|Ken Hawryliw GALACTICA.TV interview|
|Written by Marcel Damen|
|Monday, 30 June 2008|
Future-Past.com in partnership with GALACTICA.TV was granted the opportunity to interview Ken Hawryliw who is Property Master for the Battlestar Galactica 2003 series. Ken shares insight into the processes involved with developing props for the show and the behind-the-scenes magic he performs to make them so believable.
Below you can read the transcript of this interview. If you rather listen to the audio of this interview then click the "PLAY" button below to start.
For those in our audience who may not know, what is a property master responsible for? Is there a difference between a prop master and prop designer?
Well, a prop designer, strictly speaking, just designs props. Now, in my capacity on Battlestar Galactica, and in some other shows I've worked on, I do both. I actually design the props for the most part. Probably ninety nine percent of them I design with guidance from the art department and with their approval. If there's something really specific they want in terms of a look then we discuss it and I relinquish to them. They'll come up with a design and we work on it together because there's nothing worse than coming up with a design that's not workable. A really good example of that are the flight helmets we had in the first season that came from the Mini Series. Unfortunately they weren't designed by the art department or the prop department. They didn't work and had to be replaced.
So, I do both. A prop master's job is basically... I'm responsible for obtaining all of the props for the show -- whatever that entails -- be that design and build, purchased or rented or whatever. I break down the script and determine what the needs are in consultation with the director, producers and sometimes the writers. Then if something needs to be built, I design it (usually) and build it.
I have people I work with who do drafting. I'm not a draft person so I usually do my sketch of what I think it looks like and I hand it over to someone who can actually draft it up or it goes straight to the person who's going to manufacture it. They do up a CAD drawing if it's something that's going to be machined. We have some really good people we work with one of which is a company called Rocket Visual Effects, who does a lot of our prop building. They do a great job. There is a really good short hand between myself and these people because they are pretty good at interpreting my vision, for lack of a better word, and making it into a three dimensional object.
Battlestar Galactica's Prop Master Ken Hawryliw
Was there an initial event, experience or interest in your life that most affected your decision to become a prop master?
I started off actually as an actor in the theatre. I got offered a job right out of drama school. This theatre needed somebody who could act as well as do props. (laughs) I always wanted to do props because I loved props. I was a big fan of '60s sci-fi shows. All the Irwin Allen shows and Batman. All the really proppy shows from the '60s. I was a huge fan of Westerns too. I was a big fan of, and really interested in, anything that had really interesting props. When this theatre job came up I would get to be the prop master in charge of designing and building -- as well as procuring the props -- and also be an actor to do bit parts. It was sort of the perfect job for me, and that's how I got started. From there, I went into film and TV.
As a child, did you ever try to make something you saw on one of your favorite shows?
Oh yeah sure. I made everything and anything I could from the original Batman series. I made Batarangs and all that kind of stuff. I tried to make replicas of all the stuff from The Time Tunnel and Lost in Space when I was a kid. I was lucky because my dad had a welding shop so he was able to help out with some of it. I did all that stuff. It's a shame some of those original Batman props have disappeared.
So you started early.
Oh yeah absolutely. I knew I wanted to do props from the time I was very young.
Did you go to school to learn any of your skills?
No. Pretty well self taught. Taught on the run. It's trial by fire, you just learn because you have to. I studied design and read any book I could find on design. Particularly industrial design because it really helps with designing objects that have to be functional as opposed to have to look good.
Was there one person in your life who influenced or assisted you in shaping your career?
Well, there's been a couple actually. Richard Hudolin who's our production designer. I worked with Richard on one of my very first film jobs over twenty years ago, and we've worked off and on for decades. Between him and the other person who really influenced me, and was actually on a show I worked on with Richard. Richard was the Art Designer. The Production Designer was a fellow named Harry Lange, who was quite a famous Production Designer, who's first movie job was designing 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was also one of the art directors/designers on the first few Star Wars movies. He was very influential.
His influence really helps in Battlestar Galactica because he was really big on using found objects and taking advantage of other peoples design work and incorporating them into designs. I would just go out in the car with him for about a week and we'd go to different hardware stores or department stores and just grab found objects. He would tell me "I used this part for part of the Millennium Falcon." and "This is what I used for Luke's this, and Han Solo's that." What he taught me is the attitude that someone has spent a huge amount of money, sometimes hundreds of thousands maybe millions of dollars, to design an object that you can now buy for a few dollars. Why not take that object and use it; build it into a prop because the design is great already. You're incorporating it into something that has to function and the ergonomics are already built into it, so it makes a lot of sense to do things that way. It's very economical.
