Hollywood Jobs: Objectively Speaking, It's All About The Prop Master When The Social Network needs 60 vintage computers that work — or Steven Spielberg needs live crabs, and needs them in motion — it's prop masters who move heaven and earth to make it happen. In the first of her annual Hollywood Jobs stories, NPR's Susan Stamberg profiles some of the field's best.

Objectively Speaking, It's All About The Prop Master

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A wooden sled called

(Soundbite of movie, "Citizen Kane")

Mr. ORSON WELLS (Actor, Director, Writer): (as Charles Foster Kane) Rosebud.

MONTAGNE: A weapon to vanquish a villain.

(Soundbite of movie, "Star Wars: Episode IV")

Mr. Alec Guinness (Actor): (as Ben Obi-wan Kenobi) Your father's light saber.

(Soundbite of a light saber)

MONTAGNE: Property masters help design them. And most often, property masters track props down and stand by through the shoot, in case something else is needed.

Prepping for Oscar night, this coming Sunday, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg learned what it takes to prop a film.

SUSAN STAMBERG: On the set of "The Muppets," a Disney film due out Thanksgiving, Property Master Trish Gallaher Glenn has provided a telephone for Kermit the Frog, but not a very old typewriter on Kermit's desk.

Ms. TRISH GALLAHER GLENN (Property Master): This actually is set decorating. The set decorator does all of the furnishings, all of the draperies, the paintings, the furniture. And the prop master does the things the actors actually pick up and touch.

STAMBERG: So guns, gavels, globes, a giraffe even. If an actor pats it, those are props. Trish Gallaher Glenn has to find more than a thousand props for "The Muppet" movie. Her toughest challenge was on the film "Charlie Wilson's War," Tom Hanks as the Texas congressman lobbying for various covert CIA capers, Charlie had to read The Washington Post the morning the Twin Towers were attacked.

Ms. GLENN: No one had the pre-crash paper for September 11, 2001. The Washington Post did not have it. As it turned out, one of the women who worked in Charlie's s congressional office, her husband was a writer for The Washington Post and happened to have a story on the front page of the paper that day, and he loaned it to us.

STAMBERG: And because it's

Movieland, and in Hollywood Making the Day means meeting deadlines and budgets and time constraints, the newspaper scene was cut from the film.

Mr. JIM ELYEA (Co-Owner, History for Hire): Here's a good one. Here's a good one.

STAMBERG: Props come from many sources. A prop house called History for Hire specializes in vintage stuff - all kinds of stuff.

Mr. ELYEA: Ambulance, gurneys, amputation kits, anchors, anvils, aprons, archeological equipment

STAMBERG: Jim Elyea owns History for Hire. Jim knows his history and his inventory. He knows that diaper pins from the 1940s are on a second shelf lower left.

Ms. HOPE PARRISH (Prop Master): Yeah, I like that one.

STAMBERG: Prop Master Hope Parrish needs pins and toys for the film "Water for Elephants."

Ms. PARRISH: I might want to get like a little Steiff bear.

Mr. ELYEA: Let me talk you out of the second one because that's the '50s snout.

Ms. PARRISH: Okay.

STAMBERG: Hope leaves her order, and hurries off for more props - all for additional photography for "Water for Elephants." The main filming was done last spring.

Now, what if History for Hire has rented out that table that you used in the first shoot?

Ms. PARRISH: My brown hair goes gray. I'm up 24/7 to figure out how to fix it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Hope's grandfather was a property master. So was her father, Dennis. He propped for "Hello Dolly," "Patton," "Rambo," and "The Aviator" - he and Hope worked together on that one.

Mr. DENNIS PARRISH (Owner, The Hand Prop Room): You want to give me your e-mail address? I can take a picture of it and send it over to you.

STAMBERG: Dennis Parrish started this L.A. house, The Hand Prop Room. Dennis stocked it with movie stuff, as well as a library full of research books: encyclopedias, Civil War histories, and the property masters' Bible

Mr. PARRISH: The Sears Catalogue, because if you open the Sears Catalogue in 1925 to a page where there's eyeglasses, those are the eyeglasses people were buying.

