over the moon to be taken on.

It is now season four, and Zoe and a few of the other trainees, have been kept on for a further year, continuing to be funded as they step up to the next level of training. “I’ve learnt so much on Outlander. The first six months you’re learning the ropes, but coming back I’ve been given a wee bit more responsibility – the same amazing support but more real-life responsibility. It’s great that I’ve had the chance to do this over two years!”

Steven Moore says, “These are all specialist skills - prop making, costume making, plastering. On-the-job training for six months or a year is great, but it really isn’t enough to ready yourself to pitch to productions as a fully-fledged prop maker or costume maker. We’ve honed the training over the years, and have really enjoyed putting in a lot of time and effort to make it meaningful for the trainees and for the production.”

The traineeship is very structured with a distinct beginning, middle and end. The placement starts with an induction course at which Amy Shaw, the trainee’s mentor, meets and greets them. She gives each of them a training plan, helps to set goals, and generally looks out for opportunities for them. “She really encourages you to hit the ground running,” says Zoe. “It’s great meeting all the other trainees – it really helps give you confidence, knowing there’s a face you’re familiar with when you have to walk into another department to ask for something or other – like dye for instance!”

The traineeship includes three catch ups over the year, to review progress and training plans, and each trainee has two days shadowing another department on the production. “I’m shadowing costume breakdown today – there’s a lot of cross-over with props - and last year I shadowed special effects – spending the whole day with them while they set alight the set! It really opens your mind to what’s involved across the whole production.” Trainees are also supported to undertake courses that further develop their skills and make them aware of health and safety. “I’ve been so lucky to do three courses - the last one was in laser cutting and printing.”

I was so lucky. Everything happened really fast, and everyone was so encouraging. I had the interview and it was great – like, you’re not expected to know everything, just come in with your portfolio.

Zoe Kemp, Outlander props trainee

Zoe loves working in the props department with Rachel George, the head of the department and her supervisor, and Andrea Porteous, a prop maker. “Rachel has been more than generous with her time, guidance and support. More than generous! She’s also taught me how best to approach people in other departments - the sort of etiquette for going about things.”

Zoe really appreciates the on-the-job learning process, and how helpful everyone is, “I’m so very, very lucky. I’m allowed to make mistakes so long as I learn from them! And I’m allowed to ask for help. Making moulds is quite challenging – I’m making a mould for a weapon at the moment, and it’s great, I can just go and talk to the armoury and ask their advice.” Next door is the prop painting department headed up by Judith Johnston who also has a trainee, who is supported with daily freelancers. “That’s really the main team – and we all work closely together.”

Zoe's evaluation

Zoe feels amazingly lucky to have had the opportunity, and to be training and working on the Outlander Training Programme over a two year period.  “The programme is fantastic. The standard that Rachel and Andrea work to is so very, very high. It’s something that I wouldn’t have had the chance to see, to practice or learn anywhere else. With Outlander, we’re also very, very lucky with the budget in terms of materials which is so exciting. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to graduate and start working in Scotland or London without this. It’s just been such a big, amazing learning experience.”

Zoe says Outlander has provided a fabulous opportunity for Scotland – for people in Scotland and for the industry. “It’s also provided a great opening for young people in Scotland.“ She says she is lucky to have been able to stay in Scotland, in her home in Glasgow, near to her home-town of Paisley. “I think it’s quite hard to get into this industry in Scotland, especially at this scale. Everyone tells you that you’ll have to go down south, to London. But to be honest, I would have moved anywhere to have been able to take up this opportunity!”

The traineeship has also developed Zoe on a personal level. “It’s helped hugely in terms of meeting people and just building up a bit more confidence in approaching people in the industry and in actually going and doing the work. It’s great. It's just all been absolutely amazing. I've made so many friends and we have a wee community of trainees who support each other. It's totally affirmed that this is what I want to be doing.”

I think it’s quite hard to get into this industry in Scotland, especially at this scale. Everyone tells you that you’ll have to go down south, to London. But to be honest, I would have moved anywhere to have been able to take up this opportunity!

Zoe Kemp, Outlander props trainee

Steven Moore says, “Zoe is a great example of Outlander’s Training Programme. She’s been with the show for a couple of years and has been through the changes that the show’s gone through in that time. She is very talented, very keen to learn, and she’s very positive about her job. She loves what she’s doing.”

Steven adds, “The Programme has been really good for Outlander as well as for Scotland. A lot of trainees, going back to Season 1, are now filling roles in much more senior capacities. We’re creating a workforce in Scotland that can cope with a production on the scale of Outlander, giving people the chance to pursue their careers here, rather than having to move to London. It will serve the country well, in years to come, for handling these bigger productions. The opportunity these long-running productions provide to a nation is fantastic. A production company can’t overlook Scotland. They know we’ve got a skilled workforce and infrastructure of a standard that can deliver. I like to think they’ll be fighting over us!”

Zoe has no doubts about her future ambitions. “I just want to go on and on, making props for TV and film. I love the work and working to such high standards. So, I want to build on my skills and experience, and one day, I’d love to have a bit more responsibility - maybe even run a department in ten or so years’ time. I’d also love to travel with the work. I want to do this forever - there is so much involved - the TV and film industry is just so exciting.”

About the Outlander Training Programme

The Outlander Trainee Programme provides intensive on-the-job training in specific skills for entry-level talent, for the benefit of the Outlander drama series and the drama production infrastructure in Scotland and the UK as a whole. The production sources and assess committed and capable applicants, who are offered placements in departments on the drama series, lasting between six months to two years.

For more information about other ScreenSkills-supported training, schemes click here to learn more about Trainee Finder and here for career progression schemes

Back to case studies