A Conversation with Drew Petrotta: Hollywood's Property Master of the Year

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We launch today a series of conversations with the recipients of this year's Hamilton Behind the Camera Awards, a ceremony produced by Movieline to recognize the too-often overlooked achievements of Hollywood's below-the-line craftsmen and crew members.

We begin with Drew Petrotta, a property master who was tasked with the formidable job of tracking down and inventorying every single object seen on screen during the organized chaos of the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen shoot. From Megan Fox's motorcycle chamois to the all-important (if confusing) AllSpark sliver, it was his responsibility to make sure every actor had what they needed by the time Michael Bay shouted, "Action!" through his lucky bullhorn. He talked to us from the Detroit set of the Red Dawn remake that's currently shooting there.

So please explain what it is you do, and how you got started?

I'm a third-generation prop master. My grandfather was a prop master, my uncle was a prop master, and my father was a prop master. I've been doing it for most of my adult life. We're responsible for everything actors handle on set. We do the detail work, is what we do -- everything from watches and rings on the actors to handling weapons.

Take me through how you approach the script and going about your job. Are you handed a script and you read it cold?

Actually that's exactly what happens. I'm handed a script and read it cold, and do what they call a breakdown for what I think props will be needed in the movie. After that I have a series of meetings with almost every department on the movie. I interface with them, and with the director for quite a bit of time, and the production designer. They both have a lot of input into what I do. I budget the script based on that, and make sure I have what props are needed on the day that we're shooting it.

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When you first read the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen script, were you overwhelmed at all? What was your reaction to it?

On Transformers, I had several meetings with Michael Bay before I got the job or even saw the script, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on and what was going to be expected of me. It wasn't as shocking as it may have seemed like it might have been, because I was very well warned.

And so what were some of the most crucial props from the film? I remember the sliver of AllSpark. That seemed to be an important prop.

The AllSpark was a very important prop from the film. It was designed by our art department, then I had it manufactured by an outside shop. Michael [Bay] had a lot of input on the finish of that prop, and when and where we used it. We made several of them -- there were metal versions to plastic versions to rubber versions, depending on what we were doing in that scene.

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One of the other big things we did was working in conjunction with the costume designer, we came up with the costumes and gear for the main actors in the military portion of the movie. It was a very new type of camouflage and a very new type of equipment and gear, which now is really very common place.

When you say it's used commonly now, do you mean in the military?

It's not yet used in the military, though I think they're up for a military contract for that type of camouflage. But by a lot of sheriffs and police departments, and actually there's a few militaries other than ours in the world that use very similar camouflage to that. It's called MultiCam and it was at the time very, very new.

Was that Michael's idea?

It was actually something that I found through somebody else and brought to our costume designer's attention; we then brought it to Michael and Michael liked it a lot and wanted to go with it. He thought it was a great idea. It's something we do rather commonly, in movies, is that people come to us with an allowance to use their product for free to try to sell it, almost like a gigantic commercial. It's up to us whether we use it or not.

There was a lot of that in Transformers. They hired probably the best product placement man in the business -- his name is David Leener -- he's done a lot of movies with Michael Bay. His sole job is to try to find product placement items for the movie. So if I need computers, I talk to him about how many computers I need, and it's his job to find a computer company to give us the number of computers we need for the movie, and to possibly give money towards the movie to use in the movie. Which is something Michael is a big fan of -- we used quite a bit of product placement in the movie.

What are your feelings about that practice?

To me, if it's good for the movie, then I think it's fantastic -- if it can save the company some money while making the movie. Sometimes you get a product that you're required to use that really makes no sense and doesn't help the movie along at all.

Certain shots seemed very much focused on featuring the product, to the point where it was pretty glaringly obvious we were staring at an ad placement.

There were some that were definitely geared that way, and that's part of Michael Bay's business. He's not just a filmmaker, but a businessman as well. He's trying to get enough money to make the movie he wants to make, and if he can get $100,000 out of [a product placement] and that allows him that many more computer-generated shots or that much more time in filming, then it's worthwhile for him to do.

