A movie prop stands for movie property and can be any item which is characteristic, used within the context and storyline of a movie, or as a supporting apparatus for the characters.
One overlooked aspect of a movie and its props are extras, yes extras. The industry may not come right out and say but yes, within the industry, extras for the most part are considered as “props”.
While props normally get developed after a screenplay is written, a screenplay can act as the basic inspiration for a prop. Think about the infamous white mask the killer in Scream wears. Scriptwriter Kevin Williamson described the mask in his screenplay as “a ghostly white mask”. Inspired by this director Wes Craven and his team stumbled over an existing mask created by Fun World Costume Co., which then was chosen to be in the movie.
Another great example comes from the writers of Alien. A lot of basic ideas, inspirations and research were put together by the writer, which helped the designers to create the actual Alien, eggs, the “chest burster”, etc.
Creating amazing props in screenplays are super important, as props can have a multitude of uses. Here are some important ones:
They can define a character – His whip and hat in Indiana Jones or the Light Saber in Star Wars.
They can move the plot along – The Delorean in Back to the Feature.
They can be symbolic – The diamond necklace Heart of the Ocean in Titanic.
They can open portals to other worlds – Book of the Dead in The Evil Dead.
Act as company like the ball face Wilson in Cast Away.
Sometimes they save or help a character, but also cause conflict or problems like the Ring in Lord of the Rings.
I think as a writer it is very important to put work into your props. It can make you stand out and be a big inspiration for everyone involved in the film making process. Make the props original; come up with new twists and ideas. Think of J.K. Rowlings and how she gave magic wands a make over.
Even if they at times as extensions adversely hinder the character, they are still used to propel the plot forward; props should have their own characterization; subject to rules just like movie characters.
When I re-watched Hitchcock’s Rear Window the other day, I noticed that Hitchcock made use of lenses for main character, photographer Jeff Jeffries throughout the movie. At first Jeff used binoculars, then a camera lens and other devices to spy on his neighbour. In the final showdown between him and the antagonist, the light bulbs and flash of his camera saved him.
Pretty simple, neat and in tune with his character, especially as Jeff was confined to the wheelchair during the whole movie. He had to be crafty, be able to utilize what was available to him so that he could protect and defend himself. So Hitchcock gave Jeff's camera equipment its own set of rules. What is so lovely is that these props tie in with Jeff being a photographer. So the props become an extension, a part of his character.
What are your favorite movie props and why?