Friday, September 4, 2015

Karin Gleason's #GACrewCall: Property Master Angela Whiting [20150903]

*I do not own this logo. It is owned by ABC's Grey's Anatomy
*I am not a professional writer and do not work for ABC, Grey's Anatomy, or anyone involved with this amazing show.

Angela Whiting: Property Master
*Content written below is based on what was said directly from the periscope session in a mix of my words and hers.
Angela is the property master for the ABC drama Grey's Anatomy. She began the job during season 2 after Ryan Blank moved on from Property Master to Video Playback Operator.

The most basic explanation for what a property master does is that they are in charge of everything that the actors touch. However, it is more involved than just that. The most incomprehensible things are props such as license plates, certain costume jewelry, food, pens, badges, watches, etc. Angela explains that when envisioning what props are needed for a scene you have to imagine the scene as a whole ("the world off the page"), not just the certain objects in a characters hands like a scalpel for surgery. For example, if actors are having a park picnic scene (imagine little Bailey's birthday party in ep 10.17) you have to imagine what is going on in the background. Like the people playing softball, or kids playing Frisbee, or someone walking a dog, or lady jogging with her ear buds and water bottle. You have to imagine and prepare for everything around the subject as well as the subject itself, and anticipate for things that can come up unexpectedly. For example, Angela states how one time "horse pucky" also known as horse feces was needed last minute for a scene she was working on and she had to get some (fortunately they were at a horse stable) and she scooped some up into a cooler and made it work. "The glamour never stops"
*Photos are brought to you  by Angela Whiting herself.

How did you become a prop master?
Angela states that, "I love the movies." She got a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and then moved to Los Angeles, California because she was fascinated by how movies were made, the physical production aspect of movies. In LA, "I worked doing everything except for wearing a sandwich board." She worked selling advertising for a trade paper, worked as an arts and entertainment journalist for a now defunct (no longer existing) paper, she worked for a talent representative and development company, and then eventually began working for a FOX producer, Robert Lawrence. Lawrence got Angela a job as a Production Assistant (PA) and there she met people who wanted to do props. They all banded together and figured out how to get into the props part of the film industry. In other words she knew she wanted to work in the film industry but just didn't know what part just yet until she started in props. Since her degree was an academic degree and she didn't have any production experience she did all she could to learn as much as possible about the collaborative process of filmmaking.

Karin Gleason then adds that when working at a lower production level, and work with so many people, a person can see all the aspects and learn what they don't want to do on set. This is exactly what happened with Angela. Robert Lawrence was a project developer and she knew that it wasn't what she wanted to be doing. After working for him for a few years she took time off to travel for six months to Australia and when she got back she got a call from him about a project that got green lit. She goes on explaining that even though you may not be working doing something your passionate about at the moment make it known what you do want to work on and you just might get that magical phone call to do it.

What are some must have skills for a Props Master?
Patience, flexibility, and imagination are some of the few things Angela highlighted. She goes on explaining that you have to be able to "role with the changes." Many of the props are the product of ideas made from different people (color, shape, size). Angela has to take the decisions and make things or have things made based on their wants and recommendations. Also when a situation arises you have to have "instantaneous problem solving" skills as well as know who to call when you need to have something made. Angela adds how some challenges arise when you have to create pus, mucus, or vomit and make it look as realistic as possible, but user friendly to where the cast and crew aren't cringing with the smell which is where the craftiness and imagination skills come in handy.

 "Props are a small piece of a bigger machine, props are there to tell the story and move the story forward. You have to make sure your piece of the story integrates seamlessly."

Do you have a favorite prop?
Angela states that she can't choose because she loves them all. Although, in this upcoming season there is one that she is very proud of (she can't say what it is but will tweet about it when it airs). Because a lot of the props are procured by shopping or having it manufactured she got so happy with this particular prop because she made it herself. She states how the fun props are the ones where you sit at your desk for hours trying to craft it; a combination of art, crafting, and writing.

