Prop masters share most difficult objects they ever made

TIL: In general, props are the items actors touch/handle, everything else is part of the set decoration and not the responsibility of the property master.

Vulture has a fun piece that talks with veterans of the trade about their semis full of hoards, how they source items, and the most challenging props they've created in their career.

A few highlights:

Robin L. Miller, creator of Wilson the volleyball for Cast Away (2000):

"I needed the "Wilson" only on one side of the ball. I needed to do a face on the other side. Apparently they were made in China. They had to do a special run of them. She would only give me 20. I went, "20? I'm going to Fiji with these things!" And I needed as many as I could get, because things happen to props all the time… She only could make me 20. And we made do with that…"

Steven Levine, Airplane! (1980) and Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985):

"…Peter Graves, who was the pilot, ate the fish — they did an insert of his plate showing a skeleton. Like, he picked it clean, right? So I wound up contacting a museum. I paid, I dunno, $350 or something for this fish skeleton. And it looked great! Well, this assistant director found out how much I spent, and then he started passing around, "You know how much Levine spent on that fish? All he had to do was …" It wasn't even his business! Fuck you!…"

"It was a weekend. Like a Saturday afternoon. I was at home. And I get a call from Paul Reubens and Tim Burton: On Monday we were going to be shooting in a tequila bar, where all those bikers were at the bar. And Pee-wee was doing a dance with those giant white platform shoes to the song "Tequila." They decided that they wanted Pee-wee to pick up a bunch of beer pitchers and beer glasses and throw them and smash them, during the song. So they tell me this on a Saturday afternoon! To shoot on Monday morning! I told them, "Look. Honestly, I don't know if I can pull this off or not. But I'm gonna go work on it now."

To cut to the chase, I lined 'em up… But the studio was not happy that I did that! They were angry. I spent a thousand dollars and I didn't get their approval… My training was, it's all about the director's vision.

The entire piece is worth a read.

screenshot via Pee-wee's Big Adventure

(Nag on the Lake)