How do you interact with the actors? You're obviously the go-between between the actor and prop.

We interact with the actors very, very closely. One of the things we do every day, say with the actors from Transformers like Josh Duhamel and Tyrese, we bring the weapons to them every morning, we teach them how to use it, to some degree, though we have experts on set to help for that. We spend a lot of time one-on-one with them all day long, and wind up becoming pretty good friends with the actors. We do whatever we need to do to help them perform better. That's really what it's all about.

How were things turned upside down after Shia LaBeouf injured his hand, as far as his handling of the props and working around that?

I have to say that Shia is a very special human being and a very, very, very dexterous person. He was fantastic. He doesn't have -- [laughs] -- it wasn't an issue. Because of his dexterity and his acting ability, you couldn't tell. There were parts of the movie where his hand is hurting and you couldn't tell. He's a very, very amazing actor.

Do you want your kids to follow in your footsteps?

Hopefully they'll do a different job. I have two daughters and a son. Hopefully they'll be above the line and not below the line. It's a very difficult job, but very rewarding. It's not something you can just jump into having never done it before.

I would imagine not, particularly when you're doing it for Michael Bay.

Yeah, well, that's extremely difficult on its own. [Pause. Laughs.] Yeah. ♦



Comments

  • Phil says:

    Hey cool feature! Keep doing these, these are really neat!

  • The McDuffees says:

    Congratulations Drew from the McDuffee Family!!!

  • Phil Mechanick says:

    Best of luck with future projects Drew!!!!! Congratulations on a job well done. Your Granfather Vic would be more than proud and I know your father feels the same way!!!!
    Sincerely Phil Mechanick and Family

  • Mom says:

    Congratulations Drew!!! I am so proud of you. It's great that you are being recognized for all your hard work. The award is well deserved.

  • Craig Binkley says:

    Drew: I am so proud of you and the other new generation of property masters who now continue our very important artistic role in the entertainment industry.Hopefully sometime in the near future, our "classification" will be recognized alongside the production designer and set decorator when the awards are handed out! Fraternally, Craig Binkley

  • Keith andre says:

    Congrats Drew on the award. My best to you and your family. -Keith (matts brother)

  • Gladys Bustos says:

    We are very proud of you from your crew in Puerto Rico

  • monica says:

    Congratulations Drew!! Come back to PR soon!! Best for you & your loved ones.

  • Jody says:

    Drew, its about time you get the credit you deserve, but you have done so much more then those little Bay films. I just want you to know that you have been one of the best prop masters I have had the chance to work with. Jody

  • Britt Petrotta says:

    Hey Drew!!! I didn't even know such an award existed! And how cool is it that my cousin won it!!!! See ya at Thanksgiving hopfully! Love Ya!

  • joshua foster says:

    congradulations drew you have come along ways from the days of notre dame highschool. keep up the good work. I am glad hardworking people behind the scenes are being reconized for their talents and skills.hope to work with you again someday.Joshua Foster

  • Dutch Merrick says:

    Drew, you've graduated!
    No longer the "son of Prop Masters", you are now an award-winning, quoted Prop Master for some of the biggest movies Hollywood has ever produced.
    Well done, Brother!
    -Dutch Merrick, IATSE 44

  • Hi, I stumbled upon your site on Twitter, just wanted to say that I found it really interesting, continue with the camouflage related items and I'll make certain I'll come back another time, as I'm a big fan of everything related with camo stuff. (Particularly camouflage shorts) ~ A blog poster who just wanted to say go on!

  • Many credit unions will give you a car loan as long as the car has a title for less than 4 yrs. The title is the only value that the bank has that can prevent you from selling the car to someone else. Remeber you only need to keep the title for a car for 10 yrs, after that you can register it without it. So, if you have bad credit, they rather see you in a 2005 to 2008 car and give you a six year loan. My friend had the same problem and that's how she got her 2007 Hyundai.

  • Hi, I totally agree with you! Just obey my previous comment

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