Graham Robinson: Put it this way I went from being like a student to two weeks later being on a plane to new York to play in a rock and roll band basically.
Mike Battle: Hello and welcome to Red Carpet Rookies! My name is Mike Battle, a film production junior working for studios in London. Each episode, I bring you advice and stories from film, tv, and content professionals to help demystify and democratize the industries for juniors and fans alike. Thanks for joining me, let’s get started. Today’s guest is standby props maestroGraham Robinson. With beginnings in network TV on shows such as This is England90, and humans. Graham is now graduated to become a regular on large scale productions such as Killing Eve, Fast and Furious nine and warner brothersPennyworth on which he is currently working. Thanks for being on the show Graham, how are we?
Graham Robinson: Very good, how are you?
Mike Battle: I’m very good, long time no see.
Graham Robinson: Yes, indeed.
Mike Battle: Now to get us started, some of the listeners may not know what a stand by prop man does. So in your words how would you describe it?
Graham Robinson: It’s standing by on set to maintain all prop needs and looking after all the sets.
Mike Battle: Very nice, now I thought we would start by going back to the beginning. Where did you grow up, and how did your parent jobs have an effect on what you wanted to do as a career?
Graham Robinson: Yeah, well my dad was an architect so I was always a little bit inspired by that I guess. We grew up having architecture shoved down our throats, I guess. As kids, me and my sisters. So, I like to think that working in the arts departments and props department is somewhat inspired by that. I don’t know if it is or not.
Mike Battle: When you were growing up as a kid up inManchester was it, near black pool. Of course, I always forget that. Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do you mentioned creativity. Because I will mention in a minute, your trajectory to getting into it was quite different to film than many.
Graham Robinson: Well yeah, I was always into music and I always preferred the arts probably because hardcore academic kind of bored me.Bored me, or I was not good at it. One of the two.
Mike Battle: Then, you touched on it there. Your first love was the music business, so would you mind telling us a little bit about how you went from a kid in a band getting signed to the stuff that came with that.
Graham Robinson: Well, it all began as a classical musician for me. My parents were very much played piano, and was like I wanna play the drums, you know. Like, you’re going to have to play percussion first. And I was like okay. Buy yeah from the age of like thirteen I was in orchestra and then I got into band, but then I don’ t know, it was never like a go and be a musician it was like always being a musician on the side and go and study something I think. I went to university to study and about architecture, and but then I was missing music. I went to Plymouth to university and I thought I would find lots of wonderful musicians to have a band on the side at uni. That wasn’t the case so I moved up north toManchester, where I learned that my friends I grew up with were. The band scene kicked off for me. Than eventually, I managed to get a job up in Liverpool with a band that was already signed. Then I moved up to Liverpool quit university and joined the circus for2.5 years.
Mike Battle: How was the circus?
Graham Robinson: The circus was well put it this way I went from being a student to two weeks later being on a plane to new York to play in a rock and roll band basically. So that was quite a moment I guess.
Mike Battle: Is it what you imagined being in a Rock and Roll band traveling around the world? It sounds like there it is a little bit, but I imagine there is also other stuff that comes with it.
Graham Robinson: It’s definitely as you imagine in the sense you play a gig, you get an amazing feeling, you go out afterwards to random bard, like unaware of where you are because you just like following the crowd. I remember actually being wherever in the world and then the tour manager we had gave us a little piece of paper and you’d just shove it in your pocket. And then, you’d go out partying all night and then you’d get to the end of the night and be like where the fuck am I staying. And then you’d get your little paper our, and be like uhhh, and it’d have your hotel details on it for you, taxi number, and then you just ring your taxi number, turn up at hotel, and you go walk in, go up to your room. They even go as far as putting your suitcase in your room for you.
Mike Battle: Do you have any notably memorable rock band, rock star nights out with you piece of paper in your pocket?
Graham Robinson: Well, since my girlfriends in the room,I’m not sure I have, no.