When I worked on The X-Files, almost everything was designed from scratch that was built props. Very little was found object kind of stuff and I'm kind of getting back to my roots in a lot of ways by doing this show. I can appreciate that.
How did you become involved with the Battlestar Galactica production crew?
They actually asked me to do the Mini Series, which unfortunately I wasn't available for. I really regret that cause I really would have loved to have done the Mini Series. Then when the series came I was available and I jumped on the opportunity to do it. It's a great group to work with. Like I said, I worked with Richard for years so it was a natural. We have shorthand. He trusts me and gives me a fair bit of leeway in terms of what I can do. I'm pretty good at reading his mind in terms of what the design sensibilities are for this particular show. A lot of times somebody coming in who didn't know the look of the show would have a very difficult time I think. It's a bit of an education curve for a lot of people that work on the show and some people didn't survive because they just never got it. It was easy for me.
Did Dan Sissons give you any advice when you took over the reins for the regular series?
No, I really didn't speak with Dan. I spoke with one of his buyers who helped us out with re-sourcing some of the stuff they did. A lot of the stuff they did for the Mini Series had to be rebuilt as it was only designed to last for a short amount of time. I needed to design something that would last for four to five years or more. We had to go back over their tracks a little bit. Some things had to be redesigned because they were only designed for only one application.
Colonial side arm from Mini Series
We used the original Colonial side arms from the Mini Series in the first season and they were very limited in what they would do. They were designed for a specific purpose for the Mini Series. Now, all of a sudden, we get in a situation where the director wants to see the characters loading a magazine on camera or they even just want to flip a safety off. There's no functionality what-so-ever to the originals so we had to redesign the guns from scratch.
Colonial side arm from Season 1
Colonial side arm from Season 2-4
How many prop builders are involved with your in-house prop shop?
We don't have an in-house prop shop as such. We contract out the stuff. Our construction department sometimes will do some of the things for us if there's some sculpting or some wood working involved they'll do some of that work for us. We job it out. I've got three main companies we work with who build our props. One of which is called White Monkey Design, another is Rocket Visual Effects and another one is Clarey Prop Works. They do all the work for us. If you add it up we have a dozen people over all.
You have worked on some pretty detail intense shows, like X-Files and Dark Angel.
Yeah, I don't seem to get the easy shows. (laughs)
Tell me a bit about your experience working on those projects and how they compare to working on Battlestar Galactica?
This is the first show in a lot of ways that compares to the X-Files in terms of what I feel... certainly not in the budget. The budget was almost unlimited on the X-files just because it was the flagship show on a main network. It was the number one show in the world at the time when we did it, so money wasn't an object. You had all the money you needed you just didn't have as much time as you'd like sometimes. From that stand point it's completely different. The one major similarity between the X-Files and Battlestar is the commitment to quality from the people at the top; from the top down. The executive producers, the writers, the producers. The one thing about these two shows is that everybody has the same goal in mind. There's no other agenda other than making the best show possible. That's very refreshing.
How familiar were you with the original 1970's Battlestar Galactica in terms of designing the props?
I watched it. It was released here in Canada as a feature film. I saw it one Saturday morning at 10:00 AM at a multiplex. That was my first look at Battlestar Galactica. It was interesting and it seemed to me like it was a little too much a "nod-of-the-head" to Star Wars in a lot the ways. Capitalizing on the Star Wars popularity which is fine that's what it was there for. A lot of the stuff was interesting but a lot of the stuff was really hokey. If you look at it now it looks very dated only because the technology is so much better now. The original flight helmets in Battlestar Galactica were made of wood. I'm sure they cost a lot less than what ours do. (big laugh) I don't think you'd get away with wood today somehow.
Did you use any part of the old show as a resource to create props for the new series?
There are some nods to it a little bit, but we try not to. It's a completely different look. We really go for a very realistic look on this Battlestar Galactica. The big thing for me is taking things that are familiar to the audience and giving a little bit of a twist rather than doing things completely from scratch. Which we do sometimes. Sometimes the props will be a "pure design" kind of thing, but most of the time we try to take existing things and give them a look that people are familiar with then give it our own Battlestar slant. We call it "Galactiguising".
What is it like to be part of creating the top Sci-Fi drama?
