Bit Parts Brook Yeaton, 'The Prop Man of Maryland,' has just what filmmakers are looking for

September 23, 1997|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

The hours can be kind of crazy on this job. No, the hours can be very crazy. What else can you say about a workday that can start at 7 p.m. -- a time when most folks are sitting down for dinner -- and continue until 7 the following morning?

The hours seesaw between days and nights. The job can be right here in Baltimore, or in Boston or over on the left coast. "I don't think I will ever get used to the schedule," says Brook Yeaton. "But it's worth it. I can sleep when I'm 40."

When you're "The Prop Man of Maryland," you go along with the flow.

When Brook Yeaton goes to work, he isn't toting a briefcase. What he takes with him to get the job done is, well, bizarre. We're talking eerily lifelike props: bloodied heads, hairy arms and legs that are no longer attached to bodies, daggers, guns and the like.

Of course, sometimes it's tame stuff, like old newspapers or clothes. "It can be anything that is hand-held or specifically mentioned in the script. And it can be small special effects like steam and smoke," says Yeaton, a Baltimore native who has been in the business for almost a dozen years.

What does he use all this stuff for? "The severed head is from a 'Homicide' episode and the stake is from [the movie] 'Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,' " he says.

Yeaton, a handsome enough fellow who looks as if he belongs in front of the camera, is doing pretty well. Well enough that he recently bought a large -- at least by Baltimore rowhouse standards -- home in Canton.

"I am very lucky that way," says Yeaton about his ability to support himself full-time as a prop person. "I think there are thousands throughout the country. And I think almost every major metropolitan area has one good one."

He looks a little tired now as he sits in his spotless living room. It's a Friday, early evening, and he is about an hour away from starting his workday.

For a man who collects all sorts of weird props, the home itself is traditionally and tastefully furnished. Gleaming hardwood floors. Exposed brick. Traditional dining room set and furniture. He prefers to live simply and with a minimal amount of clutter, to leave work at the "office." In this case the "office" is a large storage facility and a five-ton truck full of props.

"When I'm at home, I do not want to have to worry about cleaning things," he says.

Yeaton, 29, did not actually study how to be a prop man. He is a graduate of Boys' Latin school in Baltimore County and did a short stint at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. He has a degree in directing and independent film production from the Hollywood Film Institute.

He grew up around movie types and picked up the trade along the way. He is the son of Chuck Yeaton and Pat Moran -- John Waters' longtime friend and casting director. Moran is also casting director for the television show "Homicide: Life on the Street."

"I've known John Waters for more years than he [Yeaton] has been alive," Moran says of her son. "He grew up on sets. Divine was his godfather."

Yeaton didn't actually express a desire to be in show business while he was growing up, his mother says. "He was just always very arts-driven. As a family, we always went on vacations up to Provincetown, Mass. And I remember one time when he was about 9 or 10, we were in Provincetown, and Divine was appearing there. Well, he went around getting things together for Divine. Not knowing that he was propping. He was helping his godfather."

Yeaton's first foray into the movie business was as a teen-ager at the Charles Theater. "I shoveled popcorn from ages 15 to 18 there," he says.

He struck up a friendship with the theater's projectionist and expressed an interest in that job. "But he told me: 'Don't show movies. Make them.' "

Yeaton does plan on taking that advice one day, but for now, he's made a name for himself as a prop man, something he's been doing for the last 11 years.

To be a successful good prop person takes "organization, good rapport and a creative eye," says Vince Peranio, the production designer for "Homicide."

"I remember Brook being born, and I think of myself as one of his mentors," says Peranio. "He is excellent at it."

"He is the prop man of Maryland," says long-time friend Heidi Willis. "He is a fun person who grew up in the industry. He is really Generation X in his thinking."

His industry contacts, and his talent, helped him along the way. The first movie he received a credit for was Waters' "Hairspray." Since then, the movies he supplied props for include "The Lawnmower Man," "Freddy's Dead" and "House Party." Yeaton recently went up to Boston to supply the props for a yet-to-be-released movie starring Martin Sheen. And when the hit TV show "The X-Files" filmed a segment in Baltimore about a month ago, the producers turned to Yeaton for the props.

"Apparently, they surfed the Internet and found my name," says Yeaton, who provided police props and did some research for the show.

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