Ask a Prop Master: Discussing LA, Hollywood and that time Ryan Gosling saved a woman from being hit by a taxi

“The stereotype of LA is true,” Sam tells me sleepily, as he tries to shake off the jet lag of being in London on LA time. “You’ll probably run into somebody famous.”

Samuel Cortez is a 32-year-old Prop Master living in California. His favourite film is Back to the Future and he’s a P. T. Anderson and Sam Rockwell fan. He’s been staying in London for a short while with his girlfriend. Before we start the interview, he downs a cup of tea.

“Tea? How long have you been in England?” I ask.

“I’ve been trained well,” he says.

We begin. So what exactly is a Prop Master?

“Overall, I have dominion over props,” Sam explains, “which is anything a character holds or manipulates. That means I work closely with production designers and art directors on the general aesthetic of the film. It’s very detail-oriented in that manner. If I’m lucky enough, I’ll be able to fabricate props that cannot be found or bought easily.”

Recently, there’s been a shift in the entertainment industry. With the rise of streaming-services and the decline of in-person cinema, what does this mean for people like Sam?

“It’s a double-edged sword for the industry,” he says. “There is an insane amount of new services, which means there’s an insane amount of content, which means there’s an insane amount of jobs. The rise in channels, as well as coronavirus, put this weird dam on content creation and then once the restrictions lifted, there was just a flood of work which has not stopped since then.”

So what’s the downside?

“There’s a bunch of caveats that are there for every individual production. So a lot of people will find themselves working for less money and longer hours, being twisted and turned a little more than is normal.”

I have to ask about celebrities. Has Sam seen any about?

“You know Ryan Gosling?” he asks.

What – the star of La La Land and my flatmate’s dreams? Yes, I am familiar.

It turns out, Ryan Gosling is a ‘low-level superhero’. Sam plunges into anecdotes about how Gosling saved a woman from being hit by a taxi, stopped a street fight in New York and helped a broken-down vehicle get out of the road.

“Somebody got out of their convertible and ran over,” Sam recalls, smiling, “and I’m like – holy shit, that’s Ryan Gosling.”

Next, we talk about LA. Why does everyone there always seem so damn happy?

“So damn happy?” Sam echoes. “Oh, whoa. That’s a surprising perspective. For me, I think it can be kind of a bleak place. At least, emotionally. If people are happy and that’s the vibe they’re giving, I would say it’s mostly [because of] the weather.”

Does Sam think everyone secretly wants to be famous?

“I think that the westernised idea of success promotes that concept,” he says. “I think everyone everywhere kind of wants to be famous a little bit. One thing that’s expedited that is social media. You go to TikTok and you can be famous tomorrow. Everyone feels the whiff of that now.”

A lot of people originally went to California for the Gold Rush. What are people looking for when they go there now?

“For all the negative things you can say about LA, in my experience, any time I’ve ever wanted to create something, especially anything collaborative, I didn’t have to stretch my arms too far out before I grabbed somebody that was totally willing to participate. There’s something unique about that.”

Lastly, Sam’s been in the UK for a while now. Has he noticed anything strange about being here?

“I see a lot more similarities than I see differences. The same kind of economic and cultural expectations exist here too – take the American dream,” he says, “I do think that it exists here too – it’s just a westernised idea of success.”

His girlfriend has been listening in on the interview and is thinking. “Have you found the people here cold?” she asks him. “Compared to Americans?”

“No,” he laughs and he turns back to me. “Everyone’s been really fucking nice.”

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Liz Lane

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December 2021
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