It's very exciting. It's very rewarding. Every show you work on is hard work and this show is certainly no easier than any others. In some ways it's harder than others. The reward is knowing the work is going to be up on screen and you're actually going to see it. We don't need atta-boys or don't need pats on the back but know the hard work is appreciated because the people at the top, the executive producer and the writers are appreciative of the extra effort that we put in. You do need to put in extra effort on a show like this. It's not a punch the clock nine-to-five kind of job. You hit the ground running every morning and you're putting out fires all day and trying to make something new and interesting looking all day, but it's very rewarding. It's a great looking show.
What's your favorite episode from your perspective as the prop master?
You know what, that's really impossible. Quite honestly I run into this problem all the time. The show is a serial; it's on going. I don't even think of Battlestar as individual episodes it's just one big episode to me.
The two parters we've done have been spectacular. "Razor" was obviously a great challenge. We got to do some really interesting stuff there. We don't have a light episode as such, they're all challenging, and they're all great. The good thing about it too is that we get scripts well enough in advance so we can be working on things for a couple of episodes down the road. It all kind of blends in. I couldn't really say. Those two parters have been great. It's always great to see them outside of the studio.
Have you seen some of your props during filming and just smiled because you thought they really looked nice on screen?
Oh gawd... actually, this is an odd thing. It's not that I'm a gun nut or anything, but it always pleases me when I see the battle scenes we do because they look so realistic. I know how much work has gone into choosing weapons that don't look like they just came off the six o'clock news and people aren't particularly familiar with in North America. All of the modifications we make are to make them look different without them becoming huge bulky things you see in so many sci-fi movies. You can tell what they've done; they've taken an existing gun and they built it up so it's now the size of a Mack truck because they added so many things to it. I'm very pleased with the minimalistic way we've been able to make the show look unique and not look cumbersome. It looks slick and it looks real, because these look like objects that soldiers would really be carrying. These look like things the pilots would really be having. Those kinds of things appeal to me more than any kind of unique sort of sci-fi kind of prop.
We don't do sci-fi. We don't have lasers, we don't have laser guns, and we don't have any of that kind of stuff. We did a nuclear bomb for an episode. I was very pleased with how it turned out. It went really well; looked really good. It was a good amalgamation of found objects and design. I like that. I really get off on incorporating found objects into design. I think it's a really cool way to do things. I really like the military aspect of it. The military aspect looks real because you never lose track of the fact these are soldiers and pilots and they're in a war. Particularly in this point in our history you don't want that part of it to look cheesy.
Nuclear Device from Season 2 episode "Epiphanies"
Can you talk about the design motifs used to determine how futuristic to build a prop or when choosing props for the show?
Well, you know it's one of those things. As I've said, we have some people who aren't with the show anymore cause they just didn't get it. It's a really hard thing to pin down. I can't describe it to you. I know it when I see it. Sometimes I'll go the Richard and say "I'm not sure about this, what do you think?" and I've been right 99.9 percent of the time but it's a really hard thing to describe. You either know it or you don't. It's a high-tech, low-tech, analog, but cool not to sci-fi kind of look. And I don't know how else to describe it to anybody but I definitely know it when I see it. Even when I go out shopping at flea markets or where ever, I find something and I look at it and go "That's Galactica, I can use that. That's part of Galactica. That looks like Galactica." It's easier when you're designing from scratch because you can design those sensibilities into it right away. But, to try and translate to some people what that is or to quantify it or describe it is next to impossible. You either know it or you don't.
Were there any substantial changes in the props between the Mini Series and the regular episodes?
We had to redesign some of the stuff, no reflection necessarily on the people who designed the original stuff. The colonial side arms had to be redesigned because they didn't do enough. Plus they weren't practical they didn't fire enough shots. So if we got into a fire fight situation they weren't going to fire enough shots for the directors to get the level of action they wanted. There were no rifles for the show. We didn't have any Marines in the original Mini Series so we had to come up with a look for the Marines that looked edgy, looked nasty and looked menacing. We had to come up with all their gear plus we had to come up with the weapons for them. That was just for the Marines on the ship. Then we had to carry that forward when we got into the Marines on the land and in the big fire fights or whatever we had to come up with even more weapons because now they have even more applications they have to have. We had to come up with heavy machine guns, rocket launchers, bazookas, mines, grenades and explosives. All those things you'd normally have in a combat situation we had to re-imagine it all to make it work for show.
