Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Priorities - Feed the Beast (Catering and Craft Services)

There are points in the chronicles of the films I've worked on that I think it's appropriate to address a production issue at greater length, or expand on a point made in one of the production posts. This will be one of those posts.  I refer to these posts as "Priorities," the things we need to focus on in production.

Napoleon said that an army marches on it's stomach. A film crew is nothing if not a small army.

My "priorities" series has covered serious subjects like script supervisor coverage and set safety. At first glance, the issue of feeding cast and crew does not rise to the same level of importance.

Or does it?

Of all the things I have seen go badly or be mishandled on a set, what should be the simplest, feeding the crew, seems to often be one of the biggest causes of grief.

Let us start with some basics.

On union crew sets, or sets with reasonable budget, catering and craft services should not be an issue. In this article, I will address problems on low-budget film sets.

This entire blog is named after the wonderful film satire on low-budget films, Living in Oblivion, which appropriately opens at dawn. After the issue of 'where to park the grip truck' is addressed, the next question that comes up is about the age of the milk being used for coffee, a question that later impacts a crucial scene when the DP gets sick.

In the digital era, where many of the things we took for granted on a film set are no longer true, the following has become a laughable addendum to many a Craigslist or Mandy notice for crew where pay is minimal or non-existent.

"Food and transportation provided." Variations tell of great food being offered.

All of these notices miss a basic point, which is that providing meals on a film set is not a courtesy, it is an obligation.

Let me repeat this.

Providing meals on a film set is not a courtesy, it is an obligation.

What newbie producers fail to understand is that unlike your traditional nine-to-five office job, the cast and crew on a film set cannot decide that they prefer a noon lunch to a one-o'clock lunch, or whether they should go fast food or brown bag it. A film cast and crew is hostage to the production schedule; they eat when and where production decides.

This may mean they are in the middle of a remote area, or breaking for lunch at 3AM. Lunch on non-union sets is often a half-hour from last man (crew, not production) through the line, and rarely a full hour.

If properly arranged, this meal happens no later than six hours from the end of breakfast, or whatever passes as the meal when cast and crew arrives on set.

This means that production is, and should be, responsible for the meals provided. That includes deference to food allergies and dietary concerns, including vegetarians.

Let us get this straight. Salad, alone, does not constitute a vegetarian option, and if your other "vegetarian" option is a dairy-based pasta, you are failing to realize that dairy-based foods are heavy and poor choices for an intermediary meal; that many people beyond childhood are lactose-intolerant, and that dairy is an animal product, not appropriate for vegans.

Again, if you were on most traditional jobs where an hour lunch of the employee's choosing were the norm, this would be the problem of the employee. Because you are determining the where and when of meals, this is your responsibility.

First meal, or "lunch," which can happen at some very un-lunch-like times, must be a hot meal. That excludes cold cuts and tuna sandwiches. Again, folks, remember that the crew, especially those folks carrying that heavy equipment, are expending a good deal of energy, and that needs to be replenished.

The tradition also states that while Chinese take-out and pizza are acceptable as second meal (the meal owed if crew is still being asked to work six hours past the end of first meal), it should not be considered acceptable lunch fare.

As with many of my posts, this is the point at which veterans roll their eyes and ask, "Why do you have to explain this? We all know it."

In fact, many of the up-and-coming producers do not know these basics. For the rest of you, go to the Cliff notes.

Having addressed lunch, lets talk about breakfast and craft services.

I cannot tell you how often I have seen producers get craft services wrong. On The Rook, my wonderful Assistant Director, Van, and I would go out at the end of a long day to replenish the craft service table because our PAs in charge of craft services kept failing to provide basics.

What are the basics?

Coffee. Caffeine is needed for people who do not get the proper rest. which is all of us in film. Tea for those who do not drink coffee.

Again, where budget permits, you should be hiring a craft service person, someone who does this regularly and will devote their time to getting it right. If that is not an option, then at least have a dedicated PA, or rotate PAs for that position.

In the last few years, I have often gotten this reply when a PA was faced with a large coffee pot and a can of coffee: "I buy my coffee at Starbucks. I don't make it." Here is a hint. The only variables involved are a pot, probably a filter, coffee and water. You have mastered Avid color correction in film school and calculus in high school. You can change lenses on a RED blindfolded with one hand tied behind your back. You can write code for your webpage.

In short, you can do this. Go on your Ipad and Google the instructions from the coffee pot manufacturer if the internet assist makes you more comfortable. If need be, I will even take the time to show you - the first time.

DO NOT depend on those boxes from Dunkin' Donuts or even Starbucks. An hour or less after they hit set, they will be cold, people will stop drinking it and you will be tossing it. Not good for the crew and not cost efficient. Everyone loses.

Cold Water bottles for crew is a must. Raise your hands if you need a lesson on how the body needs to be hydrated to function properly.

Healthy alternative. One of my contemporaries, who came up old-school, always stressed having donuts and various offerings with sugar to keep people going. The health nut in me rebelled, but I have no problem offering this to those who will not come around to a healthier life-style. For the rest, there needs to be fruit, legumes (nuts and such) and veggies on the craft service table.

One of my favorites for crafty is miso soup. Yes. it has a high sodium content not good for those of us, like me, who have high-blood pressure. However, it is an inexpensive snack that serves as a valued part of breakfast in much of the Asian world because of its restorative properties. and it offers energy without the crash that accompanies sugar.

One of my fondest shoot memories was of a film we did in Massachusetts where crafty was done by an aging hippie couple. Once the wife discovered that I loved her homemade miso soup, she made a point of bringing it to me on set (I was an AD on the shoot and often did not make it to the craft service table).

Which reminds me: if you are a PA, when you decide to go to crafty, remember the folks on first team and stuck by camera like the DP, operator, AC, not to mention talent, scripty, the director, and, if you like getting hired on the next shoot, the First AD. We remember.

All of the helpful tips I offer here do not need to cost production anything beyond what bad catering and crafty offers. No, three-day old bagels do not constitute a reasonable breakfast offering, but alternatives that do not cost much more are available.

If catering and crafty are taken seriously, there is no reason why this needs to be a problem. If they are not, watch out.

As with all of my posts, I welcome suggestions and creative solutions others have found.


Kangas said...

I have no suggestions. But what would you do on a no-budget set about this: an actor whose call time is 10pm shows up--the rest of us have just broken from shooting 7 hours to eat something--and he complains that we didn't order any veggie pizza for him.

Is there some sort of etiquette to telling people whose call time isn't near a meal that they should, you know, eat regular when they're not on set?

JB Bruno said...

I think you are looking at an individual discussion here. There is no way to set a policy that an actor not show up for meals - even if he isn't scheduled.

You've either run up against a case of entitlement (you said meals were provided!, a broke actor who needs the meal, or an actor just making a point because he can. Without knowing them, can't say which.

As a side note, I think with bigger casts, pizza isn't as cost efficient when you break it down to slices and people. When we do order it for second meal or such, we always make sure to get a "plain" for the non-meat folks.

robmneilson said...

sslaelI think I might have to forward this column to one of my employes. Spent 9 hours on set with nothing offered other than candy, and water recently!

Before that shoot I just assumed that everyone understood that good crew food = a happy, productive crew, and good footage.

But I'm sure the money they saved was put to better use!

robmneilson said...

sslaelI think I might have to forward this column to one of my employes. Spent 9 hours on set with nothing offered other than candy, and water recently!

Before that shoot I just assumed that everyone understood that good crew food = a happy, productive crew, and good footage.

But I'm sure the money they saved was put to better use!