The props master (short for “property master,” also called the “prop master”) is head of the props department (or is a senior position in the art department) on any film, TV show, or stage production. They are responsible for all props in the production—that includes acquiring them, keeping them organized, and making sure they’re used safely. To do this, the props master leads a team of prop makers or props-department runners, and reports to the production designer.
The props master is considered the “MacGyver” of a film set—meaning they are expected to be able to do almost anything, and often with very limited resources. As such, their job description spans a significant range of tasks. Common responsibilities for props masters include:
- Make a list of props needed for the production. The list is called the “properties list,” and to make sure it’s comprehensive, the props master goes through the script and also sits down in production meetings with various people—like the art director, technical director, stage manager, set designer, set decorator, set dressers, and/or costume designers—to discuss what props will be needed.
- Research appropriate props. If a film is set in a specific time period or location, the props master will need to know what the props would realistically look like—from guns to cars to soup cans.
- Acquire all props, all within the budget. The props master is responsible for making sure all props make it to the set—on bigger-budget films, they have a team of prop makers, but on smaller-budget films, the props master is usually making, renting, or buying all the props themselves. This includes backup props in case something gets broken on set, as well as finding animal vendors for any animal acting in the production.
- Monitor prop use for safety. Once all the props are ready to be on set, the props master supervises all prop use to make sure props aren’t broken. This includes making sure actors are using the hand props (any props handled by actors) safely, and that set props (props that are part of the set) hold up during takes. This even includes handling any firearms or testing any fake drugs that will be used in the production, to make sure they won’t harm the actors.
- Keep all props organized. The props master also keeps track of all props and backup props, usually in labeled bins on set, to make sure nothing goes missing and that everything is ready for each scene.