There were things like the flight helmets that had to be totally redesigned because they just never did work. They weren't designed by somebody who knew anything about how things are supposed to work. They had to be designed to be practical as well as aesthetically pleasing. It was very difficult because if I was going to change them I had to make them look like they were in the same family so they didn't look radically completely different from what was in the Mini Series and the first Seasons. So, that was difficult.
The redesigned flight helmet from Season 2
We also had to add a lot of things that weren't thought of. The usability of certain things like all the little details on the pilot's uniforms. They didn't have that much in the original Mini Series because they weren't scripted and nobody thought of them. We had to really take a look at real pilots' uniforms to see what kind of the things they have. We also had to take into account that these are supposed to be space suits too. It's not just a pilots uniform. These also have to be not just pressure suits but space suits too. We had to take all that into account and work all that into the design of everything we did. All of that kind of stuff needed to be changed from the Mini Series.
Do you have a master list to help categorize and organize the props used on set?
Basically the way it works is that I get the script and break it down, then meet with the director to talk about what his vision is for that episode and then I come up with a master list. Really it's just a giant shopping list for everybody. I delegate who's gonna do what. Once we start to get the props, as they come in, they all get loaded on the truck to be delivered onto the stages. We use them knowing they are going to be reused again, and again, and again because that's just the way it is on this show. Because, we keep coming back to story lines from past episodes and we have flashbacks and reshoot things and do inserts. We have to organize and catalogue things so they're available and in good repair so they're ready to be used again. It's a huge inventory. I've never had to deal with an inventory this big; even the inventory for the X-Files wasn't as big as this over the years I did that show.
It's an organizational challenge and we've had to bring on extra people for that reason. With just the amount of paperwork involved with doing a show of this size we had to bring on an extra person just to handle that.
How are the props typically stored and cared for?
We have a variety of lockups on set. If certain things are only going to be used on one set then we have lockup built into the set. On the hanger deck... all the hanger deck props will be stored on there aside from say the flight helmets which are far too valuable to be left around. They will be locked under several different layers of security in our main props lockup on the lot. That's where the majority of the stuff is kept. That's where a majority of the hot props are kept and for things that we know we are going to be reusing and know we have to have readily at hand in the future. We have another lock up off site which is almost kind of dead storage. Although on this show it never is cause once a season we always go back to this stuff. It's for the props that we use very seldom but we know we can't throw them out because we are going to use them again at some point. Usually they are for specific sequence we've done where there've been a lot of props that we've used at a particular location. You don't want to throw them out because everything we do no matter what it is, you just don't buy something off the shelf and use it we always do something to it. There's always something to it to "Galactiguise" it to make it look specific to the show. You're reluctant to throw anything away because if you repurchase it you're going to have to put some more work into it just making it look like that again.
So many of the props are one-of-a-kind then.
Oh yeah! Very much so. A lot of them even if they are purchased items. We do a lot of buying online because we don't want things to look too mundane. We don't want them to look like everyday items that anyone can buy at a local department store or whatever. We do a lot of searching online to find really unique looking things that are only available from specialty shops or whatever for things that are purchased. Obviously, if they are manufactured for us then they are one-of-a-kind.
Does the production company have an archivist?
No, not as such. We have a person who is our stores person who keeps the lock ups organized and keeps the flow of inventory moving. It's not a full time job but it's almost a full time job. It's not really an archivist as such but that's their responsibility. I think when the show finally wraps up we will have to start thinking about preserving these things. Right now they're just the tools of the trade, we use them every day. They're just props we don't think of them as museum items but they'll eventually become that I'm sure. I've had a lot of experience with that on the X-Files because literally any of the unique props we built for that show we always made one extra one to go into the X-Files museum. The mandate for that show was to never reuse anything. Everything had to have a unique look in each episode, we never reused anything. So that was very much and archival process there.
Have you been able to incorporate tributes to other films into the props? For instance, many props seen on the show have a Blade Runner look to them.
I like that. Hey, anytime anyone wants to compare what I've done to Blade Runner that's fine with me. (laughs) You learn from the best. Syd Mead was a genius. These are the kind of design minds that you admire. Actually, I've spoken to Syd on another show I did. He designed guns for the other show. You learn how these people work and think, so you try to emulate them in terms of style because it's brilliant work.
How much cross-over does the prop department have with the wardrobe department in terms of how props are used with the costumes?
