Feeding Your Crew: The Art to a Happy Film Set

November 22, 2016
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With Thanksgiving coming up and food on everyone’s mind, we at ShareGrid wanted to give you a guide to feeding your crew. For something as simple as eating, food on set can be a complicated thing. Where do you get it? How much do you get? How should you budget it? How much should you care? Well, never fear, filmmakers, we’ve got you covered.

First of all, let’s define what food is, at least as it pertains to your set.

Food is Political: Work it in Your Favor

Pete Sestina, a Los Angeles-based Producer/Director who, over the course of his career, has had to either personally or bureaucratically feed a lot of different crews, provides the most essential nugget of wisdom on feeding your crew.

“When you’re shooting one shoot, it’s not about the one shoot, to some extent it’s about the next shoot. You’re setting an expectation for an experience with them. If you’re putting money towards something the crew can enjoy and experience, then it goes a long way. In that way, it’s political… It makes your crew feel taken care of and it enhances their experience, and ultimately is a pretty cost-effective way to keep people happy.”

No matter how well everyone is getting paid, or how great the project is, or how high the talent level is, the experience will be better if everyone is well fed. If you want to bring anyone in your crew back for future projects, or if you hope they recommend you for future projects, you have to feed them well.

Lentils and Quinoa are long-term energy saviors.

Food is Nutritious: Don't Let the Crew Crash

If it’s your job to feed your crew for a long day, why not feed them in a way that boosts their performance? Yes, water and coffee are must-haves, but that’s not going to sustain a 14-hour day. While donuts might satisfy tastebuds, their sugar-laden simple carbohydrates will cause a crash later in the day. Instead, follow these tips from BBC Goodfood.

- Go for things with complex carbs like beans and whole grains.

- For breakfast, emphasize protein and low sugar. Oatmeal and fruit are a good option.

- Encourage eating throughout the day. Eating too much at one time will cause a late-day crash but grazing keeps the energy more even.

- Know what foods have B vitamins. B vitamins help convert your food into energy, and boost your mood, so a crew running on heavy B’s will be a happy one.

Now that we’ve defined what food is, let’s talk about where to get it.

Crafty: The Finger Food

 

Crafty, or craft services, refers to the food that available to the crew (or the “craft” workers) throughout the day. Big productions might hire experienced craft service providers like Boyz in the Kitchen to take care of everything. Smaller productions might have a PA run the craft services table. Either way, it’s important to know what craft services is and what it isn’t. 

A good array of crafty involves snacks and healthy options.

Craft services is the finger food and beverages that keeps your crew satisfied throughout the day, but it isn’t necessarily the full meals you provide your crew before, after, or during production. For that, you’re going to want to consider a catering service. There is a difference. For more info, check out this great NPR piece on the history of craft services.

Pro Tip from Pete Sestina: If you have a PA running crafty, have them shop from a place like Trader Joe’s, where they will be able to find delicious food that won’t break the bank and will probably be more nutritious.

Pro Tip from a Craft Services Provider: Sunday Night Dinner has been a craft services provider for almost 20 years, and has worked on television productions like Shark Tank and Hell's Kitchen. Their current owner, James, emphasizes balance, but also considers the conditions of the shoot.

"We try to provide healthier foods. Healthy options are a must. At the same time, when we only have healthy options, people do want a little bit of chocolate, a little bit of sweets, a little bit of sour candies as well. For us, it's a balance of what they need. For every show we do, depending on the situation, we adjust. We just finished Ultimate Beastmaster. they shot at night, and went all the way to 3 A.M. in the morning, so we served soups. Served a lot of soups, because it was so cold. Sometimes the stages are so cold, so we serve a lot of teas and coffee."

Take it from James, Crafty should reflect the conditions of your shoot. If you're shooting in the desert, you bring an ice chest full of Fla-Vor-Ice, if you're filming in close quarters, it's better not to serve anything fishy or strong in scent...you get the picture. Always cater (see what I did there?) to your environment and plan ahead of time. Chances are, you or the producer knows where and when the shoot will be taking place. The sooner you can gather that information, the better prepared you can be for your smorgasbord.

Catering: The Meals

Places like Chipotle tend to have a something for everyone.

Catering is done for the full, hot, meals that will not sit out all day. A lot of craft service providers also provide catering and Crafty separately, but that's not always the case. What’s most important is that you get everyone’s input beforehand. Always take dietary restrictions and personal tastes into consideration. Nothing is worse than leaving a person with dietary restrictions without a meal! You're crew will hate you. And just because someone is a vegetarian, the side salad could not be their meal!This blog post by How To Film School contains some great insights on catering for your set.

Personal Pro Tip: You most-likely know someone who works in the food industry, don’t be afraid to ask around for donations or favors. I once had a chef, who was a friend of a friend, offer to cater my set for a day. You best believe I took him up on it.

Now that we know where to get the food, let’s look at how you should budget for it.

Budgeting: Know the Costs Without Breaking the Bank

It’s not often discussed, but food will take up a higher percentage of your budget the lower your budget is. This incredible budget breakdown by 4Filmmaking shows how much food typically costs at different budget levels. Food might take up 20 percent of a $1,000 production budget, but may not scratch one percent of million dollar budget. There isn’t a one-rule-fits-all for budgeting food, it all depends on the budget and type of shoot you’re working on.

However, there are a lot of steps you can take to cuttings food costs without making your crew suffer. This blog post from creativelive.com offers savvy ways to feed your crew for free by planning ahead and asking for donations from local businesses. This article from self-reliant.com offers great items, like crock pots and folding tables, to have on set for saving time and money.

So plan your production right, and give your crew something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

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Brent L Zaffino

I am a filmmaker out of Atlanta, Georgia currently working as a freelance director and videographer for music videos, short films, and corporate videos.

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