Friday, March 4, 2016

Food on Film Sets

The happy face on this plate of food was made on set for a scene in an Independent Film that I have been working on doing makeup.  The film is called Nursery Rhyme of a Madman. We film on weekends around everyone's work schedules.  This food would fall into the Prop department normally as it would usually be duplicated a few times to be able to be filmed over the duration of a long filming day.  On this low budget film we had 2 versions.  The importance of this is trying to have the same plate match.  This is tough to do with real food and especially tough when you don't have a dedicated prop person as in the case of this film.  This plate was made by the director's wife who has been providing the food for the film.  
It's important to note that this sometimes happens on low budget indie sets where friends and family pitch in to save costs and get the job done.  Making films is expensive and time consuming.  On this film our days run 12 hours and we usually film on both Saturday and Sunday and are on set at 7am.    

We have been lucky to have one primary location for this filming and they have a large kitchen and a walk in fridge.  This is extremely helpful for this film because the Director's wife is actually the owner of 2 daycare's and isn't always on set so sometimes she drops stuff off and will go back and forth when she can.  On a couple of occasions I had to help out in what is called on set as "Craft Services".   Craft services is the food that is provided during the day and not always including the main lunch or dinner meals.  It is meant for the cast and crew to grab food when they have breaks during set ups when not all cast and crew are needed.   On this film the Director's wife and sometimes myself set up all of the food for the day.  The Director's wife will arrive early in the morning and set up breakfast foods and snacks and then will organize a lunch or dinner meal that is generally scheduled but most of the time it is taken when a scene is complete and it will take a long time to set up the next scene.
Here's an example of what our "Craft table" looks like.  This was on the second day when there was a bit less of it but generally there has to be a pretty wide range of different kinds of foods to energize and suit everyone's preferences and needs.   On a typical day on our set there is at least 25 people that could be there from a couple of hours to 12 plus hours.  The actors are scheduled for their scenes but the crew are there for the duration.  

Because films can be filmed in either temporary or remote locations sometimes there are special food services trucks or catering delivered to the set at a specific time.

Food is provided for the cast and crew because "Call times" the time at which cast or crew start their day, can be at any time of the day.  Our call time is generally around 7am but on a sunday it is pretty tough to organize your food for a 12 hour day and take the time to deal with your food.  It's not like an office where there is sometimes a fridge and microwave for the staff.  

On our set one of the actors brings in his own Muesli concoction in the morning but then will eat the food on set later in the day.

What I have learned over the year's of working on Independent films is that the Food can be one of the biggest motivators of how much gets done during the day.  I have worked on some films where we were given McDonalds or only pizza because it's inexpensive and easy.  On this film we have had pizza a couple of times when there wasn't enough food or we worked later in the day and need a dinner break.

On this particular film we have a nice balance of healthy foods since the Director's wife eats pretty healthy and shops at Costco to get a lot of the bulk food for the set.  We are lucky and get some fresh fruit and yoghurts and things like this Nature's Path Oatmeal which is a great thing on an early sunday morning of a long day.

Even though you don't see the results on screen when you see the movie the food eaten on set really does have a huge impact to the happiness and productivity of the cast and crew.
The Beef Stew below is a big hit with the Crew and the Director and the Kale salad is a healthy and fresh option that most of the crew love.

We had hot dogs for a few days and after a couple of times people stopped eating them mainly because they were made early in the morning and they really don't provide any energy so they are a bit counter productive.  On the other side another popular dish is a chicken pasta dish that the Director's wife's Daycare chef makes that is a big hit with everyone even though we all get the pasta coma afterwards.

But you can't forget the snacks.  Not everyone wants a healthy meal or snack all the time.  People have cravings and sometimes things like a box of Tim Horton's donuts or muffins can really hit the spot for a sugar craver.  But at the same time if you only had Tim Horton's for breakfast everyday that wouldn't be such a great idea.  Although I think most cast and crew would be happy to have the coffee everyday but I know that I have been on sets where Timbits where the only option for food.  It's a lot different when it's your only option and you can't leave set to get what you want to eat.

