Zach Smith lives a surreal life. As a set dresser and property master for television and film blockbusters, his work involves turning the commonplace into the bizarre and hyper-real. All day long, he plays dress up, working long hours to meticulously produce fantastical futuristic universes and magical landscapes. One has to be incredibly detail-oriented to do the rigorous work of creating settings that appear so natural you would have never guessed it was filmed inside a large warehouse studio down by Toronto’s lakeshore. Fog rolling across grimy cement and puddles that pick up the reflection of neon dilapidated signs, alleyways littered with garbage and dumpsters layered with posters – this is where Zach’s hand is most evident. He creates scenes that set a particular mood that blends effortlessly with the action and storyline. Nasty working environments and backbreaking labour make this particular choice of career in the film business unglamorous, never mind tricky to sustain. And yet Zach has been playing a cool hand in the biz for over 15 years, making Toronto his home base (working on the set of Covert Affairs). He continues to build upon his hefty cv, which includes Key On Set Dresser for Warehouse 13, Assistant Prop Master on Season two of Nikita, Set Dresser for the pilot episode of Beauty and the Beas, and Major Set Dresser on the soon-to-be-released movies, Pacific Rim and RoboCop.

A self-described aging hipster, Smith was originally drawn to the film industry because it provided him a means to sustain a burgeoning Hip Hop career. It also helped that he grew up firmly rooted in the biz. His dad, sis, and mom have all worked in the industry as actors and property masters. But 15 years ago, you would have found Smith battling Mocha Only on the streets of Vancouver as his alter ego Bonzi, a moniker his mother gave him way back in the day when he was just a skateboarding punk cruising down the streets of the Beaches. “I wanted to be the next Eminem,” he confesses, sourcing the artist as one of his major influences in the credits of his 2012 self-titled album.  After leaving University to study at the Harrison School of Music in Toronto, a series of fortunate events led him to settle down in Toronto just a few blocks from where he grew up. Film projects, and now his two kids and babelicious wife shape his life, admitting that Yo Gabba Gabba (a show for kids) was the last concert he attended.

Balance is a major quality he strives for, admitting that it’s a tough one to achieve.  Working in film while maintaining a “normal lifestyle” is difficult – but who wants normal, anyway? Zach brings the freshness and energy of old school Hip Hop to his every day life; it just looks different from that glossy record deal he had been coveted back in the 90s. Working 80 hours a week and considering himself lucky if he gets to take a shower and eat a piece of sushi, Zach rolls with the punches and works it out. And if he gets the chance to have dinner with his honey of a wife and ridiculously adorable kids, well then, things just got real romantic.

WORDS: LAUREN CULLEN
PHOTOS: ISAAC ZELUNKA