When you’re watching a video, you might notice the actors, the dialogue, and maybe an effect or text that supplements the content. But what about props?
Props are crucial to many videos because they provide context that allows the creative vision to shine.
So, how do you make sure you have the props you need for production?
We’ll walk you through the process, but first, we need to make a distinction about the production terminology involved here.
If you aren’t familiar with production, you might assume that any object found on set is a prop, but that’s not actually the case. “Prop” is short for “property,” and is used to mean an object that one of the actors in the shot physically interacts with. The person in charge of props is usually referred to as the prop master (short for property master).
If an object is in the background or shown on camera, but the actor doesn’t interact with it, it’s not technically a prop—it’s part of the set dressing. Take this video we made for Toshiba, for example. The pizza and the grill rack would be examples of props, while all the objects in the background that make the space look like a functional kitchen are part of the set dressing.
This distinction can be important because, typically, the two categories are handled by different people (or different departments) altogether. Knowing which category an object falls into will determine who is responsible for providing and maintaining the object until production is complete.
Now that we understand the difference between props and set dressing, it’s time to unpack the steps to getting the right props for your video.
1. Read the script.
When preparing props for production, you should always start with a careful reading of the script. As you go through each scene, mark any objects that will be required to convey the appropriate message.
If you’re also handling set dressing, you should also take note of any objects referenced in the background of the scene. You’ll need to account for any moods or context that will need to be established by the setting rather than communicated in the dialogue.
This stage of the process will often involve a production designer, director, or other members of the crew who will go through the script with you. This collaboration helps ensure that the creative vision will be accurately represented, and all crew members are on the same page moving forward.
2. Consider the location.
At this point, it’s important to note where filming will take place, as this may impact prop choices. For example, a larger space might mean that you need more copies of each prop than you would in a smaller area. Or, a specific backdrop might require a prop to be a particular color to blend in appropriately.
These details might not always lead to changes in the prop plans, but they have the potential to, so it’s best to include this step to avoid headaches later.
3. Make a props list.
The outcome of steps one and two will be a list of all the objects referenced or implied by the script, which will then need to be fleshed out into a more formal props list.
The list might include detail like what color or style the object needs to be, how many of the object need to be kept on hand, or who will be interacting with the prop during the scene. All of these details will make it easier to purchase or create the right object for the specific needs of the production.
4. Decide how to obtain the props.
Once you know which props you need, you have several options for actually obtaining them, and your choice will probably depend on the specifics of how the item is going to be used.
If you need an item to be customized or have features that aren’t commonly on the market, you may need to create the item yourself.
If you need something expensive and obscure, you might want to rent from a prop house or other establishment that will allow you to pay a fee to use the item for a short period of time, rather than investing in owning something that you’ll never use again.
If you’ll need a prop often or it’s an everyday object that you might use again, you might want to buy one (or several) options and keep it on hand during production.
Ultimately, the key here is considering the needs of your specific production. There is no standard rule about when to buy vs. rent, or when to make something from scratch vs. repurposing something you already have. All of these options are available to you, and it’s your job to decide which approach will be most appropriate.
5. Maintain the props until production is complete.
Once the prop has been obtained, your job isn’t quite over. Props sometimes get damaged, lost, or consumed during production, and it’s the job of the prop master to ensure that this doesn’t happen—at least not until the prop is no longer needed.
This responsibility is doubly important if the item will be needed for future productions, or if the item was rented and needs to be returned to a prop house or other rental facility.
When a prop isn’t available in the right condition or at the right time to film with, it creates stress for everyone on set, so maintaining props is arguably the most important step. After all, no one will know how incredible your prop is if it gets lost or broken before filming can take place.
Now that you know how to tackle your prop plan, it’s time to make a video!
While we typically produce a variety of brand videos at Lemonlight, these guidelines aren’t just limited to commercials or corporate videos. You could apply these general tips to other types of productions, like film, television, or even live theater. Each field has its nuances, but the overall process follows a very similar pattern regardless.
Next time you’re planning your video production process, follow these steps to get the perfect props to bring your concept to life. We can’t wait to see what you create!
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