Yes, that's the important thing.  Once you are on set you generally can't leave unless you are "Wrapped" which means you are no longer needed that day.  The crew members don't get "wrapped" until the end of the filming day.

I have been on the other end of providing food for the cast and crew on my own short films and when I could I tried to provide pretty decent food.  It didn't always work out the way I wanted it to but that's a whole other story but I tried to provide the best food I could because I couldn't afford to pay everyone so I tried to feed them the best food I could afford to provide for them.  On one of my short films we filmed at a cafe and they were able to choose some great food from the cafe for lunch and we only filmed for about 4 hours.

It is a common practice to feed cast and crew well if they aren't getting paid or are working for very little money.  It's the difference between getting your film made or not.  Nobody wants to work on your film if they don't get fed or paid.  Both is everyone's preference obviously.

One of the days that the director's wife wasn't able to be there on the sunday morning but she provided canned tuna and a few things that I could make the leftover hard boiled eggs from the previous day into egg salad for sandwiches.  Because I didn't want to leave egg salad or tuna sandwiches out all day while I was busy doing makeup I decided to make them into half sandwiches and wrapped them in saran wrap.  This turned out to be a great idea because i brought a few to the set and left the rest in the fridge to be brought out for lunch and later in the day.  Any that were left were grabbed by everyone on the way out so nothing was wasted.  It took me a bit of time to do this but I knew that the food would be wasted if it was done any other way.  Everyone really appreciated it.  I made curry egg salad and put a bit of apple in them for crunch so they were a bit hit.

Not every film has a makeup artist/food blogger/photographer on their crew but this film has me and I have been doing all 3 duties to pitch in.  I have been taking photos on a lot of the films I worked on for continuity and because it gets boring standing around so I like to look for funny things on set or photos that maybe the stills photographer doesn't take.   On this film we have a guy that only comes to set once in a while so I take all the silly behind the scenes photos.  That's also another story and hopefully they will be seen at some point.

I have worked on different film sets where the food has been great and extremely horrible.  Once on a commercial they had a caterer that provided worse food than if they had ordered a pizza so they had to go out and get pizza afterward.

Talk to anyone that has worked on a film and I bet the they tell you about the food, how the director's were, the location and if any of the actor's were jerks.  They will remember if the food was great or awful, the stuff in the middle doesn't get remembered but that's ok.  That means it did the job.

Here are a couple of my tips for food to have on set:

1. Grab and go food like individually wrapped cheeses or apples or other fruits like bananas that don't require too much fuss.  Oranges don't go over as well sometimes but bananas seem to.

2.  Drinks,  have lot's of bottled water.  Hot lights make people dehydrated and long hours need a lot of hydration.  The crew guys like to grab a can of coke when they need an energy boost.

3.  Pasta, everyone loves pasta but make sure you have other options for the gluten and dairy intolerant people.

4.  Snacks,  We have had the Chicago Mix popcorn on set which has both cheese and caramel popcorn and that has been a big hit with everyone because it covers the salty sweet cravings.

5.  Coffee,  I probably should have listed this first.  It's is fuel for most people on set.

6.  Chocolate,  it makes everyone happy so make sure there is a lot of it around and different kinds.

7.  Healthy options like a boiled egg, yoghurt, oatmeal or fruits are great to sustain energy.

8.   Comfort foods.  I once had grilled cheese halfs on one set and that was amazing.  I also had little finger sandwiches of cheese and cucumber that totally hit the spot.   Foods people know like Lasagna, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, classic sandwiches and shepperd's pie or a caesar salad can be pretty popular because people know what it is and don't have to figure out if they will like it.  I once had Kentucky Fried Chicken as one of the dinners.

9.  Easy food.  Don't make it too complicated.  Time is money but make sure it's satisfying.

10.  Make sure it tastes good and there are options for everyone.

A lot of these tips can be applied to any event where there are a lot of different people that need to be fed but a film set has a few unique challenges when it comes to food.  Maybe one day I will tell you some more tales from the set.

In the meantime the next time you watch a movie think about what kind of food the cast and crew may have had on set.  You can't see it but it made a big difference to how the film was made.

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