Oh very, very much. I work very closely with Glenne Campbell. Our offices are next door to each other. We work very closely together. My first job in this business was with Glenne and Richard actually. We work very closely and very well, particularly because there's so many of the things married together in terms of when we get into a situation where we've got to have somebody in a space suit or we're creating a new military look. I've got a fair bit of knowledge about military so Glenne will ask my advice on stuff or have me give suggestions on how the military aspect of it works. I've never been in the military but I know a fair bit about it. I've done a lot of research over the years and you happen to learn a lot about it. So, we work together very closely.
Has the wardrobe department ever asked you to create a prop for them or vise verse?
Oh yeah sure. There've been crossovers all the time. I'll make something that goes in their costume or they'll take something we're doing and make it look better or make it look like it fits more in the costume than the way we maybe necessarily had in the first place. It's a very symbiotic give and take kind of relationship.
What is your adhesive of choice when you have to glue bits of stuff together?
My adhesive of choice! (big laugh) Well you know what it all depends on what it is. There are a million different bonding agents out there and it just really depends on what we're trying to glue together. Now obviously the hardest thing is when you've got to glue two different materials together. We try not to use anything too exotic because everything has to happen fast in television. We use all of the standard glues.
Do you ever walk along and find stuff that can be used as props?
Yeah I do. I spend a lot of time -- and my wife will attest -- spend a lot of Sundays at flea markets and things finding a lot of stuff we use in the show. A lot of times it's really silly to reinvent the wheel when some-body's already designed something you can incorporate into a prop that you are building. Particularly for Battlestar Galactica because it's got a very, "kind of clunky, kind of retro," industrial look to it a lot of times. It really doesn't make sense nor do I have the budget to design a lot of props from scratch. Probably a third to half of what I do is from scratch what we come up with a design and build it, but a lot of it incorporates found objects. Very much of it incorporates found objects.
Have you purchased stuff off-the-clock, on your own time?
Yeah, yeah. Although I'm not technically working, if I'm out shopping and I see something that I know at some point we could use I'll pick it up. We'll sort it out later how I get reimbursed for it. (laughs) Because when I'm not working, if I'm not on the clock, it's hard to get reimbursed for something. If it's something I know we're going to use... and I've found things and our buyers have found things that just by looking online for something else they'll find something and say "Hey, what do you think of this?" and I'll say "Yeah, let's get it. I know we'll use it somewhere." We've had many things like that. Happens all the time.
When it comes to the found objects used in the show, is there anything you have used in your own life where you tried to figure out how it could be used as a prop?
Oh sure, all the time. I'm always rummaging through my stuff at home to find things that we can use. It's happened may times. I'll go through my props kit that I have -- that I carry from show to show -- and there will be something in there that I know will be perfect for this item. It happens all the time.
In the series we see extremely detailed documents, such as Starbucks service records and CIC flight manuals. Who is in charge of creating these realistic highly detailed paper props?
I'm responsible for it. Sometimes we work in conjunction with the art department sometimes we don't. It depends on what it is. Depends on what their work load is like. If they have time they'll help out. A lot of it comes down to... Obviously from doing the X-Files I have a lot of experience doing this kind of thing. and put in a huge amount of detail into this kind of work because I feel that even though you're not going to necessarily see it on camera I think it's really important for those things to look authentic and read as authentic for the actors because there's nothing more distracting for an actor than picking up a piece of paper work that they are suppose to be reading from and it doesn't have the information on it that it should. At the very least it's not helpful at the very worst it's distracting from their performance. We go to great pains to make all of the paperwork as real as possible.
My wife actually does a lot. My wife is a writer and she'll do a lot of stuff for us. Where I get permission from the producers to give her a script and she'll read the script then she'll know what that episode is about and she'll write up a lot of the documents. Particularly if it's something to do with a log or something that has to express what one of the characters was thinking or was doing at the time. Not all the information is necessarily in the script; she can look at it and extrapolate to create a huge document that's very helpful for the actors. Edward James Olmos has commented many times on how much he appreciates that detail work that we put in. He's been very glowing in his praise about how detailed paper props are in terms of authenticity and having the right material there to help the actors.
Do you consult subject matter experts or use reference material to aid in detail?
