A prop master is an individual who exercises control over all the property departments involved in a production.
The prop master is the one responsible for obtaining and maintaining props, keeping the property department on budget, managing the property department staff and ensuring that props are appropriate for the production (period, culture, etc.) The prop master needs to be both organized and creative.
The position requires managing complex logistics while also providing props and resources to the production designer that fit with the vision of the director and establish the physical elements necessary to create the world of the production.
The prop master is the first member of the property department to be hired, so he or she will be responsible for all the planning and tasks conducted by the property department from start to finish.
The pre-production breakdown is the first major job of the prop master, and will lay down the foundation for the props in the film.
He or she will break down the script with art directors and production designers and create a complete properties list for the production.
Using the properties list, the prop master will determine what props need to be purchased, made or rented.
Managing props throughout the production
Utilizing props storeman, the prop master will manage all of the props leading up to and throughout the shoot.
Props will need to be stored, transported, moved onto and off of set. The prop master will make sure all props are where they should be, ensuring continuity and consistency.
Once the production is complete, the prop master will be responsible for returning all props and making sure props are stored correctly or sold as needed.
Making a quality film requires creating a believable world for the actors to inhabit.
The props in each shot need to fit with the story, which is why the prop master will usually spend a significant amount of time researching the appropriate props to use in the production.
In a period piece, for instance, the prop master will need to determine what items would be used by the characters, what style of clothing would be worn, how the interior of homes would be styled, etc.
The prop master will work with the production designer to decide what props will be used in the shoot, and then the prop master will conduct research to ensure that he or she picks the right props for the period.
Managing property department crew and budget
The prop master will often be responsible for numerous crew members, which requires management and communication skills.
When the director or production designer needs something, he or she will speak to the prop master.
The prop master will then delegate tasks to those under him to accomplish the objective. Staying within budget is also extremely important for a prop master. Budgets are always limited.
The prop master is expected to provide all the necessary props for the production (purchased, borrowed, rented, made), while not spending any more money than was allocated.