Property Master

  • Property Master

The property master on a film or television production is responsible for all objects handled by the actors during a scene. This includes food, weapons, household items, office supplies, and intergalactic communication devices.


Duties

Under the supervision of the director, art director, and production designer, the property master is tasked with the design, fabrication, and acquisition of props, and with leading the crew of the property department. Work begins during pre-production, when he or she receives the script. Each scene is broken down to identify necessary items; research is conducted into the period of the story, the locations, cultures, and genre; and the property master designates which props can be rented or purchased and which must be specially fabricated. Next he or she oversees the creation and collection of all items; depending on the size of the production, a property buyer may be hired to assist in purchasing or renting items. The property master will participate in preliminary design meetings with the director, costume designer, and other creative department heads to establish the aesthetic of the production and ensure a cohesive look throughout the entirety of the movie, show, commercial, or music video. This person is also responsible for establishing the department budget and monitoring inventory.

While on set during principal photography, the property master and assistant property master direct the department crew in staging props (laying out items in preparation for a scene) and distributing props to the cast. After each take, the crew must strike the props and reset for another take or move on to the next setup. For continuity, the property master or assistant will take Polaroid or digital photos of each scene and the items’ placement, coordinating with the script supervisor for the purposes of pickup shots and editing. Photos are also kept to maintain inventory records and quickly identify each piece assigned to the production. When the project is wrapped, the property master is tasked with ensuring that all props are accounted for and returned and that the department budget is reconciled, then turns over all receipts and payroll information to the line producer or unit production manager.

Skills & Education

A college degree or equivalent professional experience is required for this senior-level position. Formal education in film and television production or theatrical design is recommended. Training in fine art (drawing, painting, and sculpture) and carpentry is necessary; when the director comes to you with a concept for a lawn mower that can chop bricks, it is your job to make it work. You must be skilled in multiple faux-finish techniques, as well as the use of materials like plaster, foam, latex, papier-mâché, and fiberglass. Often the property master is also responsible for creating and operating special effects, so knowledge of mechanical engineering is beneficial. 

What to Expect

Property masters come from a variety of artistic backgrounds, sometimes starting out as sculptors, carpenters, or painters. Many begin their careers as students in local theater before progressing into independent films and major studio productions. You can gain experience as a technician on the props crew or in another craft associated with film and television production. Once you’ve reached the senior level in the props department, your job is primarily concerned with organization and management of personnel. This is a creative field with a major focus on design, but the property master is tasked with tracking hundreds or thousands of individual items used on set; this demands someone who is obsessive about details and able to efficiently multitask under a deadline.

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