Oh sure yeah. We have a variety of technical advisors in a variety of fields; Military, medical, scientific, whatever we need they'll help us out. Like I say, you don't necessarily see it close enough to read it. But also too, in this digital age, people can freeze frame (laughs) on DVDs and they can read every word on the page sometimes. Particularly shooting Hi-Definition too. Not that I'd do it differently anyway. Even when we were doing the X-Files it was 35mm, it was before DVDs and all that kind of stuff. We went to great pains to make it as realistic as possible and authentic looking and actual as possible. I'll admit sometimes we will sneak in some things for the actors' amusement if it's a slightly light hearted scene or something we'll write in some text that we know will get a laugh. I'll only do it if I know it's not going to distract from the scene.
Battlestar Galactica's cut corner paperwork
So who came up with the cut corners on all of the books and documents
Well, I'm going to give you the real story. I'm going to give you once and for all the real story of how it happened. I'll even give you the name of the person. It was Max Matsuoka who worked on the original Mini Series. There was a serious budget crunch and they were doing up a bunch of documents. They were trying to figure out how they could make these unique and different from everything they've ever seen before. "We've got to make them look different." Well Max said "Why don't we cut the corners off, we're cutting the corners on every other aspect of this production why don't we cut the corners off these documents too. "And, that's where it came from. That's the true story. It's official. I'm telling it now. I've read so many accounts of so many people who've taken credit for it but that's where it came from.
Do you also recycle the cut corners?
(Big laugh) We recycle everything. We were laughing because we said "If we were smart about it we would have saved all the cut corners and sold them on eBay." They all got recycled. I kind of wished we had saved them all to see what quantity of how much there is. That's one thing about the show everything you do in terms of a paper prop, it's not done till the corners get cut off. So no matter how good it looks; a. they have to be designed knowing the corners are going to be cut off, and b. even when it's finished it's not finished cause you have to take it to the paper cutter to cut the corners off. (laughs) We can't precut the paper because it doesn't feed into the copiers or the printers very well with the corners cut off. It's all got to be done by hand. So, all of that is "hand done."
If you gathered all the cut corners together you'd have a pretty big pile.
I know. I actually wish we had the space. If I had the kind of space it would take to hold that we wouldn't be so crunched for storage space now. It would take up an enormous amount of space I'm sure over four years.
The pre-production meetings seen in video blogs look pretty chaotic. How long does it usually take to figure out the best way to tackle a prop project?
We have various meetings. Usually I'll think about it in advance and get an idea of a way I'm going to be doing it. Very rarely do I just say "I have no idea how we're going to do this." I come up with an idea that I can pose to the director about how to do something. We have a pre-production meeting where we talk about the script initially and a lot of things come out of there. I'll have some ideas I can put forward then. Everybody will have their ideas then. A lot of what I do crosses over into other departments. There'll be crossovers with costumes or special effects or even construction and Set Dec. Our first pre-production meeting is our first chance to talk all that through to work out the bugs before we actually start working. Shortly thereafter I'll have my meeting with the director where we go through stuff in more detail more specifics. Sometimes as the prep period goes on you'll have to have another meeting just to show things in stages that are being built or whatever. Then we have a final "show-and-tell" just a couple of days or a day before we start shooting. There are a lot of opportunities; it's a work in progress all the way along.
What is the prop department's interaction when it comes to set decoration and set construction?
Sometimes if I've got some specific hand prop that is going to have to marry into the set or coordinate in with the set we'll talk those things through. If I'm going to be using an existing object for something, I'll have to procure that as quickly as possible to give them the parameters so they can do up the drawings so it can fit into the set. That kind of speeds up the process. I don't have the luxury of time cause I've got other departments that I'm responsible to for getting my piece of the puzzle so it can fit into their piece of the puzzle to make the whole puzzle.
Do you work with the cast to explain how they were supposed to work with the props?
Oh sure of course. Our cast is very proactive if there is some specific thing that looks like it's tricky they'll come by the office and they'll look at it in pre-production and want to learn about it and know as much as they can. They are very proactive, they're very professional and they want to do the best job possible so they'll come and do that. If not we'll schedule a little meeting with them or a little "show-and-tell" with them and a little training session if something requires training particularly if it's a military thing they have to learn how to use some sort of military piece of equipment in a specific way then we'll have our military general advisor work with us or the armorer's in terms of handling guns teach and show how to handle guns and look like they're actual combat personnel as opposed to just an actor fresh out of the trailer so we do all that.
Are there any actors that you work with that stand out in your mind because they really get into the details of the props?
