Want to get paid to shop? Breakout Kings prop master, Jim Murray, spent season 1 doing just that! With a pocket full of cash and a keen eye for detail, Jim spendt his days scavenging for authentic police badges, rings, and even prosthetic arms. These may be considered the ‘smalls’ on-screen but any inconsistencies with these props can set-back an entire episode. Find out how Jim keept track of all his props and learn how inventing new ways of tying people up can be a bit challenging.
What does a prop master do?
My job is to take care of everything that the actors would touch from food to guns to newspapers, rings, watches--anything like that. Any of the bigger pieces like desks, tables, chairs, furniture is taken care of by the set department.
How do you determine what props are yours in a script?
We each get our script, and then we go through and we break it down, and we’ve been doing this long enough that we can kinda figure out what’s ours and what’s not ours. So if there was an instance where there was a messy desk, I know that that set dec[orator] would take [care] of the messy desk. But if the script had directions that the actor would grab a pen from the messy desk, I would take care of that pen or if there was paper on that desk that the actor would pick up or a book or a phone, for instance, I would take care of those little details.
Are your props different from wardrobe?
Part of our job is to take care of anything that would be on the person. If they’re a police officer, for instance, anything that’s metal that’s on them, like their badge, their dog collars, their tie clip would be us even though they’re wearing the item. For some reason there’s a division between props and wardrobe--Anything that’s sewn onto their outfit would be wardrobe.
Rings we also take care of and watches even though they wear it through the whole show. What we do is we source the rings. We have to find out if the character is married; if they’re married, we have to size them for their ring. Sometimes a lot of actors like to use their own wedding ring because they don’t want to take it off which is a saving grace for us because following that continuity and making sure everybody wears their rings is kind of tough especially when actors go to their trailer and change their outfit four or five times a day, and they just take off everything for some reason and leave stuff around. So often we buy a hero prop and if Laz, for instance, has two watches, he’s got his hero watch and then a backup to that hero.
Actors will take their rings home or forget about them or leave them in their trailer so every actor has their own bag. It’s like a heavy duty zip lock bag, and it’s got a breakdown of who they are, their character name, their ring size, which side they wear their watch on, left or right, are they left or right-handed, any food allergies they might have, [and] a picture of them.
Tell me about the weaponry on the show, does that fall into your jurisdiction?
We have a weapon handler that takes care of [it]. I will send him a breakdown and a script, and he’ll read it then we’ll discuss what kind of weapons we want.
You’re buying real--?
No. Everything that the actors use on sets that we manage is called a deactivated or DWAT gun. If we have anything that needs any kind of action on it, where they’re pulling the triggers or cocking the gun back or firing it, we’ll bring in a gun wrangler for that.
A gun wrangler?
Yes, they will deal with shooting the guns with the actors and loading them and safetying them. We still go over safety procedures, and we run the same safety procedures that the gun wranglers would use when they hand off a gun to an actor. We show that it’s not loaded and that it’s fake just for the actors’ peace of mind and the crew’s piece of mind, because if they’re waving a gun around, everybody wants to know that it’s not real and not loaded. That’s a really key part of the job.
What do you do when knives are scripted?
Yeah, knives are tough. When a knife is scripted, we have to break down what the action is with the knife. We will give an actor a sharp knife but only for the close-ups. After that, we’ll pull that knife [and use] the hero dull knife for wide shots and just anything that they’re moving it around. If it’s anywhere close to a person, we’ll get a rubber made of it but if that knife has to interact with anybody we’ll get a retractable. Retractables are tough because you can’t have any kind of blade that has a curve in it because you can’t retract a curved blade. So generally they’re straight blades --- and then you need a big, huge handle for the knife to retract back into. Most of the time we’re safe because the actor will be holding that item in their hands, so we can oversize that so then we’ve got room for the retractability. You’ll never use a retractable knife anywhere near somebody’s throat [because] sometimes retractable knives can bind and actors sometimes get into frenzies when they’re doing this stuff [so] if they’re stabbing somebody aggressively in the neck and that knife binds, it won’t retract in because it’s sliding exactly in and out. We avoid anything like that. What we do now is build a knife that doesn't have a blade on it, and then they’ll [digitally insert] the blade for anything that’s around the neck area.
Let's say they are filming a scene and you need a blue pen and you brought a red pen, what happens?
Well, our truck is pretty much outfitted with pen kits--we have kits for almost everything you can think of. We have medical kits. We have pen kits. We have stamp kits. We have paper kits. We have bag kits. So if something’s not right, we will generally have a backup. Or if it’s not right, we’ll paint it, modify it, any way we can to get it working for the scene. So our job is to really make it work.
What is the most difficult prop you had to acquire for this season of Breakout Kings?
The hardest thing that we’ve really had to get our head around in this show is the police badges and the correctional badges. But the turnaround time for stuff like this is three to four weeks for a scratch build, meaning we send them the artwork, and they build it the way we want it to be, to appear on screen.
So it’s been hard trying to turn around badges because we’re a week ahead of the shooting crew prepping the next episode, so to be able to get the script, read it, find out what states we’re in or what correctional institution we’re in and then turning those badges over has been a deal because we just can’t - we don't have the turnaround time. So we’ve got a really good graphics department that helps us out, and we’ll buy generic badges that we can then graphic up.
Which Breakout Kings character has the most surprising personal prop?
I think the most interesting one [was] from Malcolm Goodwin who plays Shea. Part of our job is to work with the actors and make sure they’ve got their character in mind, and we kind of have to be on the same page. Malcolm was really keen on having his character have a sweet tooth, so he requested that we buy him suckers -- lollipops that he could use throughout the show.
When was the last time you had to chase down an actor about a prop?
T-Bag (Robert Knepper) came back into this episode (“The Bag Man”), and there was a lot of discussion about his hand because he had the prosthetic hand from Prison Break so we had to follow that continuity through. I guess the Prison Break people sold all their props on eBay so we didn't have access to the original prosthetic hand, which was actually a rubber glove that they had constructed for him. They had one built in L.A., and then we had it shipped up here, but we didn't have a fitting with him so we had to go to his hotel room and spend two hours with him making sure it fit and making sure he [was] comfortable.
You must love shopping on someone else’s budget--
I think the most interesting part of my day is the shopping. I mean I’m a professional shopper so I can pretty much find anything you need me to find. Finding items is challenging, but it’s kind of fun too--We have to assess what it is, make sure it can fit into our budget restrictions and then we just have to make it work.
The strangest thing about this show is trying to invent new ways of tying people up because almost every single episode we’re tying somebody up. By the 10th episode the writers would write in she’s duct-taped, he’s duct-taped and I was like, "We’ve done that four times, can we not think of some other way?" We’re tired of doing the duct tape; we’re tired of doing rope so we’re into bungee cords and electrical cables now. That’s the craziest thing to do, because when I go to a store like Home Depot, for instance, I’ll be looking through the shelves and of course, the [sales associates] will come up and be like what do you need this stuff for?--So it’s always trying to reinvent the simplest thing; the hard stuff is pretty easy.