Meet the Crew: Sean Mannion – Prop Master

Posted by Greg on June 23, 2015 at 10:07 am
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Sean Mannion on the set of Aloha. Dec., 2013. Picture courtesy of Andy Fischer. © 2015 The Uncool.

Sean Mannion on the set of Aloha. Dec., 2013. Picture courtesy of Andy Fischer. © 2015 The Uncool.

Sean Mannion has been working in the film industry for twenty-five years. His career began in the late eighties and includes all types of genres. His resume includes working extensively with filmmakers such as Judd Apatow and recent Marvel hits like Thor 2: Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy. Aloha is his first film with Cameron. 

Tell us your breaking in story…

I was a Production Assistant (PA) and my very first job was to sit on a generator beneath an overpass. I was directed to jump up and down, yell and wave at cars coming around a blind bend to get them to avoid hitting the generator. I spent twelve hours on the generator. Twelve hours of jumping up and down and waving. The shooting crew was shooting above, on top of the overpass. When lunch was called, they made me stay down there to keep protecting the generator. They sent my lunch down to me in a bucket dropped by a rope. I continued to wave with sandwich in hand. As I ate my cold sandwich, I thought, “Well, no place to go but up.”

You’ve worked on quite a few of Apatow’s productions (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny PeopleBridesmaids, etc.). What was that experience like?

Working on an Apatow film is like working with family. A family that talks about vulgar things all the time. Judd does have an incredible loyalty to his people so the great thing is we get to work with the same people from film to film. It really is like a family. And we laugh a lot all day. The stuff on those sets are very funny. Tough to keep it together sometimes during takes.

This is your first Cameron Crowe film, right?

Yes. This is my first Cameron Crowe film where I’m not seated in a dark theater eating popcorn and milk duds.


Sean goes over the scene with Cameron on the set of Aloha. Nov, 2013. © 2015 The Uncool.

What’s your experience been like so far on Aloha?

It was much like walking into an Apatow production only I was the new kid. Cameron is a lot like Judd in the way he brings in the same crew from film to film. I’ve worked on other films where the crews have worked repeatedly with a director and a lot of times it’s kind of a closed club. Not very welcoming to the new guy. Nothing was further from the truth on Aloha. All of the Crowe veterans welcomed me in immediately and really made me feel like I had been with them for years. Certainly one of the best working environments and experiences of my career.

Do you shop locally for unique props for the film or are most things already planned out long before?

Always a mixture on any film and this was no different. Whatever we could do locally we would, but because of the military nature of the film much of that had to be shipped in from the mainland. With Cameron, things were fluid so we had to be ready for whenever creative changes came. That could be tough, but also it’s the fun part. Cameron was often thinking of new things and it was always satisfying to come up with what he was looking for. So we could plan but we had to ready for whenever an audible is called. I also want to give a special shout out to Michael Glynn, Assistant Prop Master, too. His help on Aloha and all the films we’ve worked on together for the past twelve years has been invaluable. I would not have have been as successful without his help working side by side all these years.

Are you always on the lookout for props? Do you frequent garage sales, flea markets, etc?

When I’m not working, I’m usually drunk in an alley somewhere. That’s what most prop guys do…I think. You’d better check with other guys, that might just be me.

Is there a “holy grail item” you are always searching for?

Inner peace. Stll looking for that.

Favorite props for Aloha so far?

Brian Gilcrest’s (Bradley Cooper) bag for sure. That was so important to his character and one that was so significant to Cameron. The Gilcrest stickers on the laptop. Those were such a collaborative process. From Cameron to Clay Griffith to the amazing work that Ellen Lampl did making almost all of them from scratch. Then Cameron and I sitting in the Royal Aloha Hotel set figuring the correct placement one by one. In my first meeting Cameron told me the stickers were going to be one of the most important props in the film. And they were. A simple thing like the tape and lightning bold on Mitchell Woodside’s (Jaeden Lieberher) camera was satisfying. It was something that I probably overthought, with far too many options and then Cameron, very simply, did this drawing of a lightning bold on a blue piece of tape. The simplicity of that kinda blew me away.


Sean at the Hickam Air Force Base with a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor in the background. Dec, 2013. Picture courtesy of Andy Fischer. © 2015 The Uncool.

How about your favorite locations?

Hickam Air Force Base. How great is it that we got to spend two months with all that access to such a historic place. Everywhere you went was an enormous sense of history. I never lost that feeling. The military house for Tracy and Woody. A neighborhood of 33 homes that have been there since 1916. If you can’t get excited and moved about being allowed in amazing places like that then you really shouldn’t be making movies.

Yes! That neighborhood is amazing and part of historic Fort Kamehameha. In addition, the amount of detail in Tracy and Woody’s house is amazing. Who is responsible for that crazy detail?

I bow at the feet of the art and set decoration departments. One of the best sets I’ve worked on. Hats off to all of them, led by Clay Griffith and Wayne Shepard

What has your favorite film project been so far and why?

Hard to say. So many great experiences for so many reasons. One of the best times I ever had was on Wanderlust. But I’ll settle on my video taping my daughter’s birth as my most favorite.

You wrapped up work on Thor: The Dark World right before Aloha. Your first super hero film!

It was fun playing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unfortunately, the way we make so many Hollywood movies these days, the principle photography is shot in England and then they come back to the U.S. for additional shooting. That was the case on Thor. Although we wound up working on it for almost three months, the heavy lifting was done in Britain. I like to take pride in that with our help, we might have helped fix whatever problems the film had. But all the credit for manufacturing all those outstanding props goes to Barry Gibbs. Yes, Barry Gibbs.

You’re a filmmaker in our own right. You wrote and directed your own short, Hooray for Hollywood. Tell us about that.

Back on David O. Russell’s I Heart Huckabees, I wrote a short, real short, five page script idea and showed it to Lily Tomlin. She loved it and I asked her if she’d be interested in doing it. She didn’t hesitate and we shot her scene literally 20 minutes after I wrote it. I then asked the entire cast if they would participate as well. The result was a ten minute short called David’s Dog. While working on Rumor Has It, I mentioned it to Richard Jenkins, who had worked on “Huckabees”. He watched it and came in the next day and told me I had to do one on Rumor Has It with that cast. Hooray for Hollywood was the result. It was a crazy idea based on an extra who one day thought he should come over to video village and start chatting with Shirley MacLaine and Rob Reiner. I quickly sat and wrote a ten page script and all the actors along with Rob agreed to be in it. We wound up with a fifteen minute short. Even Kevin Costner got into doing it. It was great fun to do. I did another one with the cast of Fast and Furious. I have a blast doing them and I’m always amazed how willing the actors are to participate.

You also made your acting debut in Get Him to the Greek as the Today Show sound guy, right?

I Actually made my acting debut in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, but never made it past the cutting room floor. As a matter of fact, Judd, up until This Is 40, stuck me in each of the films he directed, all with the same result. Less about my acting than his poor editing choices, I think. But you’ll have to ask him. I never made it to the credits because I was cut out of each one. I finally got a credit on Greek but shooting went long the day of my scene and they didn’t actually get to shoot my scene that day. I was relegated to being just a background guy in a couple of scenes. My credit in all reality should have been changed to “Today Show Guy watching Jonah Hill knock over a light”. Now that I think about it, I should check and see if Judd called Nick Stoller and told him not to waste the film.


Sean swallows up a plane on the set of Aloha. Dec, 2013. Picture courtesy of Andy Fischer. © 2015 The Uncool.

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