They all are. Edward James Olmos really, really loves the detail that we put into the stuff. He's directed a few episodes too so he has a real appreciation for what our work load is and what's involved with getting a show onto the stage. He also has an appreciation of budget because he's produced before and knows all that stuff.
Mary McDonnell has her own specific ideas of things for her character and she's very helpful. She'll know right away if something is right or wrong.
Kate Sackhoff has been very proactive. She's probably had more specific gadgetry type of proppy scenes to do than anybody else just in terms of her character. Kate's the one who decided her character should have two sets of handguns. She's got two guns that look a little Wild West-ish sometimes. From that stand point she's a bit of a tomboy in the way she really gets into the action stuff. Any props that have to do with those kinds of action sequences or the guns she really likes and really gets into. She has a lot of fun with it.
Grace Park has come by many times just to check on specific things. Mostly character props to see what they look like before they come to stage so they're not a surprise to her so she knows what she's doing. You know all the actors have input and make suggestions. It's always more helpful to have those suggestions earlier than later so that if there is some specific thing that they want to address then we can have the time to do it.
Did you get work on the full size Viper Mock-ups?
No, although I did make some suggestions for some of the manual controls in the cockpit and gave some suggestions for sources for some of the military hardware. Sometimes if there is a piece that has to be... If there has to be an interactive component between the hand prop and there's some specific diagnostic equipment or something that has to be plugged into the Vipers or the Raptors I'll deal with all that kind of stuff. I've made some electronic components and things that go beneath the inspection panels on the Raptor for some episodes where there has to be some work that has to be done in there. The rest of it is really handles by construction.
Do you have a favorite prop from the show? I know a lot of fans like Adama's lighter.
I found that lighter actually. I found that lighter at a flea market. I actually had to go to several flea markets because they only had one. I knew the history of that lighter; I knew where it was from so I knew it was a safe thing to use because I could probably find a couple more. I literally I had to comb the whole area. It took six days in total, with everyday at flea markets to come up with enough of those lighters. So, I was actually the one that found that. That's pretty cool.
One of the things that worked out really well that I was pleased with is we had to make a couple of military decorations -- medallions that were awarded. One was to Adama and one was to Kara's mother who was in the military also. We had to make these. I really like those. They turned out really well. I was really pleased with the way those worked out.
Socrata Thrace's Medal of Valor
Are there any props you had to create that made you sweat because of the tight filming schedule?
Oh, everything. (laughs) Our timing is so tight with this stuff that sometimes the paint is still drying as it gets in front of the camera. There've been a lot of things like that. Nothing stands out because every episode there's at least one of those. It just comes down to if we had more time or if we had more money it would be easier but we don't have enough of either. You have to be really creative and really think on your feet to try to not break the budget and still make things look good.
Is there a prop that you were asked to create where you just didn't have a clue how to do it?
Umm, none that I'd ever admit. (laughs) When I first read the script there will be moments where I'll go "I have no idea how I'm going to pull this off" but by the time I get to the production meeting it's usually figured out. I usually have a way of doing it by that point. I've been doing this long enough so that it's not difficult. I wouldn't say that's not all been done before, everything's unique, but there's many ways to "skin-a-cat." We usually find one before it gets to a point where I have to admit to anyone I don't know how to do it.
What is the most rewarding project you have ever worked on?
You know what; I can't say this without offending somebody. I'd have to say between Battlestar and the X-Files they're tied for first place in my book. They are probably the best professional experience I've ever had in this business. To get an opportunity to work on a show like X-Files in a career is... I mean who has a chance to do that but then be able to have worked on this show also. To do two shows like that in a career is unheard of so I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to both of those. They both have their rewards. The X-Files has a place in my heart cause I got to write for the X-Files too so that was kind of cool. In terms of doing props they're tied for first place. It's just been thoroughly rewarding experiences professionally... both those shows.
Do you have any interesting hobbies or anything else you do in your spare time besides looking for props?
When you do this job you don't have a lot of spare time. Right now it's actually been during the writers' strike I've been working on a website project that has been keeping me very busy. It's not related to props so that's been a great learning curve. I have a real interest in Crypto Archeology and ancient mysteries and that kind of stuff. I started a website in that genre.
Something completely different then.