Mike Battle: Fair enough, when did you know that it was time to leave music, cause obviously you’re not working it now. What happened in the transition between flying on planes to new York and now being a standby prop man?
Graham Robinson: Well, that particular band I talk of for me, I was just their touring musician, I did a bit of recording with them. And it only lasted maybe 2 and a half years. With that particular band. But then after that I was in Liverpool I was fully committed, 24/7 to being a musician.Living the doll as I used to call it. Just like getting enough money to pay for your hotel, and to eat a little bit of food. I was fortunate that I had free accommodation and then year you just go to your rehearsal room from 11-4 everyday and you just go to gigs every night. And then I started in so many bands and we would get little management deals, or single deals. You’d get dangled carrots and you’d go on tours, or do the high profile support. It would be soup and down and that going on for maybe six years. It was great, it was maybe the romantic time in my life. But then eventually you get bored of skint.
Mike Battle: Do you think that form of lifestyle prepared you for film and TV which isn’t quite as extreme, but to some extent is that vagabond life a little bit?
Graham Robinson: It’s a little bit circus isn’t it. Like madness here, there, and everywhere. Well it did totally, because you did little bits of odd jobs. Like I worked in bars, I worked in kitchens, I did garden for a Vicar. I worked in a kid’s nursery. Like load of little random jobs. Which is essential to being a good standby prop man because obviously film making and storytelling is every single walk of like. The more you know about walks oflife, the better you can be at propping the scenario.
Mike Battle: Is there anything that you learned from any of those weird little jobs that you use these days?
Graham Robinson : I guess film service jobs is the one that props the most, unlike a good period drama you know how to lay out a good table like where the knives, and forks go. You know where the red wine glass, the red wine glass goes. You know to serve from the left and pickup from the right. You can tell all the Ads how to do that. You can be a useful man onset when it comes to certain scenes like that.
Mike Battle: That’s very interesting. You mentioned moving from music into film. When you were going through that transition period, did you almost feel a little bit lost that you had this love on the dull and it was going to be a little bit different. Did you know that it was definitely going to be film and TV, or were you just sitting in your flat going what the hell amI going to do now?
Graham Robinson: Uh, yeah I was bit what am I doing now. A mate of mine was working on Hollyoaks which was a film around the corner from where I lived in Liverpool.It was like I will try and get you in there if you want mate. It was one of those. So he did guided me through it and I ended up yeah art department, running. I was like I was just doing this at night while I’m working the music out. And never took it fully seriously for three years of just odd jobs. I’d come down to London to do the odd week here and there. But I was still wanting to do something with music, but then as you start to realize the opportunity that film presents itself. And the excitement I got from doing it, like you started to get a buzz. I guess that’s what drives me to do it a little bit. As soon as I started to get a buzz I was like you know, I have got to do this.
Mike Battle: Was it hard to go from quite high profile gigs from here to there, I now you plated stadiums and such.
Graham Robinson: To sweeping the floor at actor’s feet. Yeah, it was.
Mike Battle: You went from supporting, to uh mopping up how was that.
10:46 Graham Robinson:
The day to day was like an essential part of a prop mans kit is essentially a broom, and a blue roll, essentially a kitchen roll. And so, yeah.
10:59 Mike Battle:
You say that, though props is an interesting department because yes they are responsible for a quite a lot of admin. But it can be quite artistic as well, can’t it?
11:07 Graham Robinson:
Yes, just the little details. You get little moments, you have where I don’t know like if you’re on set and someone’s drinking a bottle of beer for example. You know, normally we get a bottle of beer out of the fridge and it’s cold and it’s got condensation and then it starts to drip.
But if you’re on a hot set and you’re doing this set for three hours in a day. You can get yourself a fridge together maybe, but if you’re on set it’s not as practical. For whatever in the reasons in the woods, in the middle of summer or something.
