The Prop Master for Dallas TNT, Andrea Cantrell anwsered your questions in response to the blog post Dallas TNT Prop Master Reveals Behind-the-Scenes Stories
Your blog post mentioned the requirement to get permission from the actors or their family. Did that have to happen for the portrait of Jock and Miss Ellie?
The Portrait of Jock and Miss Ellis was done by the Art Department. I didn’t have much input in that
Does your job include props on the set, did you take any inspiration from the original series?
My job is primarily hand props. Anything that is integrated into the set is the work of the Set Decorating Department unless it is called for in the script. But with regard to Actor’s personal props and character building Props… I did a lot of research online, along with watching past episodes and talking with the cast members Larry, Patrick and Linda while including Exec. Producers Mike Robin and Cynthia Cidre about specific character Props. The hat that Larry wore was a wardrobe item and it was very specific and special. Bobby Ewing wears a watch that I purchased at Costco. He didn’t want anything flashy or pretentious. He wanted a working man’s watch, he asked for the same idea with his reading glasses.
Apart from the photos in the album what is your favorite prop?
I have several favorite Props… Season 1, Ann gives an old recipe book (that once belonged to Miss Ellie) to Rebecca Ewing (Christopher’s wife) who is now Pamela Barnes. Assistant Prop Master John Navarro and I made the book out of hand made paper and bound it in leather. I had a branding iron fabricated with the South Fork logo and we literally stuck it in fire and branded the cover of the book. Inside I hand wrote and pasted recipes to make it look feminine and Texas authentic then I made it messy by taking it home and spilling food on it. A lot of fun!
Season 2 episode 6 Jesse Bochco’s episode. I made an ECS unit (Extraction Control System). This was an acrylic briefcase that housed a high tech prototype of a unit that theoretically would connect to a laptop and have a circuit board inside to control downstream valves and pumps to mix nitrogen and CO2 to control pressure and temp on a Methane Extraction Rig. Our Production Designer Richard Berg drew the model and essentially conceptualized the idea. I took the model and negotiated the manufacturing and cost which was made by the company Fx-perts who have done the special fx for movies “Transformers”, “Spiderman”, and “The Lone Ranger”. This Prop was going to be thrown and potentially broken in the scene, so there had to multiple briefcases and it had to be light weight. It was made out of aluminum and Lucite plexi glass.
Also in season 2 there was a keepsake box that Ann has kept of Emma since she was a baby. I used a lot of my own personal keepsakes, A crocheted bunny slipper that belonged to my daughter, a teething ring that belonged to my mother and I put a Preemie diaper in to appeal to the hearts of all woman. Brenda Strong who plays Ann, later told me that the Props really helped her with the scene because they provoked emotion within her.
What happens to all the props on a set when a show is cancelled, do you take them home?
The fate of cancelled show’s Props are typically decided by the Studio. Typically all Props are inventoried and shipped to the studio in Los Angeles.
How much notice do you get when a prop is required?
We film an episode in 7 to 8 days so that means upon receiving the script, I will typically have those days in Prep to start acquisition, manufacturing and approvals. Sometimes a scene may not film until later in the schedule and that can mean an extra week. Often the assistant Prop Master on set will get Prop requests while the scene is being rehearsed. But these items are typically unscripted items like coffee or food. We have a large inventory of Props to choose from as well.
During the summer of 2013, before we started Season 3, I was given notice that Larry Hagman’s one of a kind personal “JR” Belt Buckle and watch were going to have to be replicated. I started the research 2 months prior to prep.
What was the most difficult prop to source?
JR’s belt buckle and watch were very difficult to replicate due materials cost and the artisanal qualities.
For years fans have made a joke about a white porcelain dog that belonged to Miss Ellie, it was in the show for years. It would be a really great if that popped up in the background. Do you ever consider things like that as a nod to the fans?
Absolutely! I am very appreciative of the fans input it really helps me with research and it is important to Cynthia Cidre that what goes on screen depicts the true “Dallas”. Thank you fans!
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As a Prop Master I am the head of the Prop department with 2 assistants that work with me. The Prop Assistants work on set and maintain continuity and flow. My crew and I have to continuously keep inventory of Props and be able to work under a lot of pressure when a last minute request for a Prop is needed during filming. My immediate supervisor is the Production Designer who oversees all of the artistic side of Props (graphics, artwork and anything with a specific design to the show). The Production Designer creates the entire look of show within the Art Department.
I read the script and break down the Props in the scene that are scripted and unscripted. An example of an unscripted Prop would be Background actor's Props, action for an actor that is not scripted as well as character development using Props. A character can be developed with items such as canes, sunglasses, pinky rings, phones, toothpicks, cigarettes etc. I work with the Actors and the Costume Designer because everything has to coincide for the perfect look. After breaking down the script I do a budget for the Producer of Props that are needed.
Then I have meetings with the Director, show runner Cynthia Cidre and Exec. Producer Michael Robin. This gives me a vision of what they want the Props to be on the show. I will also accomplish this with a show and tell after I have acquired choices. There are several meetings in addition to these. Concept and Production meetings involving all the departments. It is important to ask the right questions in these meetings due to time constraints.
Graphics is also a very important part of Props. There are phone graphics, computer graphics, photoshopping pictures and graphics on Government vehicles like Police Cars. We have a graphic designer in the Art Department that has a lot of skill and talent. Finally it is my responsibility to maintain the safety of Props that could be considered dangerous such as weapons in addition... I work with the Stunt Coordinator to maintain safety with rubber Props, retractable and foam.