STAMBERG: Hope did major research for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." The film spanned almost a hundred years, from 1911 to 2005.

Ms. PARRISH: Finding nine eras of props for the house, for the cars, the license plates on the cars. Every year that we changed, 30, 40 cars had to have the plates changed. I think I spent probably close to $50,000 to $70,000 in license plates.

Mr. PARRISH: Are you keeping the Halliburton(ph) kits?

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

STAMBERG: You can walk through the ages in a prop house. Hope Parrish, a third generation property master, practically toddled through history growing up on movies. Female prop masters were rare when Hope started working. Her dad told her she would need a powerful whistle to do the job.

Ms. PARRISH: Oh, you don't even want to hear it. Ill blow you out of the room.

(Soundbite of a whistle)

STAMBERG: There's a naked lady in your hall.

Mr. BILL PETROTTA (Property Master, ISS Prophouse): Yeah, we like it that way.

STAMBERG: The naked lady is a mannequin at ISS Prophouse where we meet another third generation prop family. Bill Petrotta's dad, Vic, propped at Universal, MGM, Paramount, urged his son Bill not to go into the business. Bill, however, did props for "Close Encounters," "Edward Scissorhands." Bill schlepped his son, Drew, around on weekends, hunting for props.

Mr. DREW PETROTTA (Property Master, ISS Prophouse): Saturday night, I was about 12 years old.

Mr. B. PETROTTA: Early '80s, '70s or something like that, shopping for crazy stuff for like a Cheech and Chong movie.

Mr. D. PETROTTA: Being 12 and going to a head shop up on Santa Monica Boulevard on a Saturday night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. B. PETROTTA: Him and his cousin are going like, what are we doing in here, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STAMBERG: Drew got addicted to the work, the work. Right now, Drew is propping "The Avengers." Dad, Bill who's 67, only works as an assistant now - too stressful otherwise.

Mr. B. PETROTTA: You never know what's going to come up. The directors go to sleep at night and they dream all night long. And in the morning, they wake up and they go, you know, it would be nice if we could have a girl coming out of a cake. And then they look at you. And you just say how much time do I have?

STAMBERG: And then what do you do?

Mr. B. PETROTTA: You run like hell.

(Soundbite of movie theme song, "Jaws")

STAMBERG: Bill Petrotta did "Jaws" with Stephen Spielberg. You know that 1975 movie about the mean fish that made mincemeat out of its victims? Director Spielberg was young, 29, brilliant and made demands.

Mr. B. PETROTTA: Tomorrow, when we do the arm, he says, I want some crabs. And like there's crabs crawling through the seaweed onto this arm. And so it was in April in Martha's Vineyard and it was colder than you know what. So I got the crabs. Steve is going, they're just standing there. And I said, what do you want them to do? And he says, I want some movement, I want them to - and I said fine.

I walked over and got a cup of coffee.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. B. PETROTTA: And I said is your camera ready, sir. He'd go, yeah, its ready. And I threw the coffee on them. These crabs were running now - caught coffee on.

(Soundbite of movie, "Jaws")

Unidentified Man: Oh, Jesus.

Mr. B. PETROTTA: He just looked and he says, cut - that's good.

STAMBERG: A script might just say he goes fishing. The rest is up to a property master. Get the pole, the boat, the bait, the crabs - get the crabs to dance - whatever it takes, which often can be everything to make the day, the movie, the magic.

(Soundbite of movie theme song, "Jaws")

STAMBERG: In California, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(Soundbite of movie theme song, "Jaws")

MONTAGNE: And you can take a tour of a movie prop house and check out everything from blow dryers to baby carriages, at NPR.org.

Susan's Hollywood jobs series continues tomorrow when she goes on the road with a location scout.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Renee Montagne.


Im Steve Inskeep.

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