With filming on Season 4 of “The Walking Dead” now under way, we heard from Props Master John Sanders, who talks about the strangest items he’s found for the show and a new method of killing walkers that he has in store for Season 4.
Q: As the guy in charge of all the props, what are some staples that bear your mark?
A: The new crossbow for Daryl — I altered that one for the show. I took Norman [Reedus] to a bow range for him to shoot. I was kind of showing off with the guys there, and I was showing him some of the top-end crossbows. I let him shoot the Stryker 380, and once he shot that, he had me take pictures of him and had me send them to the producers, and immediately it got in the works that we wanted him to have it.
Michonne’s sword I actually helped design between Season 2 and Season 3. I used some friends of mine at United Cutlery to help me. I knew it was a huge piece in the show, so I wanted to make something really iconic and add some elements that are really closer to my heart. The triple goddess and the trinity of life; those things are important to me in my life and close to my wife.
Q: Do you find the actors getting attached to their characters’ weapons?
A: Andy [Lincoln] is very specific about the Python. He wants that gun on him every second of the day, when he can have it. He stays on set most of the time, so we pretty much let him walk around with that gun and keep that in-character feel all day long. Norman always carries his knife all day long, same thing. And when he has the crossbow or the motorcycle, he likes to be in character also. Michael Rooker, when he died, really wanted his bayonet prosthetic. Everybody wants a little memento, especially big character things, but we can’t really let them go.
Q: There are certain situations where you use rubber guns and knives. Does that mean there are particular situations when you use real knives and real guns?
A: Whenever you see an actor by themselves, and they’re going to be in a close-up and any kind of weapon is going to come close to them, they have the real thing. And then when we cut around to the back of them, or around to the side, based on the situation, we’ll switch between those other weapons to keep the safety factor.
Q: What was the strangest thing you’ve found and used as a prop on “The Walking Dead”?
A: For the teapot that Milton used last season, I bought [several] different teapots, and then my assistant found one that released tea from the bottom. It had this little stand, you put it over the top of teacups, and you just press the button. I think we went through about 20 teapots before we found that one.
Q: In a video for AMC you talk about the characters’ prop bags. If you had to give yourself a “prop bag” to survive in the apocalypse, what would be in it?
A: Well, I’ve had this stainless steel Rolex that I bought when I first prop mastered a job in 1989. I bought this watch as a kind of a “You finally got here, kid” kind of thing. I have worn it on every set I’ve been on, so that would certainly be in here. If I could get my wedding ring off, I would probably put that in there. And a pair of sunglasses because I wear these Oakley sunglasses; I just love them. And of course, like everybody, my phone is my life in the film business, so that would certainly be in my prop bag. A picture of my wife; she’d probably be happy if I had that in there, too.
Q: What kind of weapons can fans look forward to in Season 4?
A: My favorite implement will be this season. I’ve been waiting for two years, trying to talk to Greg Nicotero about doing this to a walker, and he saw it this year and just jumped on it. I can’t really tell you what it is, but I can tell you it’s going to be the craziest thing on the show yet. What I can say is that walkers are going to get killed in newer ways this year than any other year before.