I Want Answers!

In this blog, I generally hold court on the few topics I’m an expert at. I am just a PA, though, and there’s a few things I really don’t understand. Maybe one of my kind readers knows the answers.

Why is the props department in charge of the director chairs? Not that I want more work, but isn’t that kind of a PA job? Or craft services maybe? Hell, the DIT makes more sense, since they’re at least sitting by the monitor. In what way is a director chair a prop?

Why do the grips pack the set walls? D (of Dollygrippery) theorized that local 80 was just looking for more hours for its members, but under that logic, why didn’t the construction union fight for it? It’d be like the camera department cleaning up the set lights. (Like that would ever happen.)

Lastly, why are UPMs in the DGA? If you knew nothing about the process, and you just walked into a production office, you would assume a production manager is a step up the ladder from production coordinator. It’s easy to see how a best boy relates to a key grip (or gaffer); same with the various levels of camera assistants. But a UPM’s duties are vastly different from an AD’s. It’s weird.

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These links don’t relate at all.  I just thought they were funny:

The 6 Most Pointlessly Elaborate Movie Murder Plots.

The X Most Blankiest Somthings in the History of Whatever.

Lastly, Patton Oswalt on screenwriting:

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14 Responses

  1. @SLC Prop Guy….or any other props folk out there…. HOW do you cart those darn*(&971 chairs around? And, after over 100 years, surely there’s got to be a better system than these rickety floppy pain-in-the-butt directors’ chairs? Linen bins is the best we can muster?

    I would really love to hear your answers before I try to fabricate something!

    1. You can buy a “taco” cart from the prop houses. They have extendable arms that you can hang 8-12 chairs from.

      Personally, I hate the chairs hanging off my set cart so I designed my own. The first one I made out or wood, and the next one I had made with tubular steel. Other prop masters in town have borrowed my design.

      My cart holds 8 chairs, standing in a row, collapsed, but not with the arms (backs) hanging down but rather in their upright positions. It’s just a frame on 3 sides so the chairs come in and out of the front. I have a bar that locks into place with a pin,on the front for travel, and lifts out of the way to put the chairs in and out while on set.

      Of course pneumatic wheels on the bottom.

      My friend’s cart holds 12 chairs, but is too long in my opinion, and doesn’t go around tight corners very easily.

  2. @SLC Prop Guy. That is the story that I have always been told by the old timers about Lenny.

    As far as set dressers handling lay out board, that”s one I have never heard of. I will have to look into that one though.

  3. I see this question was posted in 2008. It’s now 2012, and so I hope it’s not too late to answer.

    I’m a prop master. I have been for a couple decades now, and even though it’s my job, and even though I freakin HATE it, that those effin chairs are my responsibility, and I never knew why until………

    I worked with a great old prop master on a show called World’s Fastest Indian. His name was (and still is, I’m pretty sure) Dennis Parrish. Now Dennis has been doing props since before I was born. His father was a prop master before him, or so he tells me. The other story he told me was how the prop department got saddled with the responsibility of managing the director’s chairs.

    To my best recollection, here’s the tale:

    Once upon a time, in the Golden age of Cinema, and movie studios, the major studios had a position called “chair boy” who would manage the directors chairs on a production. It was an entry level position at the studio.

    And once upon a time, there was a chair boy named Lenny. Dennis knew Lenny’s last name, and even told me, but I’m getting old myself, and forgot it. Anyway, Lenny loved his job as chair boy, and took great pride in it. As anyone knows, when people take pride in their work, and do a good job, they get noticed, and promoted. Lenny rose though the ranks at the studio, and eventually became a prop master, yet he always maintained an affectionate responsibility for the directors chairs, which of course were studio “property” and therefore under the jurisdiction of the “property department” It wasn’t long before every prop master at the studio, and eventually other studios were responsible for the directors chairs as well.

    All I know, is that if I ever get the chance to meet his guy named “Lenny” I’m gonna slap him on the back of the head. I don’t care if he is in his late nineties now.

  4. OMG I typically do props or art department. The chair thing drives me NUTS! And every set it gets brought up. And, as of yet, I have never gotten an answer…

  5. Here (South Africa) unit is in charge of the chairs. Props would look at you funny if you asked them for a chair.

    I’ve only worked on one movie where the chairs had names sewn on the backs. Usually, the DA will just stick a piece of gaffer tape on the chair and write “Director” on it in sharpie.

  6. I’ve also started to wonder recently why PA’s are in charge of lockups. Shouldn’t Locations be responsible for that?

  7. D is absolutely right…and it gets worse as time goes by. When I started out, the Set Dressers would threaten me with bodily harm if I dared try to move any of the layout board (floor protection) around. On my most recent job, I had to remind the Leadman that even though my department paid for the material, it was his guys’ job to put it down. He didn’t believe me until I made him call his Union rep.

  8. I know prop guys who don’t know the answer to that question. Seriously, most of the duties that the different departments have are a result of the different crafts locals dividing up tasks back in the early days. If you read the Local 80 manual (thick as a brick) there are whole passages devoted to things like “all ships rigging shall be under the jurisdiction of the grip department.” It all comes down to keeping everyone busy and locals defend their turf aggressively.

  9. I’m pissed that I’ve never even wondered about those questions much less know the answers.

    A guess on the chairs. Since Prop Master sometimes make the props (a lot more in the old days), maybe the first time they wanted names on the chair-backs, someone just tasked the Prop Master to have them made?

    I really should know the UPM answer…but I don’t. Hell, we just finished a decade long battle to get Location Managers into the Guild (and won in NY and Chicago…Yay!)

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