What challenges did you overcome in getting to the position you’re in?
It may seem hard to believe, but in 1979 when I joined Local 44 there were just 2-3 women in this job classification. In 1977, my mentor was denied entrance — not because she was incapable of the job, but because she was a woman. So, she took IATSE Local 44 to court. Her courage created a monumental move that changed the course of eligibility as a Property Master, opening the door two years later for women like me and all who came behind her. It should never be about gender, but ability. It was difficult for me, to say the least, to move up in my craft even with my family lineage. She always told me, “If you were Dennis’ son, you would have been a Property Master sooner.”
What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for aspiring prop masters?
Find your passion. It takes a lot of dedication to work in the motion picture industry. The men in my family all worked in Local 44, and I wanted them to be proud of me and my work. It was hard, but I chose to be 100% dedicated to my craft. That to me meant no outside interferences — no children, no husband, and no dog. In those days, I had to pick: family or career. It was career all the way for me; this was my passion. I knew if I tried to do both, one of the two would suffer.
What needs to happen for the industry to bring more diverse talent into the fold?
Outreach needs to happen, which I’ve seen more of in the past few years. Many productions are now reaching out to underserved communities and giving people an opportunity to work internships. This is a wonderful opportunity for so many to have a chance to see if this is their passion, because this industry is not for everyone. I had a young man with me on my last HBO show through their internship program and within a week he opted out. This was not for him — but he got the opportunity to try it, see if it was a fit, and come to his own conclusion.
What role do props play in bringing a story to life?
Props are everything! A prop might be part of a character, or it might be something as simple as a license plate that tells you the period, the city, or the country where the story takes place. We have always said, “A prop is anything an actor touches,” but it is more than that. Props tell the story and help the actor become the character. A dedicated Property Master collaborates closely with their director and cast to help define the character. If you removed all props from a movie—say, “Citizen Cane”—there would be no Rose Bud.
How can brands work best with prop masters to be an authentic and integral part of a story?
My dad always taught me, “Make the prop fit the movie, not the movie fit the prop.” If the script calls for a specific brand or product, find it, clear it, and make sure it is there with multiples on the day! Collaborate ‘show and tells’ with your director and your production designer. Sometimes there may even be a need to call the writer so you can be clear about specific props or brands. If the item in question does not fit the story, do not let anyone push you into using it. This is the kiss of death.