But yeah, you get like glycerin and a water bottle, and you spray it on the bottle and then the globules of water stay there and the bottle ends up in foreground. And, I don’t know it’s just little moments like that.
12:00 Mike Battle:
So to take a bit of a different tact, for up and comers who are thinking about moving into props perhaps. What do you think your advice would be to them that the future blue rollers coming up now hoping to be the next stand by prop man on fast and furious?
12:14 Graham Robinson:
Just to get lot’s of practical life experience. The more you know about life scenarios the better you’re gonna be on a film set.
12:25 Mike Battle:
Do you think it’s the being in props is a real kind of every man job where you could literally be asked anything. Have you been asked any particularly weird things over the years.
12:35 Graham Robinson:
Apart from having to battle with actors, not so much. To give them alcohol instead of fake drinks, I can’t really think of anything. But you get little moments where you’re like can you not just pour some vodka in the glass. You’re like no I can’t. Although this is England, anyway.
12:58 Mike Battle:
Perhaps the story for when not on a podcast. I was actually about to bring up Shane Meadows, because I would like to ask what was it like working on This is England together, because he’s a bit of a British legend these days isn’t he.
13:10 Graham Robinson
Yeah, he’s a bit of a, I see how a director in two ways, I guess like someone like formulaic textbook get it done follow the story board, take off the frames or whatever. Concentrate on the dialogue. But he just like does whatever. Sits in the room, chit chats with the actors until their on point with the tack or conversation he’s trying to get out of them. And then he goes I’m just trying to get through there basically turns the cameras on and they carry on.
And, just seeing it work like that is pretty amazing I guess.
13:49 Mike Battle:
Was it cool with something like This is England, to be involved with something that was a bit more regional in nature. Because historically, film and TV in England has been very London centric?
13:59 Graham Robinson:
Yeah, absolutely you feel just like a bit. Definitely more local rather than, it was low budget, it was just real story telling rather than lot’s of money and snazziness.
14:18 Mike Battle:
Is there something about your job that you wish the rest of the crew would understand, much like you were saying earlier where you get a bit of a buzz, particularly stand by props. Because, for anyone listening who doesn’t know you’re kind of people are often waiting. The whole crew is waiting for you to do your little bit. You’re right amongst things.
Is it to some extent a bit like your music, where you’re on stage, is there something that you know, the people get impatient with or you wish that people sort of got?
14:45 Graham Robinson:
People moving things on set all the time. So, if you’ve got like a lighting person that moves to get there job. Each department has their own agenda on a film set I suppose. But the problem is they are all working in and around the props and the set and you’re there to look after that and maintain it. Most people are quite respectful but some people aren’t.
15:19 Mike Battle:
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So remember speaking to a friend of mine a few years ago. Who I remember telling me-quote- she was working on this pretty small BBC thing called Killing Eve. Obviously it’s blown up to be what we all know today.
What was it like on the set for that first series?
16:00 Graham Robinson:
It was exciting in the sense that watching all those accents, being like, because you want to be entertained. But when you work 12 hours a day, 5 days a week you sometimes want to be entertained on set. That’s one of the things I love about the job.
You really, you reset the drink, or the food, or whatever, and they turn over, and you get out of the way. But sometimes you don’t go out the room. Sometimes you’re literally under the kitchen sink in the corner with your little reset ready to go.
And you’re like closer than the camera even to the actor. You just get to stare at them and watch them do their thing.
And yeah, doing that on Killing Eve was pretty cool cause all the accents Jodi did was just comical.
16:56 Mike Battle:
Does it make you appreciate acting more when you get to see it so close, closer than a camera?
17:01 Graham Robinson:
I appreciate acting because like I said it can be chaos. There can be one hundred people on a film set shouting I need this. All just trying to get it to work. All the sudden when it’s all lit, pretty, and ready to film. They go ok action and the actors just gotta turn it on even though it’s just been like ma chaotic scenario seconds before.
