Prop maker... So you want to be a...
They produce everything from historical items used on the recent Robin Hood shoot in Pembrokeshire to alien artefacts used during the South Wales-based filming of Doctor Who and Torchwood. They may also be involved in hiring, adapting or borrowing props.
Prop makers use a variety of tools to carry out their work - everything from needle and thread to saws, drills and computers. Prop makers need to have a wide range of skills covering areas like carpentry, model-making, and computer-aided design. They might create props from rough ideas or from other people's designs, working with a variety of materials such as steel, latex, wood or cotton. They may also have to create props that move or illuminate.
Depending on the production, prop makers may have to carry out historical, cultural or science fiction research, and consult advisers in order to create accurate and realistic props. Hours and environment There are no set hours or standard environment for prop makers but they normally work long hours, especially as a production deadline approaches. Many prop makers are freelance, although they often liaise with others on the production. Weekend and evening work is common.
Prop makers could work in studios or backstage, in prop rooms, or on film sets and on location. They may have to spend time away from the workshop, studio or stage while researching and finding props.
Conditions backstage may be cramped and prop makers may have to work with strong smelling adhesives and paints.
Skills and interests To be a prop maker you should have: Technical and craft skills such as model-making, electric and electronic engineering, lighting or furniture making; An interest in the performing arts and in design; Creative and artistic skills; Good communication skills; An understanding of materials and their capabilities; An ability to work within a budget; and Computing skills for creating props using computer-aided design. Entry Before applying for work or training it is best to put together a portfolio of your art and design or craft work. This should be kept up-to-date throughout your career.
This is a profession where experience is valued highly and experience of practical work may be relevant, particularly in areas of special skills such as papier mache work or electronics.
There are no set ways of becoming a prop maker but many people enter the profession by doing a recognised qualification in stage management or stage and set design. A number of degree or diploma courses include prop making or scenic fabrication. You need to research these before applying to find the most suitable for your needs. You will also need to find relevant work experience while training. Voluntary experience in amateur dramatics can be helpful.
Prop makers may enter the profession after training in other areas such as graphic design, furniture making, modelling, or technical drawing. They may also enter through making contacts with stage and set designers.
Relevant courses include: BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design; BTEC National Diploma in Performing Arts, which has a module for theatre technicians; Intermediate GNVQ or vocational A level/GSVQ Level II or III in Design; and HND in Model Making (Design).
Courses that include stage design and prop making are available at a large number of colleges and universities, and increasingly at drama schools.
Training Skillset is the professional body set up by the broadcast, film, video and interactive media industries. It offers NVQs in: Set Dressing Level 2; Properties Storage Level 2; Properties Manufacture Level 3; Properties Provision Level 3; and Properties Management Level 4. Initial training as a design assistant is available in preparing drawings and models. This will enable you to develop a range of skills and knowledge to supplement college courses in art and design.
Opportunities Prop makers are usually self-employed and work on contracts throughout the UK in: Film studios - mainly in London and the south-east of England; TV studios - live and recorded transmissions - and some film production;
Theatre companies - especially producing houses - in towns and cities around the country; Commercial companies operating in major cities or touring the country; or Theatre in education.
It is extremely rare for theatres or film and television companies to have prop makers on their permanent staff, and most employ them on short-term contracts. Prop makers need to make contacts and then be recommended in order to move from one job to the next. There are also advertisements for prop makers in the trade press. Annual income There are no set salary rates for prop makers. Most are self-employed and their income varies depending on their ability to get work, their reputation and contacts.
Many prop makers earn less than pounds 10,000. Average salaries are pounds 15,000.
Prop makers on large productions may earn more than pounds 20,000.
WANT ONE OF THOSE: In the props department at the Welsh National Opera