You might have read my recent blog post about our visit to a taping of The Big Bang Theory and our chat with Ann Shea, the set decorator. We also snagged a few minutes with Scott London, the show’s property master. Since we’re not Hollywood insiders, we had a lot of questions for Scott (and Ann) about their work – such as the differences between sets and props, how they find such cool stuff for the show, and their favorite pieces on the sets. Scott told us about everything from building a space toilet to cooking for the show.
Sara: Can you give us a little background on what you do, what your profession is?
Scott: Well, I’m the property master on the show and basically it’s anything an actor touches, from the rings, watches, food, guns, their computers, the chemicals, the experiments they do on the set. The wacky games they play. I built the 3D chess set – the actual one we bought was just too small. It was like on a Friday run-through and Chuck [Lorre, executive producer and co-creator] goes, “It’s really good. But can we have one, like, three times the size by Monday?” I literally built it. If you look at them, they kind of have this curve that holds the three levels. So I went and I got a globe stand that has the same curve and then I built it off that. So we just worked all weekend long and had it for them.
Photo courtesy of CBS/Warner Bros.
Sara: What’s the difference between props and sets?
Scott: If there’s just the floor and four empty walls, the production designer does all the colors and everything, and then the set decorator will come in and she’ll put the rugs in and the coffee tables and the couches and end tables and lamps and pictures and flowers. And in this case, on this show, Ann does all the weird little, you know, chemistry, or the DNA model, and all the old gadgets and things that are just around. Where I just deal with anything actually that’s in the script that the actors touch.
Sara: It seems like there must be overlap.
Scott: There is. We work together. I’ve worked on shows where we [the crew] just don’t get along. When I’m swamped and Ann sees something she can help me with, she’ll do that or vice versa for her. It’s just teamwork.
Sara: What are some of the duties you have during the build-up and the taping of a show like this?
Scott: After I get out of here probably midnight, one o’clock tonight, I’ll have to come back for a ten o’clock production meeting and the whole thing starts over again. But today for instance, we have a three o’clock run through, right before this, we go through all the sets. I cook all the food for the actors too. I was going to be a chef ‘til I got up to 333 pounds and said that’s not the line of work for me! But they all call me Chef London. But I mean, I literally just got done cooking. I cooked for all the background…
Maggie: Because they eat a lot on this show.
Scott: Yeah, they’re always eating. All the Chinese food. Tonight they’re having pizza and salad and things in the boys’ apartment. The cafeteria scenes…you know, they’re in there. So I’ve got to make the actors’ food plus all the background food. Some shows I think we’ve had every single scene, between three cafeteria scenes and two restaurant scenes. I knew you guys were coming today so I got on it a little bit early.
Maggie: Aw, we appreciate it!
Scott: It’s kind of nice. Four o’clock, when we finish the run through usually, and filming starts at 6:30, there’s been times when literally, I usually change my shirt and shoes, and literally they’re doing the cast intros when I walk out. That’s how close it is on things. And this week I had to make a black light that they could actually see. When you turn on a black light you can barely see it. So we had to just go with a straight florescent bulb and put a purple gel in there, so it would have more intensity so the camera can read it better.
Sara: Where do you find inspiration for the items on the set? Especially when it comes to the science and technology items.
Scott: Well, you know, I talk to David Saltzberg, our physicist over at UCLA. And you know, Bill Prady himself… Bill and Chuck and Steve Molaro, the executive producers, I’m convinced they are these characters. They really are! And most of the writers are too. They all give me the inspiration and kind of direction on where to go. I’ve had to correct them a few days. Bill told me since day one, “We’re going to come up with some strange stuff and it’s your job to make sure it’s accurate!”
Sara: Well, we’re always really impressed – since we come from work facilities that look like that, to see them using the real thing, in an atmosphere that looks so real, it’s awesome!
Scott: Ann does a fabulous job on the sets. Did you see the episode where they took the vacuu-form and made it a panini press? They came up with that on Wednesday morning, and the one that’s on the set, I designed it all and took it down to special effects, and luckily, they had just thrown one away, because they were downsizing their office, and they threw one away, so we converted it all over and went and bought a panini press and gutted it and put it in there.
Maggie: One of the things that we mentioned to Ann that she thought you were responsible for was when they were observing with the telescope, one of the computers had PINE, the email program running on it. That’s so realistic, it’s text only, but a lot of people at NASA use it still.
Photo courtesy of CBS/Warner Brothers.
Scott: David will give me a lot of that. And then I have Jason Weldon, he’s our technical video playback guy. One thing this show has done is taught me computers. One time a computer just shut down and I had to reboot it and that one minute it takes to reboot it is like an hour in front of 300 people and Chuck Lorre standing behind me going “Do we go on, should we forget this?” So then it’s nice to have the technician there because then I just go “fix it!”
Maggie: The level of detail is definitely noticed and appreciated. The set is so rich, both the apartments and stores and everything.
Sara: How much is built versus found?
Scott: Mostly it’s found. Some of it is built. I don’t know if you saw the space toilet episode? I got pictures from the Smithsonian Institution and it was basically the inside without the outer housing on it. And again, you know, I designed it, took it for their approval. There was everything in that thing from strainers for the basic bowl, because it just looked just like it. I took the three legs off it. It was like building a Model T. Again, I worked all weekend long. And we got it out there on Friday, had actual air cannons in it. It had sponges that were painted to look like the meatloaf that blew up, we put a little baby powder in there, because it goes so fast, you can’t see anything, so you can see the smoke. And we had it working on Friday, and they go, “Isn’t it going to be painted?” You know, it was all just welded tubing. “Isn’t it going to be painted and look nice?” So Saturday we came in and we took it all apart, and then painted every part, let it dry over night, came in Sunday, assembled it all. Made the Rolling Stone magazine and all sorts of stuff. It was pretty cool.
Photo courtesy of CBS/Warner Bros.
Maggie: Is there something that you’re most proud of finding or acquiring for the show?
Scott: There are so many strange things! One was probably the Death Star from LEGO. We went online and we found a couple, but one was fully assembled, taken apart in sections, and bagged for easy assembly. Well, when it got here, there was a bunch of baggies with about four pieces each connected in each one.
Maggie & Sara: [groan]
Scott: So the whole office staff, the PAs [production assistants] and everyone up in the production office [worked on it] for like two weeks. I mean, they’re usually really good about giving me time. If they see something coming up that’s going to be tight to get, they’ll give you plenty of time to get it. And that worked out really well.
Photo courtesy of CBS/Warner Bros.
Scott: I like building, a lot of guys sub it out to places, but with the time frame… thank goodness this is a Monday/Tuesday show because I don’t think a lot of it could get done on a Monday through Friday schedule! I get the grace of a couple of extra days. I get a full seven days rather than five days. So it’s fun. And they’re really appreciative of everything I do too, so that makes it worth it.