Prop masters create a wide range of objects, such as furniture, replica weapons and moving models, for use in theatre, television and film. They follow the brief from a production or set designer and use a variety of practical skills to make realistic-looking items.
You could be:
using a wide range of skills, such as carpentry, sculpting, sewing, computer-aided design (CAD), painting and modelling, to create objects
discussing requirements with a set or production designer and drawing up designs
carrying out research to make sure that objects look authentic
making objects according to how they will be used, for example making what would normally be a heavy object light enough for an actor to lift
experimenting with different materials, such as latex, leather, wood, metal or fabric, to see what works best
using a variety of tools, from paint brushes and hammers, to power saws and welding equipment
altering existing objects, using techniques such as distressing (making something look old or worn)
repairing props that are damaged during use
hiring or buying props.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual salaries may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
Many prop masters work freelance. They charge a fee, which can vary depending on the work and their reputation. These may range from £10 to £20 an hour and £85 to £250 a day.
The rates recommended by the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) range from:
Trainee - £675 to £950 a week (TV) and £750 to £950 a week (Film)
Junior prop hand - £1,000 to £1,250 a week (TV) or £1,000 to £1,300 a week (Film)
Props department co-ordinator - £1,300 to £1,650 a week (TV) or £1,400 to £1,700 a week (Feature Film).
If working on a large production (most likely in film or TV) you usually work with a team of people.
If working on a small production (often in theatre) you may work on your own and carry out costume making and set building as well as prop making.
Working hours vary and weekend and evening work may be necessary when meeting a deadline.
You could work in a studio, workshop or prop room, in a theatre or on a TV or film set.
The conditions might be noisy, dusty and cramped.
Some of the materials you would use may give off unpleasant and dangerous fumes.
You might have to wear protective clothing, gloves and a mask.
Sometimes you may have to travel to suppliers or to carry out research.
Skills and talent are more important than formal qualifications, but many prop makers do take an art-based or technical theatre course.
Relevant subjects include production arts, technical theatre, art and design, 3D design and model making.
A number of Scottish colleges offer HNC (SCQF Level 7) and HND (SCQF Level 8) in these areas.
Entry to HNC usually requires 1 or 2 Highers and for HND, 2 Highers.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland offers a degree in Production Arts and Design which has a pathway for prop making. Entry is with 3 Highers.
Computer-aided design (CAD) skills are useful.
Competition for jobs is high so it can be useful to have some experience, for example through an amateur theatre group.
You can look for work with theatres, film and TV production companies, community arts groups and companies that specialise in supplying props. Most film studios are based in London and south-east England, but there are theatres and TV companies based around the UK.
What Does it Take?
You need to be:
practical and have good craft skills
imaginative and creative
patient and accurate, with an eye for detail
good at problem solving
able to understand plans and drawings
able to interpret and visualise ideas
able to work to deadlines and within budgets.
You need to have:
an interest in design and technology
drawing and IT skills
good communication skills
the ability to work on your own as well as in a team
awareness of health and safety procedures.
You would train and gain experience on the job with your employer.
You would continue to develop your skills by attending relevant part time courses and training opportunities.
You would usually work your way up to prop master from standby props, props storeman, and assistant props master.
You may move into set design, production design or stage management.
You may become self-employed, working on a freelance basis.
There are some job opportunities overseas for prop makers, especially if you are working for a firm that operates internationally.
You may need to move around to find new opportunities.
There are a number of websites advertising jobs in the theatre, film and TV industries, such as The Stage and Mandy.
Young Scot and Creative Scotland operate the 'Nurturing Talent - Time to Shine Fund', which aims to support young people aged 11-25 and interested in developing creative or artistic skills. Both individuals and groups can apply for funding up to £1,000. For more information see the Young Scot website.
The Creative and Cultural Skills website has a careers section called Creative Choices which covers careers information, jobs and opportunities in the theatre, including props work.