And you know having played in bands, and getting the old red light fear when you’re in the recording studio. They go okay we’re rolling, and you go oh shit I’ve got to do this now, I’ve got this drum solo. So yeah, you appreciate acting because of that.
17:52 Mike Battle:
I was going to ask speaking on actors and the prop role. Have you had any amusing moments onset with one of the cast, and action props over the years?
18:01 Graham Robinson:
I’ve been on set when the scene is the actors whips out a knife and slices a fly in half and then it breaks in half, drop on the able and there’s a little bit of blood. It’s to show how amazing this superhuman is.
We were all, we had to do a cutaway of a fly landing on the table. As you do. And so I had probed in my kit loads of half fly’s made by a prop maker. I had a little pipette of blood and I put a little pipette drop of blood on the fly and then I had to just drop it in the shot. On a closeup camera, on a macro, I think they call it.
Yeah I just found it hilarious. Because it’s like a thousand-pound unit, costing time, money and so apparent as it has in the film industry. And yeah you just realize you’re just knocking this little fly off the end of a knife into shot and they’re like no, no, no it’s no good left of the frame, right of the frame, in the middle of the frame. You need more blood, is that fly missing a leg.
And then you’re spending like half an hour with all of these people surrounding you just trying to get this little tiny fly cutaway. And it’s just hilarious.
19:33 Mike Battle:
Do you feel more pressure when you’ve got a multimillion pound unit looking at you dropping a fly, or when you were playing to thousands of people in a band? Which one’s easier?
19:45 Graham Robinson:
Uhhh, I don’t know. I prefer being in a band than working in film to put it that way.
19:55 Mike Battle:
Fair enough, to got back to some of the silly things that you have to deal with in props. You’ve had to work in period shows, one of which being really Scots produced to boo. Did you have to handle dead animals and the like? Because I’ve seen that show and there’s a hell of a lot of dead animals in it.
20:12 Graham Robinson:
Well, no animals we’re harmed in the making of this film and all that But yeah I had to slice open a few rabbits, and spray paint some cows, yeah.
20:23 Mike Battle:
Spray paint cows? Please elaborate.
20:24 Graham Robinson:
Well there was a moment on one like obviously you don’t always film things in order. So you might do the end of the film at the start of the shooting schedule. So sometimes when you shoot things you have to go back in time. And then you have a realization, continuity realization where it’s like oh shit.
So you have to match what you’ve already shot. And we did a cow being born, and it had particular white patches on it’s body. I forger why in the story it was a breeched birth.
Later on in the story, we had an actor holding the dead cow, calf as you call them. And it didn’t match and they were like it doesn’t match. So basically we had to get a can of white spray paint out and spray the cow so it had white patches. Which felt awful.
21:24 Mike Battle:
Interesting that’s really good behind the scenes content there. You mentioned continuity there, how does it play into your job? Is it something that film fans are slightly aware of and really, and one of my personal gripes is that those TV shows you see at Christmas always voiced by Robert Webb where he say’s the blooper rolls. And he says oh look here’s this thing in the background and this prop there and it’s obviously been on large set.
Having been on large sets, you know it’s impressive they even got that shot, let along being on the side of a coffee cup in it. How do you feel as a prop man yourself?
21:58 Graham Robinson:
Well yeah, it’s like continuity like a quite a tricky thing. It can be the reason you have a bad day or a good day at work sometimes. Yeah basically, the amount of time it takes to shoot one scene at different angles and you might break for lunch, and the other in between shooting it all. People are always moving it all, it’s hard to maintain it so mistakes are easily made in my opinion.
22:33 Mike Battle:
Do you have to, I don’t know how much about it works. Is it literally like a memory game where they have to hold the tray and then put the thing on top? Or is there a way of logging it?
22:41 Graham Robinson:
If you were good at that as kid. I don’t know what it was, if it was like health checks for kids when they were younger and you had to like look at a tray and take something away and you’d have to tell them what was missing.