Yeah. I'll give you the URL. It's called Secrets Of The Past. It's going to be very exciting. It's all about ancient mysteries and arranging expeditions for people to go on to solve ancient mysteries like trying to find Atlantis and all that kind of stuff. It's very cool. It's so funny; I loved it, because I read an interview with Ron Moore where he mentioned that what really appeals to him about the Battlestar Galactica mythology that he was going to create was that it mimicked the Chariots of the Gods mythology of Erich von Däniken's book. That's what our website is inspired by. My partner, who wrote on the X-Files, and I have in development right now we have a Mini Series based on Chariots of the Gods with SciFi Channel.
When is that coming out?
Unfortunately we got shut down because of the writers' strike. As soon as that comes back up we'll get back into development and hopefully get something happening soon. We're looking forward to that. It's always been a big interest from the time I was a kid when Chariots of the Gods first came out. I've always been interested in ancient mysteries and then having worked on the X-Files with the whole UFO conspiracy angle and all that stuff is just fascinating to me. The strike happened at just the right time because it gave me three months to work on it. So it was kind of good from that stand point.
With the production coming to a close, what will happen to the props and sets after filming has wrapped?
I don't know. I wish I could tell you. I keep asking that question because I think they're missing a glorious opportunity to recoup a lot of money because there are a lot of collectors out there I'm sure would love to get their hands on some of this stuff. I keep mentioning it to them, but they haven't even thought about it. The studio's not even thinking about what they want to do. I think they could set up somebody to auction these things off online and recoup a huge amount of the budget. First of all the quality of the stuff is so incredible and the collectability is just incredible. But who knows, a year from now they might come back and do DVD movies so they might not want to sell any of it. There's a lot of stuff to put in storage I tell ya. Just from the Mini Series alone we had, I think, 470 boxes of props we had to open. I've at least tripled that by now. You're talking about a fifty foot container full. It would be pretty expensive to store.
There's a lot of very specific things... you know the flight helmets and all that kind of stuff. You want to archive some of it. You don't want it all to disappear. What happens to a lot of these things is they just end up in private collections. I was a big fan of Lost in Space and all the Irwin Allen shows. All the great props from those shows and the original batman series they all disappeared and nobody can find them.
Do you think some the props will be recycled for other shows?
I don't think so. It's way too specific. We've gone to a lot of pains to make it specific and unique to the show so I don't know how you could really. It's got a very specific look.
There is a rumor that a lot of the props are being taken by cast & crew as mementos. Is that true?
No. You get the odd extra that will take the insignia off their uniform. Unfortunately that's the cost of doing business I'm afraid. You've got nice shiny objects that people want to keep as a souvenir and unfortunately there's no real way of... we've tried many, many ways of trying to curb it but it's next to impossible to stop it all. You can curb a certain amount of it but it will be next to impossible to stop it all. The stuff doesn't belong to me it belongs to NBC Universal. People can't just take it without consequences.
Is there anything you've had to recreate already due to parasitic loss?
Oh yeah many times. Every season we have to make new insignia because they just go missing. People just take those. The pilots' wings and the rank insignia off the uniforms. I'm hoping people are just taking them as souvenirs. I hope they're not selling them somewhere. I've seen repros of them. I know people have made their own and I can tell the differences looking at those. They're not the ones we've made. It's bad enough to take something but if you take it to sell it; it's a whole other deal. I hope those who are doing it are just doing it for souvenir hunting.
I've seen almost nothing from the show popping up on auction sites.
That's surprising. Well, I've seen some reproductions. Actually, we were laughing because if we had stuck with the old Colonial side arms whenever we need replicas of them there was a guy that was selling one he made online and I was going to buy them from him cause they were cheaper than the ones we have made. (laughter) He was doing them a lot cheaper than what the prop houses would make them for us. That was going to be a good source for us, but unfortunately we went away from those.
Battlestar Galactica's pilot wings
With hobbyists building props reproductions of some of the stuff you've done, do you have sage advice for them if they want to get into prop making for the film industry?
Put together a really good portfolio and get it to people. I look at these things all the time. We've found people who've come out of the woodwork who have done stuff for us that show an aptitude for building things. If they've got good design sense and seem like they're not flaky and they can deliver on time we'll use them. I do it all the time. We get a lot of contacts through the unions. Prop builders should try to get into the union. They can submit an application and send in their portfolio to get in the union. It's a good way to get started.
I'd like to thank you for doing this interview, it has been an honor.
You are very welcome. I hope I didn't rattle on too long. People seem to love the props on shows. That's what got me into it; is loving all the props on shows like Battlestar Galactica. When props are well done, which hopefully ours are, then it will inspire people to do it too.
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