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My design degree led me to a career in Game of Thrones

An introduction from one of the Heads of School at Ulster University to a contact working on a film production in Belfast, has led to former Product and Furniture Design student working on a multi award winning TV series.

Stephanie Rea tells Scroll about her journey to becoming a props buyer for Game of Thrones.

What degree did you do at Ulster University?

BDes (HONS) Product and Furniture Design

Current job title

Props Buyer NI for the TV series Game of Thrones.

How did you get into this industry?

I have always had a particular interest for Theatre, TV and Film set decoration and creating physical models as a way of illustrating my designs. During second year at university, my Head of School introduced me to a contact working on a film production in Belfast. After meeting this contact, I was offered a position within the props model-making department on the feature film ‘City of Ember.’ That job was the start of a 10 year uninterrupted career in the theatre, TV and film industry. Over the years, my positions have consisted of trainee model-maker, greens coordinator, props buyer and assistant set decorator.

Tell me a little about your position and what you do on a day to day basis.

Stephanie is pictured here on various sets of Game of Thrones and top right with Rob Cameron, Set Decorator.
Stephanie is pictured here on various sets of Game of Thrones and top right with Rob Cameron, Set Decorator.

As a Props Buyer in the filming industry, every day is different. The role of Props Buyer NI is multifaceted and incorporates research, purchasing of action props, dressing props and fabrics, assisting the Set Decorator and dressing sets. Each specific set must authentically represent a dramatic period so attention to detail is key. Every prop, no matter how insignificant it may seem, needs to accurately reflect the drama and storyline and fit well within the overall set.

For Game of Thrones sets props can vary enormously. Often times bespoke and ‘live’ items used for set dressing need to be commissioned; it is simply not possible to purchase such props. The work requires me to identify, commission and work with artisans including glass artists, ceramicists, carpenters, metal workers, painters, home economists and animal wranglers as well as media professionals including the production director, assistant directors and actors.

What do you love most about your job?

It is great being able to let my creative juices flow when interpreting sets in response to the writer’s script and the director’s ideas. It is also rewarding to see our hard work being recognised through the film industry’s Emmy Awards. I am so fortunate to work with incredibly creative production designers and set decorators and I get to know and work alongside some really inspirational people, the ‘stars’, not all of whom appear on screen! For me, the greatest satisfaction is in seeing a set come to life, which normally comes in two stages, during filming and when seen on screen or television.

What advice would you give someone seeking a job like this?

The film industry can be a difficult one to get in to. It is competitive, you need to be prepared to travel and work long hours but having said all that, if you are dedicated and determined, it is incredibly rewarding. My advice is simple. Never give up, grab every opportunity you can and work hard to achieve your goals.

What skills are needed for a role like this?

Creativity is essential. A wide knowledge of interior, product and furniture design and good contact list of suppliers goes a long way. Try to take inspiration from everything you read, see and experience. Always try to think outside the box and learn from those around you. You need to be able to work as part of a team, have integrity and be able to keep things confidential. Keeping plot-lines secret is non-negotiable.

Competition must be fierce for a job like this. How did you set yourself apart?

There are many talented people in this industry so I don’t know what specifically sets me apart from the others. Perhaps it was that from early on in my career I showed that I could work as part of team. This is a valuable trait as sometimes it is those other team members that end up bringing out the best in you.

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Interested in a design course with Ulster University?

Ulster University has a wide range of design courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level including, Product and Furniture design, Interactive Multimedia Design, Art & Design and more.

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