Prop Buyer

  • Prop Buyer

Picture Warehouse 13 or the expansive storage facility of mysterious artifacts in the Indiana Jones series. Hidden in crates and catalogued on shelves, there are thousands of miscellaneous items that each tells a story. In feature film and television, props are a critical part of storytelling and setting a realistic scene. Like Dr. Jones, the prop buyer is a treasure hunter that combs through those shelves.


Duties

As a member of the props team within the art department, the prop buyer is responsible for sourcing props for a feature film or television production. In conjunction with that task, this person is also charged with maintaining records concerning rental agreements and invoices. Under the supervision of the property master during pre-production, he or she will review the script breakdown and list of required props. When necessary, the buyer will perform research to ensure that props meet the historical context or time period of the story. Oftentimes, this person will seek out photographic or illustrated references from the production designer or art director before selecting props.

In sourcing items for the production, the prop buyer can generally fulfill the majority of his or her list at a prop rental house or from the production studio’s on-site warehouse. In the event that a particular item is rare or otherwise hard to find, he or she may resort to consignment shops, online re-sellers, or seeking out a private owner. For those items, which are too costly or too specialized to rent or buy, the art department will be commissioned to fabricate original props.

Options are key when sifting through props. Rather than gathering one of each item on the list, the prop buyer will usually set aside several variations—think dinnerware in five different patterns or colors. It will be left up to the property master and director to make the final call. While the production designer might have envisioned a stark-white place setting, on set, the director may see the lighting and decide a splash of color is necessary.

Skills & Education

There is no standard training for this position, but a prop buyer is greatly benefited by an education in film and television production, theatrical design, or art history; coursework in basic accounting and asset management may also be helpful. Previous employment in one or more areas of a production art department is required. The person in this role should have excellent organizational skills and a keen attention to detail. Also crucial is the ability to methodically maintain strict schedules and budgets involving large inventories.

What to Expect

The role of the prop buyer is typically a freelance position. Those working in the field may come to the role from within the art department as a props technician, production assistant, or set dresser. A great deal of trust is placed in the prop buyer’s ability to be discerning and selective. Yes, options are highly desirable, but it isn’t practical to clear out the entire prop warehouse and haul it to the set. Instead, the prop buyer makes careful choices about which items should be brought in bulk. Anyone can go on a shopping trip and come back with three of everything. The art department relies on a prop buyer to make the first edit and consider the aesthetic and practical needs of the production when choosing props.

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