The cover of his memoir They Don’t Pay Me To Say No: My Life in Film and Television Props is a picture of prop master Dean Goodine on the Longview, Alta., set of the 2000 TV film The Virginian with Diane Lane and Bill Pullman. He has what appears to be a stiff, full-grown cow slung over his shoulder. It was not a real corpse, it just played one on TV. It was for a scene when Lane’s school teacher character arrives in the rugged west to begin a new life and sees a cow lying dead in the grass.
That prop, presumably much more lightweight than the real thing, was built for the film by one of Goodine’s talented co-workers. As a veteran props master for film and television, Goodine is used to the question: What is the weirdest prop you have been asked to find? Turns out, this fake bovine doesn’t even close.
He doesn’t name names, but the Calgary native apparently once worked for another filmmaker who was “obsessed with dead things” and would constantly have to be reminded that it is actually against the law to kill animals to shoot a film or TV show in Canada. Nevertheless, this director upped the ante by asking Goodine if he could track down a real human corpse. Unsurprisingly, using a real-life human corpse is also very illegal.
“That’s always the one that comes back to me when someone asks ‘What is the strangest thing you’ve been asked for?'” says Goodine, 62, in an interview with Postmedia from his home in British Columbia. “A real dead body. That is the strangest thing. That trumps everything. What else could there be beyond being asked to provide a dead body?”
To be clear, the filmmaker had to settle for Goodine’s suggestion that a stunt person in makeup is used instead.
“When someone donates their body to science, it’s not to be used naked in a ditch with a bullet hole in its head,” he told the director.
It is just one of many amusing anecdotes found in Goodine’s self-published memoir, which chronicles his life working in the props department for numerous film and TV productions in Alberta, B.C. and around the world.
With the increased use of non-disclosure agreements in film and TV production, not all of the stories have names attached. There is nevertheless no shortage of star power in They Don’t Pay Me to Say No as Goodine talks about his experiences on sets alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson, John Candy, legendary filmmaker John Frankenheimer and director Barry Sonnenfeld.
But it’s also an illuminating look at a unique job that is often misunderstood and mysterious to those outside the industry. Explaining what those in the props department do is a message Goodine sees as all the more urgent in recent months after the fatal accident on the set of the Alec Baldwin western Rust that involved a misfiring prop gun.
As with most behind-the-scenes jobs on movie and television sets, acquiring specific props is infinitely more complicated than most people would suspect. It’s a job that involves endless research, ingenuity, perseverance, pavement pounding and an obsession for on-set safety.
“What I hope the public comes away with is that there’s a little department that nobody knows about,” he says. “If you didn’t have it there, there would be nothing in an actor’s hands and nothing for them to interact with. They would all be wearing nice clothes. They would all be on fantastic sets and they would be lit well and shot well, but they would have nothing to actually work with because we are the people that give them all their action. We put the action in the actors’ hands in the movie.”
In the book, Goodine talks about tracking down some obscure items. For a low-budget 1989 film called Where the Spirit Lives, he was tasked with finding a 1950s-era Beaver De Havilland float plane that could land on Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta. Through plenty of sleuthing, he found one owned by a pilot improbably named Johnny Midget who lived on Mosquito Lake in Saskatchewan. For the First World War scenes in the 1994 epic Legends of the Fall, the production needed specific German cannons from the period that could still fire. Goodine’s first call was to the National War Museum in Ottawa, where he received a lengthy and condescending lecture about the impossibility of finding such operational cannons in Canada. But Goodine and others in the prop department tracked them down. He cold-called the Gleichen Legion after hearing rumours they had a Krupp 77 and spoke to a confused barmaid who eventually acknowledged that there was an “old gun” on the premises. A deal was struck.
For the 2000 TV movie Children of Fortune, James Brolin played an agent with the Naval Investigative Service. Goodine called Washington to inquire about the design possibilities for a prop NCIS badge. The curiously co-operative special agent on the line loved the idea that a TV movie was being made about NCIS – this was years before the Mark Harmon series – and suggested they use the real thing. The problem was regulations didn’t allow badges to be shipped and Goodine didn’t have the time or budget to go pick them up at the nearest field office in Seattle. So the agent personally flew them in from Washington to Calgary – all on the American taxpayers’ dime – so Brolin would have an authentic badge for the film. He arrived on set at Western Canada High School in the middle of the night to hand deliver them.
For Christopher Nolan’s mega-budgeted 2010 film Inception, Goodine was brought on for what he thought would be a relatively cozy job handling the ski props for the stunt team. At one point, star Leonardo DiCaprio’s boots wouldn’t clasp in the skis, which may seem a fairly minor setback. But the cast and crew, including Nolan, were all atop Fortress Mountain in Kananaskis Country and ready set to shoot a high-octane action sequence that involved a helicopter. Time was of the essence and everyone was staring at Goodine, including DiCaprio. Realizing it had been nearly two decades since he had adjusted ski bindings, he quickly remembered the actor had been fitted for two pairs and quickly went to fetch the others. When the boots clasped into place, the film’s prop master, Scott Maginnis, was so impressed with this efficiency that he ordered Goodine to abandon his cushy job as “ski-shop prop guy number five” and spend the next nine days on the snowy, frigid mountain.
“It was the best nine days,” he says. “I’m glad I didn’t work in the ski shop because I had the best time up there.”
Born in Plaster Rock, N.B., Goodine eventually headed west after high school to work on an oil drilling rig. But in the 1980s, he entered Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s cinema, television, stage, and radio program. Before he even graduate he began landing work in Calgary. The first person he met on his first film set – for a low-budget TV series called Hamilton’s Quest – was a set-dresser named Janice, who he eventually married.
Goodine and Janice Blackie-Goodine have worked on a number of film sets together. But a turning point for both their careers and for the Alberta film industry, in general, was 1992’s Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood’s revisionist western was nominated for nine Oscars, including one for best art direction that Blackie-Goodine shared with legendary production designer Henry Bumstead, and helped re-establish Alberta as the go-to location for westerns. Goodine has worked with several renowned directors – including the notoriously autocratic John Frankenheimer for 1989’s Dead Bang and 1990’s The Fourth War – but he said Eastwood oversaw an incredibly calm, efficient and collaborative set.
“I took that set with me the rest of my career,” Goodine says.
On the first day that Gene Hackman arrived in Alberta to play the sadistic Sheriff Little Bill Daggett, Goodine was asked to deliver his character’s badge, gun and holster. Goodine was there when Hackman walked up to Eastwood and admitted he was having trouble understanding his character. Eastwood said he should think about Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who was mired in controversy at the time due to the Rodney King beating. Hackman seemed to immediately understand. He would go on to win an Oscar for his role.
“The thing about props is we are flies on the wall for everything,” Goodine says. “We’re invited into those private fittings or when they are blocking scenes. We’re always there in the first moments of the character being developed.”