Ten Minutes With Ron Stone
Props to the Master–of Props
Photo by Matt Petricone
Ron Stone has seen a lot of stuff. The veteran props master’s lengthy roster includes Mississippi Burning, 9½ Weeks, and 255 “Law & Order” episodes. The part-time Monterey resident is immersed in HBO’s latest endeavor, “Vinyl,” by director Martin Scorsese, writer Terence Winter, and Mick Jagger.
The series premiered February 14 and promises to amp up post-grunge millennials with its homage to polyester and ‘70s rock-and-roll hedonism across a backdrop of Stone’s era-specific cars, jewelry, and accessories.
So, who wakes up in the morning and decides he’s going to be the props guy?
Ha, me! I’m not an “in front of the lens” guy, so … no. My father worked at the other end of the industry as a processor. He did the color. Whenever you see at the credits for a film, “Color by Redux,” that was him. I worked in the lab with him for a while, but then went back to school for film production. Being a production assistant, you get to do a little bit of everything, and I discovered that the props was the most subjective. Every day was a different prop. It never got boring.
You just kind of fell into being a props master?
Yeah. I did commercials for a couple of years, and TV movies. In 1980 I got my first series, “Nurse,” with Robert Reed. I loved it. I was 26 years old, it was my first gig as a props master. My son was born that year. But I had to be on all the time. I started getting work with big movies like 9½ Weeks and Mississippi Burning, all word of mouth, all based on reputation.
How has the Internet changed your job?
EBay is a tremendous resource in terms of being able to get something on time. Everything happens so quickly now, we usually need something within two days. My crew size has actually tripled. But still, we do our research just like before. Everything I do is authentic.
Were there any props for “Vinyl” that were a challenge to get a hold of?
If it’s a real “character” that appears, like, say, Andy Warhol in the 1970s, we have to get everything that he would have worn—glasses, watches—for that shoot. For the main character, we had to have three matching Mercedes Benz 450 SLC Coupes and cut one and give it a glass roof so that they could film from inside the car. Same with a drum kit that was supposed to be Neal Smith’s from Alice Cooper. It was a handmade drum set so I had to remake it with the mirror walls. It took a whole crew of people, but I actually got to talk to Neal on the phone, so that was cool.
Do you have to make a lot of props?
We do a lot of building, that’s for sure.
What’s the strangest prop you’ve tracked down?
When I did Mississippi Burning, we needed to find old boat motors. So we went down to Mississippi looking for these engines that needed to be rebuilt. It was … another world down there, at least where we were. We had to use a Harvey Winston diamond for a Woody Allen movie, too. That made me a little nervous.
Where else have you traveled as a result of this job?
All over the entire U.S., especially the East Coast. There was some time back and forth to Europe for Everyone Says I Love You. Venice, Paris, back to New York. Woody [Allen] didn’t like working outside in the cold so we had to go back to Paris twice. I went to Kenya for a Hallmark film. The last ten days of the trip, my family joined me and we took a tour of the country and saw, I think, every animal that was indigenous to the place. I kept a diary every night. It was an extraordinary experience.
Is this a typical “Hollywood” job?
The work schedule is five days a week and once in a while on Saturdays if they need to prep a location. There’s no set hours, and we can average 12 to 15 hours a day during production. But I take time out to golf, go out to dinner with friends we’ve made here, and go for motorcycle rides through the Berkshires on my Harley.
Do you have your own collection of props from different sets?
I do have some stuff I’ve kept, mostly for reminiscing. Mickey Rourke wore a watch that I really liked in 9½ Weeks. I kept that. I have artwork from New Orleans and Africa, a book of photographs all signed by the “Law & Order” crew.
What’s the most valuable to you?
A gold detective badge that Dick Wolf gave me when I left “Law & Order.” It has a place of prominence in my house. I was with that show for almost ten years. They were very good to me.
Is “Vinyl” your dream gig?
The 1970s were my growing-up years, and because of that, it’s my favorite era. When they called me to do the pilot, it didn’t even have a name yet. Just “rock-and-roll series” or something like that. We shot the pilot like a movie, and when it did get picked up, they asked me back to do the show. I had never worked with Marty [Martin Scorcese] before. He and Mick Jagger are intimately involved in the script. Because they’ve lived it, I think. A lot of us on the set have lived it—Terry [Terence Winter], executive producer Allen Coulter—and that helps the actors who haven’t. It’s a nice culmination of my career. Sort of back where I started, you know?