One of the best things about working in the film business is the food. One of the worst things about working in the film business is also the food. It all depends what end of the biz you’re in.
The rules are simple, a crew must be fed six hours from the time they arrive. Then six hours after that first meal, another is due. On union jobs, if you’re not fed in time you get a “meal penalty.” That is they pay you extra for every fifteen minutes a meal break is delayed. Score two hours of meal penalties and you’ll make more than your day rate, which is why union guys pray they won’t break on time.
There’s also “food ninjas.” When working on a big production, set is often pretty far from the crafty tent. So to make sure everyone is well-fed between meals, the caterers load up a cart with soup, or nachos, or little sandwiches, and wheel it right up to set, quietly. Anyone who isn’t actively focusing a light or setting a flag can wander over and have a bite.
The craft services people take their job so seriously that on a recent shoot with the director McG (Terminator: Salvation) I overhead him ask the craft services guy is there was any Franks Red Hot sauce left. There wasn’t. No problem. McG shrugged, thanked the guy, and went for the Tabasco. There was no issue whatsoever. Yet fifteen minutes later I see a PA running back to set with a bag which clanks suspiciously. Yep, half a dozen bottle of Frank’s.
Another thing the unions do right is pizza. Pizza and Chinese food are actually banned on union sets as they are considered an insult to the crew. This is because every low-budget, no account production company trying to crank out indie features relies on these staples to keep their food budget low. Or in the case of Troma (the despicable cinematic super-villains who made the unwatchable Toxic Avenger series) it’s cheese sandwiches. Maybe. As Troma producer Michael Hertz was once overhead saying to a hungry crew person whining about not being fed “kid, you got the whole rest of your life to eat.”
I was working on a low budget TV pilot once, and the producers fed us pizza five times in a row. When lunch showed up on our third day and it was pizza, plain pizza, I did something I’ve never done before. I flipped out. Started screaming at the producer. Literally picked a pizza up and threw it against the wall.
A very nice tray of sandwiches and salad showed up 20 minutes later.
But even union food can’t compete to what you get on food shoots. I did a season and a half on Behind the Bash with Giada De Laurentiis. (You know, Dino’s granddaughter.) We went around the country profiling amazing parties and the caterers behind them. Part of the job was the “food porn” shots, where the chefs made each dish they were serving for us and we photographd them in loving, mouth-watering detail. Since we didn’t have a food prep person messing the dishes up with various goo and glazes they brush on to make everything look tastier, the dishes could actually be eaten after we shot them. And eat we did. Literally some of the finest food in America, in our bellies.
Then there was Steve Ravioli. Steve is a New Yorker who runs a… wait for it… ravioli shop. He’s a boisterous, cheerful Italian guy who is more passionate about mozzarella and Parma ham than anyone you’ve ever met in your life. The guy is a whirlwind of energy, and clearly is possessed by an Italian grandmother because anyone who comes within 10 feet of him is going to get fed. Literally, you’re in the room with him and he is shoving stuff in your mouth. “Here, taste this, taste this.”
We’re doing host standups, the part of the show where the host talks straight to the camera explaining what’s going on. While I’m shooting, camera on my shoulder, rolling tape, Steve is standing over my shoulder. “Matt,” he whispers, “taste this, taste this.” And more cheese, salami, bread, whatever is getting shoved in my mouth while I’m trying to work.
But maybe the best food moment was out in San Francisco. We were profiling the man considered one of the finest caterers in America. An Austrian fellow named Ludwig who made the best lamb-chop I've ever tasted. While setting up, he asked if anyone wanted coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker and asked if there was any chance to get some green tea. He nodded, went away.
Ten minutes later, he comes back with coffee.
But no tea. No problem, I figure, once again the tea guy gets the shaft. I’m used to it by now (and now travel with my own teabags so all I have to sniff out is a hot water source. And I am very good at sniffing out hot water sources.)
Ten minutes after that, Ludwig comes in with a glass and sterling tea service. There’s whole-leaf green tea brewing in the pot.
“I didn’t want to give you just any green tea,” he tells me. “So I had my sushi chef make this for you. It’s considered the finest green tea in the world.” Dramatic pause. “It’s $1000.00 a pound.”
He smiles. “Enjoy.”