Learn to say “NO”. Some projects will try to get you to work for free or less than your worth with promises of future work. Which rarely come through. Get paid what your worth, up front and in writing.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Michael Corrie.
Michael Corrie, aka Props To History has been a propmaker/SFX Artist in the film industry, full time, for the last 5 years. Having worked on around 40 films, Television Series, Web Series, and Theatre Productions, he is also the host of the social media channel Props To History where he tells the stories of the artists and creators of some of the most iconic props and special effects in film history.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up in a tiny town in Ohio called Enon. And my group of friends and I were the nerdy kids that played D&D and Miniature Wargames all the time. My Dad had been a model maker his whole life and, of course introduced me to the hobby. A Hobby that led me to a career in the film industry, weirdly.
I kept with the hobby even as a teenager and even competed in competition involving model making, eventually moving to making models professionally for museums and historical centers.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I had been a model maker for a long time, and learned about a thing called ‘Cosplay” from a friend. Where one dresses up as their favorite character from comics/sci-fi/fantasy and hangs out with other like minded people. I dabbled in it a bit. Until a friend, who raises Clydesdale (stay with me) asked if I could build a costume for her 2000lb prize mare Clydesdale.
I figure it couldn’t be that hard and wound up building a fully lit, with sound effects AT-AT costume from Starwars for a 1 ton horse.
Well, that went viral and soon I began to be asked to build all manner of craziness. One day however the Propmaster for CBS’ reboot of Magnum PI asked me to build stuff for the show. And that was that. I’ve been in the game since.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
I was traveling form LA to Chicago. I had been visiting a propmaster friend of mine and he gave me some police radios that were “clayed up” for making molds. So imagine a police radio literally packed with tan colored clay. Its to keep mold rubber from seeping into the object… anyway. I put them in my luggage, and sort of forgot they were there.
Until the bag went through the x ray. Long story short I got to meet EVERY member of LAX’ Explosive Investigation Team, and learned the hard way to always check your bags.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Fon Davis, model maker and sfx artist who worked on the Starwars Prequels, Galaxy Quest, Pearl Harbor, etc. Super great guy and obscenely talented. Frank Ippolito, again amazing human and fantastic artist, worked on Stranger Things, Mandalorian, Obi Wan, Umbrella Academy, etc. Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame. Magnificent ambassador for the maker community, tremendously talented and every time I’ve met him just an all around decent fellow. The list goes on really, ive been extremely fortunate the number of people I’ve been able to meet doing this job.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are 2. John Harrington, the Prop Master for Magnum PI who gave me my start and opened the door for me. And Ben Eadie. Who has opened so many more doors for me when he didn’t have to. Ben and I met through the internet and shortly after I was walking on to the Sony Lot to do some work involving a very well known Sony property. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In 100 years, no one’s gonna care” Said to me by my dad when I was a kid and was worried about making a fool of myself. Its stuck with me, and has allowed me to push past my self doubt and imposter syndrome while simultaneously helping me gain the confidence to ‘put myself out there’ in the realm of social media and (Hopefully) eventually television to tell stories that I have a passion for.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Oh goodness, seeing yourself or someone that is representative of your culture can have a massively positive effect on people when it comes to media. It allows people of all backgrounds to become more emersed in, and in a way, part of the story. Particularly young people, who can feel more a part of the telling and see themselves reflected in their heroes.
As far as our culture, it can’t be anything but a net positive to have everyone feel as though they’re, in some way, apart of the grand, flawed and beautiful experiment that is our modern world.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Well, most of what I work on is secret until released in theatres. But, we are currently working on multiple films/TV Shows/Commercials. One thing I can talk about is my on going series on Youtube “Props To History”. It’s a series about the history of film from the perspective of the people that make the magic. Literally. From background pieces to Grandiose Special effects the series focuses on the artists as much as the objects. A perspective that is lacking in a lot of Behind the Scenes documentaries.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
Seeing my work on screen. No matter how many times it happens or how small the thing is, it always makes me smile. The very first time was a helicopter radio I made for “Magnum”. The first time I saw it on screen, and it was only a few seconds mind you, I teared up a bit. The propmaster knew it was my first on screen prop and sent it back to me. I still have it.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Reputation is everything. This industry is small and everyone talks to everyone about everyone.
2. Treat everyone with respect. You never know if that PA that got you coffee 6 months ago is going to be the director you answer to in 5 years.
3. Everything you make will be broken. Actors use props to tell a story. And sometimes they aren’t gentle. Accept it now, its gonna get broken.
4. Safety Regulations are written in blood. Always work safely and never let anyone pressure you into doing something unsafe. Even at the risk of being fired, no job is worth risking your health.
5. Learn to say “NO”. Some projects will try to get you to work for free or less than your worth with promises of future work. Which rarely come through. Get paid what your worth, up front and in writing.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
Normally, when I’m tasked with making a piece for a film the Director, Art Director or Propmaster already have a vision of what they want. And the directions can come in the form of highly detailed and specific 3d renders, blueprints or concept art. OR it can be a sketch on a napkin. On occasion however ill get “ make me a thing that does a thing” and I’m given free reign. Though that’s very rare. I was once tasked to build a large-scale spaceship model for an independent film that was ultimately blown up but I was told the most basic of design choices and was given 3 months to do as I pleased. It was quite satisfying, and I was proud of it. Then I helped rig it with pyrotechnics and got to hit the button to blow it up…also satisfying.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I firmly believe that any human, with enough time and practice can do anything. I would love to see or start a skill sharing movement. Where people from all walks of life, share their skills and knowledge with other people. I feel it would make a us all more well-rounded people.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Nick Offerman. He’s a fantastic wood-worker ( a skill I’m not super sharp on) and a talented actor/comedian. He also likes Single-Malt Scotch…as do I.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, Tiktok, twitch, facebook @Propstohistory
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Michael Corrie ‘Props To History’: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.