The View magazine hooked up with Nicole Sofer, a New York-based prop stylist. We talk about her role and involvement in the entire production process, how she got into the business, challenges, favorite projects, and the difference between when she just started and today.
TV: Tell us about your amazing job.
NS: My work is a collaboration with a creative team, which can involve as few as 1-2 people and up to 10 plus! You can’t always be sure how many cooks are in the kitchen behind the scenes at an executive level, (primarily for advertising) but essentially, in the pre-production mode, several conversations are around evolving layouts, during which I offer both creative and logistical input on sets and props. I then shop and coordinate with set builders, model makers, etc. if needed. I even work with a guy who is my “ice guy”. It’s a lot of footwork, fully understanding the vision of the final execution, and yet still providing as many curated options for props, be it flowers, food, furniture, accessories, background surfaces, taxidermy, or live animals. Any object that exists or doesn’t quite exist, I am responsible for providing it, presenting ample options, and then collaborating with the photographer on set to tweak the arrangement of these items in the various shot compositions.
TV: Have you always wanted to become a prop stylists? How did the road look like for you?
NS: I started out working as an assistant for big beauty brands, focusing on designer fragrances. I always loved beauty and fashion, but I really had no idea where this was going to lead. I was lucky enough to assist an amazing creative director, and she really helped me get my foot in the door with styling. A photographer who shot the bottles for our campaigns introduced me to a stylist who was looking for an assistant. After almost five years in the corporate world, I quit my job and starting assisting. That was it!
TV: What would you say are the biggest challenges for a prop stylist? How do you deal with them?
NS: It can be challenging sometimes if we don’t have enough time to prep a job, but you just have to get it done! When you’re on set shooting, it can be difficult to prep the next job, so I rely on my amazing assistants to help me through this. Also, since it is freelance work you have to be ok with not working every single day. As hard as it can be, you can’t spend that first big check either. You never know when your next job will be, so you really have to be careful with how you spend your money.
TV: Can you share a bit about your workflow?
NS: I’m usually working on 2-4 jobs at a time. For the most part, the jobs last about one week. I will prep for one or two days, shoot, work on the billing, then it’s on to the next! I love the workflow and that it’s different from week to week.
TV: What kind of productions are your favorite?
NS: I’m really fortunate that I get to work with beauty products that I actually use and accessories that I want to own. I love working with make-up doing textures, which is what we call ‘product in play’. It is literally taking different types of cosmetics, creams, nail enamel, etc., and really using them as a medium for beautiful smears, smudges or pours in a still or moving image setting, as opposed to being applied, as in beauty shoots, to an actual model. That is a lot of fun. I also love working with my model maker on custom projects. I recently worked on the Barney’s catalog which was a dream of mine and a goal I had when I first started. Not a bad day at work to get your hands on such beautiful bags, shoes and jewelry!
TV: According to you, what are the biggest differences in the industry between the past and present, and how does this affect your job?
NS: We were barely texting when I started assisting, so with the iPhones now, it’s much easier to take pictures of props and send them to clients for approval. That’s made things easier, but also people expect things a lot sooner too! Now that everything is on the Internet, that’s changed how we all shop. I used to carry a resource book around to find vendors, and I learned all the secret places from the stylists I assisted. Google has taken all that away. Social Media shoots are regularly happening now, which is a new thing.
TV: How does the future of this industry look like, will we still have loads of still images, or do you think motion pictures will grab a large bite of that?
NS: I don’t think photography is going anywhere. It looks better than anything. I just hope relying too much on retouching doesn’t ruin the integrity of a beautiful shot.
TV: Who should we really interview next?
NS: My wonderful friend, Mindi Smith, a fashion stylist focusing on kids. She’s awesome!
TV: Thanks Nicole for sharing these great insights!
Check out more of her work.
Images by Richard Pierce, Matthew Chaves and Darrin Haddad.