If you’re good at that than you would be good at props yeah. It helps anyway for sure. I had a moment the other day where they were filming over a table and there’s a whiskey bottle in the frame and they go in closer. The whiskey bottle is in the way, so you take it out of the way for them and then they came back out still wide so you can see the table again. I was just looking at the monitor like yeah, it looks good, it looks fine, it looks fine.
Fuck whiskey bottle. Then you run in and go the whiskey bottle. And then they go well remembered Graham and then they carry on.
23:40 Mike Battle:
What other skills do you think are necessary for props?
23:45 Graham Robinson:
Thick skin, being able to deal with people shouting.
23:52 Mike Battle:
Do people shout at you at lot?
23:53 Graham Robinson:
Well it’s the creating of industries isn’t it. So some people are so in their creative world and that can be very sort of blinkered. As soon as you throw them off track by doing something, they might fly off the lid. And I mean I get it but sometimes you have to appreciate that someones been working for years to work on that set. Whereas for you it’s just another day at work.
So yeah there can be people that shout at times and you’ve just got to appreciate it.
24:29 Mike Battle:
I know you that recently you were out in Georgia filming for Fast and Furious nine that’s yet to come out. What was your experience like out there?
24:42 Graham Robinson:
It was amazing. I mean that films not come out yet so I can’t really say anything.
24:47 Mike Battle:
Yeah, of course. Graham Robinson stand by props reveal Fast and Furious plot.
24:55 Graham Robinson:
24:55 Mike Battle:
Yeah, but you know in a less descriptive way what’s it like, explain to listeners what the real set life is of filming those car chases. Cause it’s not exactly how you imaging in the glamour of the movies, is it?
25:09 Graham Robinson:
Yes, it can be super slow. I can be setting up, on that, on that job particularly we spent a whole day rehearsing the scenario. You’ve got so many different versions of the same car. You’ve got like eight version of the same car all with different engine sizes, so they slide around corners. Ones that have, you’ve got different stages in the story they ger beaten up or whatever.
One day we spend to so long rehearsing deciding which car we need where, that we actually didn’t film anything that day. Okay , we’ve got to the end of the day, so lets hit it hard tomorrow.
26:03 Mike Battle:
How does it compare being on those huge shows compared to some of the smaller films and TV that you’ve worked on cause it’s more of a recent phenomenon in your career isn’t it.
26:13 Graham Robinson:
Yeah, I suppose. You definitely give it, you’re definitely like this is a big exciting American action movie. But when it boils down to it, the job is exactly the same.
26:27 Mike Battle:
How did you find Georgia, I know that there expanding their filming quite a lot at the moment.
26:33 Graham Robinson:
Oh are they. I though that it was amazing, yeah. There’s something fascinating about hos former soviet countries that feel like they’re still waking up to free world.
26:44 Mike Battle:
That’s interesting, did you meet many of the locals?
26:46 Graham Robinson:
Yeah, absolutely. Had them all working along side us. They were super excited to be working on something like that in Georgie. I don’t think they see much of that kind of thing over there.
27:01 Mike Battle:
Very cool, it was interesting when I was writing your bio because I initially wrote propman Graham Robinson without really thinking cause it is a very traditional pretty male dominated area. Have you noticed more women in the department these days.
27:15 Graham Robinson:
Really not, there was one like considering there’s a billion people on Fast and Furious, I think there was literally one woman in the props department. So, yeah it’s definitely underrepresented in that respect.
27:30 Mike Battle:
Do you think that will change?
27:31 Graham Robinson:
I hope so. I suppose it’s down to maybe someone like me if we’ve got a trainee position for a job to find a woman rather than a man.
27:48 Mike Battle:
As well in terms of the future of the industry. How do effects affect your job, have you ever had to interact with any CGI, hand props, greenscreens and such?
