Learning About Props On The Set of 'Parkland'

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Austin Studios

By Sasha Esquivel

Along with a few lucky others, I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the hustle and bustle of a real film set in town. Thanks to the City of Austin, the Austin Film Society and local chapters of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, I got to intern with the props department on the set of Parkland.

The movie is described on IMDb as being about "the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on the day U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated." The cast includes current/former Texans Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Duplass, and Marcia Gay Harden; plus Billy Bob Thornton (who won the Tom Mix Honorary Texan Award at the Texas Film Hall of Fame in 2009), Zac Efron and Ron Livingston, among many others.

This was my first time on a film set and the entire experience taught me a lot about the filmmaking process. From the moment I arrived on set I felt welcomed, and everyone was extremely helpful.

Going in, I had no idea what the props department actually did on a movie set. It was interesting to see the tasks they are responsible for throughout a day of shooting. I watched as they organized the props for each scene and set up the actors with their jewelry, glasses and other accessories. The head of the department explained how each of the actors is assigned specific props and how they keep track of which props are given to which actors. The actors are assigned a bag where their props are placed for storage and quick retrieval for the next day of shooting.

Watching how the prop department at work on Parkland taught me just how important consistency is when shooting a film, not only with the actor’s props but also with the placement of specific items in scenes and the use of fake blood throughout the film. It taught me that attention to detail, organization and a good memory are all important skills to have as a member of the props department.

Since Parkland is a period piece, many props were vintage items. I learned that the department spent much time researching and ordering the items they would need for shooting: watches, glasses, badges, stethoscopes, gurneys, cameras, guns, cigarettes and more. I had the chance to check out the props truck where everything was stored. It was interesting to see the massive amounts of items they have organized within the truck.

While on set, I discovered that many of the individuals working on Parkland also worked on several other films and shows shot in and around Austin. It was interesting to learn that many of the props stored in that very truck were featured in films/shows I have watched before.

One of the most interesting moments on set was when I got a close-up look at a scene being shot. Much of the film was shot in tight quarters, which did not leave lots of space for people on set to watch what was taking place. But I had the chance to watch one scene shot from two different angles. Since I’ve never had any production experience this was a great opportunity for me to compare what is seen onscreen and what happens in person.

I was able to watch the entire scene take place in person from one side, and then see the same scene on the monitors from the other. It was a great learning experience for me and taught me a lot about what the actors, director, camera operators and sound crew go through between shots and during filming.

It was amazing to be surrounded by seasoned professionals who really knew what they were doing, working diligently at their craft. The days of filming for Parkland were long, yet the production moved forward quickly and efficiently. I feel that because it was such a fast-paced work environment, I was able to learn a lot about the production of a film. It allowed me to see the roles individuals from different departments play on set and realize just how essential their work is towards the end product.

The wrap party showed me how the film community of Austin comes together to support the production of film. Several individuals from the Austin film scene showed their support of the film at the party. Seeing them there helped me piece together how the entire community works as a unit to provide jobs and encourage the creation of creative media in the city of Austin.

The entire internship was an incredible learning experience for me. Through this opportunity I was able to not only learn about how the props department of a film operates, but gained a first-hand look at the creation of a film. I am excited to eventually see the filmmaking process come full circle when Parkland is finally released. It will be a great feeling to watch the film in its entirety in a theater, knowing that I was around for its creation. I'm incredibly thankful for having had this opportunity and look forward to using the skills I learned in the near future.

Sasha Esquivel is a Membership Apprentice with the Austin Film Society.

[Photo credit: Austin Studios photo cropped from Panorama 365 photo (go look, it's gorgeous) by Scott David Gordon, used courtesy of Austin Film Society.]