*Photo brought to you by Angela Whiting

What is the best part of your job?
Angela states that their are three things that she loves most about her job. First, she loves how every day there is something different, every script is different. Sure, you come to the same place with the same stages but there is always a new obstacle to overcome. She also adds that it doubles as a downside because she never knows what's going to happen. Secondly, she loves the collaboration. She loves working with other people. "I take great pleasure in accomplishing goals with other people that are often complicated and pressure filled." Lastly, she loves representing the science. She explains how a few seasons ago there was scene in a stem cell lab where it was written in the script that a character (Dr. Alex Karev) was creating a trachea from stem cells [7.06]. However in the script all it said was "[Karev] was working in the stem cell lab." Therefore, Angela as well as Linda Klein (Medical Producer), Jason Gustafson (Special Effects Coordinator), and Nicole Cramer (Set Decorator) had to figure out what exactly he would do while "working in the lab" in order to make it as realistic as possible. They did tons of research and watched many TED Talks to figure out the phases of creating the trachea. About two weeks later she got a knock on her door from the doctor, "stem cell [trachea] guy," who she based the scene. She brought out the shoe box with the prop in it and showed it to him and he said "that's exactly how it looked in the lab." She takes the science seriously and for the actual doctor who pioneered the science to say her hot glue and clay made trachea looked real, it made her really happy. "That's a good day at the office."
*Photo belongs to ABC

How did you make the lifelike pigs used in a number of episodes?
Angela didn't make them herself she worked with a prosthetic company (Legacy Effects) to make it. They build big animatronic animals with organs to go inside. NO REAL ANIMALS ARE HARMED OR USED IN THE MAKING OF THE EPISODES (It's in the credits). She also makes a point to add that all the animal actions are made shot by shot. If a shot requires the animal to breathe in a scene that is the main focus in the shot, same thing if it needs to bleed or make any type of movement, they don't need to make every action all at the same time.

Do you work closely with the medical producer?
Yes, both her and Linda Klein meet to find out what body parts are needed for each medical procedure scene (shredded kidney, necrotic bowel, etc.). There is a production meeting and then a medical props meeting to go through all the action that will go on in the episode to make sure everything is as accurate as possible. Other departments are looped into that meeting such as special effects and set decoration. "It takes a village"
*Images below are brought to you by Angela Whiting .

What is some advice you'd give someone wanting to go in your profession?
To immerse yourself in the culture. All of it encompasses culture as a whole so she recommends getting knowledgeable in history, architecture, pop culture, understand character, read books, listen to storytelling podcasts, and listen to music because it tells stories as well. You don't necessarily have to have a passion for every aspect of the job or specifics but love it as a whole. She references Mimi Melgaard (costume designer) when she says this job isn't for the faint at heart. It's really hard work, you really have to love what you do in order to do it.

She uses shows like Game of Thrones (HBO), Downtown Abbey, and Mad Men (AMC) to explain how all the things she mentioned would be needed since you have to envision that time period and that particular world. What tools would they use? What are their weapons? What did they eat off of? What did they drink from? What kind of furniture did they use in that time period? "It's good to know a lot, as much as you can."

What is the tequila made out of on the show?
It is made of iced tea and water. It's a calorie free and caffeine free beverage. All liquor is made out of it because it most accurately depicts the actual color of the real beverage.  

Thanks again to Karin Gleason and Angela Whiting for their time today. Feel free to follow Karin Gleason on twitter at @karingleason for updates on future #GACrewCall sessions on periscope. You can also follow the talented Angela Whiting at @GreysProps  to see the MANY awesome prop photos or you can follow my random rants at @TheAmandaAponte! Feel free to leave comments below.

*Below is a video Angela did years ago showing the many props on Grey's Anatomy. I do not own the video. It is used solely for educational purposes.

Grey's Anatomy Props Department by Schokowutz

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