28:00 Graham Robinson:
Absolutely you’ve always got like knives are a big one. You’ve always got like the original knife than you’ve got like a soft version of the knife, and sometimes you’ve got a half version of the knife. And then sometimes you’ve just got thew handle of t knife for various effects scenarios. Sometimes you’ve just got a green blade, or yeah you do a lot of the effects scenarios really.
28:30 Mike Battle:
That’s interesting, I know that you’re working on Pennyworth at the moment, how is covid playing in with your closeness in dealing with actors on set, and the rest of the crew? Cause everyone’s dealing with it in their own ways.
29:42 Graham Robinson:
You know, it’s I know I’ve felt like going back to work. I thought you now because they’re saying you’ve got to have a certain mask on when the actors are on set you know obviously you can’t have any contact.
Everyday you get given sides which are the script pages you’re doing that day so you can have a flip through and remind yourself.
And then ad have put them all into plastic wallets so they don’t touch you. They come and tip from the plastic wallet the tips into your hand.
Anyways, so when I’m doing drinks or cigarettes I’m like this is like I’m dealing with actor’ saliva here this is covid central. I’m touching the glass that they’re going to put in their mouth its like oh my god I’ve got such a covid responsibility. So no literally I’ve got like a sanitizing station. And then once it’s been sanitized you take it with, like being a surgeon you know, pass me the scissors.
29:54 Mike Battle:
Just like a surgeon. He wishes. I was going t ask. We touched on it earlier. As a northerner yourself, do you feel like the rest of the country might expand production the same way London has? Because it’s quite a hot topic at the moment. Particularly with comedies like channel four trying to push more regional work. I know you’ve moved to London now, but what’s your opinion on that?
30:20 Graham Robinson:
Yeah, there is totally expanding. It’s getting bigger and bigger. Location to location, and the Lake district has got the most dramatic impact in the country, or maybe way up into Scotland. I don’t know that as well. But, you know you can’t get a similar scenario down south so you’re always going to get things going to these places.
But the big, the reason I stay in London is the big big studios are based mainly here. So the tastier work is still favored down here. But it will move up north yes.
31:03 Mike Battle:
Now before we move onto the final question, I have one more questions which is is there one thing you would like to change about the industry.
31:09 Graham Robinson:
Probably the hours, just extend the job and can we do a short day please.
31:15 Mike Battle:
Good answer. Now as a final thing on Red Carpet Rookies, I like to do a questionnaire which is my own version of the In the Actor’s Studio questionnaire, if you’ve ever watched that. And it’s quick fire so just say whatever comes into your head. Are you ready?
31:28 Graham Robinson:
31:29 Mike Battle:
Number 1, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
31:32 Graham Robinson:
Just do it now
31:37 Mike Battle:
Number 2, do you have a favorite film?
31:38 Graham Robinson:
Dazed and Confused
31:39 Mike Battle:
Alright, alright, alright. Number three, what gives you a reason to get up for a early call time, if one exists?
31:45 Graham Robinson:
The bike ride to work
31:49 Mike Battle:
Number 4, which industry would you do if you weren’t doing yours?
31:51 Graham Robinson:
31:55 Mike Battle:
Interesting answer, number 5, if you could work with one person living or dead who would it be?
31:58 Graham Robinson:
32:00 Mike Battle:
Good answer. Number 6, what is a book that everyone should read?
32:05 Graham Robinson:
Mr. Tickle from the (32:10) range.
32:10 Mike Battle:
You’re like Jeremy in peep show, always reading Mr. Nice. Final question, if you won an Oscar who would you thank?
32:19 Graham Robinson:
My girlfriend Mindi.
32:23 Mike Battle:
Great stuff, thank you so much to Graham for joining me today. It’s been fantastic to hear your tales of rock stardom as well as your skills with a broomstick. And advice for future prop people of the business.
Thank you again, for listening to another episode of Red Carpet Rookies to keep updated, you can follow Red Carpet Rookies on Instagram or Facebook. Rookies pod on twitter, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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