Feeding your cast and crew isn’t the most glamorous part of filmmaking, but it’s important. Food can really make or break a shoot day, and planning on how to keep everyone nourished and on-schedule shouldn’t be an afterthought.
When you’re on a tight budget for your shoot, it’s tempting to start cutting back on the budget for craft services. People could potentially bring a lunch or you could do a walk away lunch, but these can both lead to more trouble than their worth and lead to annoyance among your crew and cast that can slow down the shoot. In the end, if you put a bit more effort into how you approach your crafty, you can save money and keep everyone happy.
First things first: What is craft services?
Craft services (provided by “Craftys”) are the snacks and drinks that keep the production running smoothly between meals.The craft services table can be also a social space—the film set equivalent of a water cooler. Generally, catering for film sets is considered separate from craft services. It happens 1-3x/ day for hot meals and is a sit down affair in a different space. On larger sets, there will usually be a different company hiring craft services vs. catering. But this post is geared towards those of you DIYing it and thinking about the larger umbrella question of “how to do a good but affordable job feeding cast + crew.” Read on for our tips.
Keep it Healthy
First and foremost you’ll save time and keep people’s energy up if you opt for healthy options. Nothing is worse than a sugar crash on a film set and grocery store donuts may be cheap, but you’ll pay for it in time lost when the crew collectively crashes two hours later and can’t complete the simplest of tasks in a timely manner. Sugary snacks like cookies and candy are tasty but can lead to much the same problem. While there’s nothing wrong with making some sweets available, lean harder on the healthier when prioritize your budget.
Pay Attention to Dietary Needs
There’s always at least one vegan, one person who is gluten-free, someone who is kosher, or someone allergic to nuts. Ask your crew before hand what their dietary restrictions are and work to ensure that they’re fed and happy. Most people with dietary needs are used to working around them. If you’re not sure how to shop for them, ask. Also, make sure to carefully mark the food set aside for these individuals and point it out to them so they don’t have to go looking for it and so no one else grabs it for themselves.
Fast, Cheap, or Good
We’ve all heard the aphorism “fast, cheap, or good, pick two.” You can have fast and cheap, but it won’t be good. You can have fast and good, but it won’t be cheap. You can have cheap and good, but it won’t be fast. Well, if you want to really save on your budget for crafty, then take the slow route. That means taking the time to make it yourself, or helping someone close to you make the meals.
Embrace the Crockpot
Crockpots are great when you don’t have budget for catering and need something hot and ready. A personal favorite is this vegetarian chilli recipe from AllRecipes. Cheese can be optional for vegans in the room and you can usually find gluten free veggie crumbles like Beyond Meat’s variety in the organic/health food section. Best of all, cooking chilli in a crockpot allows the fake meat to absorb all that spice, so both carnivores and herbivores will be pleased. For extra spice, sub cans of whole peeled tomatoes for the fire-diced variety.
Sandwiches are Magic
A tight budget probably also means you’re tight on space both on set and for transportation. Sandwiches are an incredibly flexible option that can accommodate a variety of dietary needs and preferences without having to invest yourself into making several different things. You can offer a lot of variety with quality ingredients at a relatively low cost if you embrace sandwiches.
A couple of loaves of bread, a couple of packages of deli meat, a variety of sliced cheeses, a couple of different vegetables, and one or two cans or jars of fancy spreads can be combined into a wonderful variety of options for cast and crew. With sandwiches you can easily accommodate vegetarian, vegan, and kosher options for members of your crew. In addition to this flexibility, Sandwiches are easy to store and transport, and don’t require utensils, bowls, or plates to eat.
Avoid Individual Orders for Take Out (If You Must Do Take Out)
Okay look, like many filmmakers I also worked in the food industry. There’s nothing worse than the producer who wants 20 sandwiches in half an hour, wants you to label everything, be careful not to let the bready things touch the gluten free things, and oh yeah they don’t want to tip because it’s takeout. This is a cumbersome process that leaves room for error. Instead you may want to go for a make your own taco station, order mediterranean food, or anything that allows for buffet-style lunch.
All of that said, if you are planning on ordering take out (or delivery), maybe just don’t. Ordering can seem like a good idea, but it will always cost you more. One meal ordering can cost double what you would have paid for just the ingredients to make enough for two meals yourself. It can also disrupt the shoot. Someone has to do that order and if you’re on a tight budget, you likely need everyone and can’t spare a person to do this. Delivery or take out pick up also rarely coincides well with taking lunch.
No. Pizza. Seriously. We love pizza. Pizza’s great. If your cast and crew have been on more than one low budget set they’ve had to contend with the stack of pizza boxes and the grease soaked paper plates. If you say lunch is pizza, you’ll get some less than positive reactions.
Pizza seems like a cheap option. You can get a whole large pie for $20! Cool. That doesn’t feed that many people. The cost adds up quickly. You also run into the same potential issues with ordering mentioned above. In the end ordering pizza makes you look lazy and unprofessional. So, don’t order pizza. Except if you have a multi-day shoot, you can get away with it for one meal on one day. Don’t make it the first day, though.
Don’t Skimp on the Snacks
Snacks are a must! Trader Joe’s is king of snacks and has loads of great options for a productive production. You also can’t go wrong buying in bulk from discount places like Costco, Ralph’s, and Sam’s Club. Pick up trail mix, dried fruit, chocolate covered almonds, apples, clementines, baby carrots, etc. Also, gum is never a bad idea.
Ample supplies of water and coffee are non-negotiable. Make sure to have a hot pot of coffee and hot water going at all times. One helpful option when you’re tight on space is a single serving coffee and tea maker like a Keurig. You can offer a wide variety of options with the pods from different flavors of coffee and tea to hot cocoa for those cold winter night shoots.
This tip may seem obvious, but food (and especially coffee!) should arrive before crew is scheduled to arrive by at least ½ hour. Some people will get there early and will want their coffee! The craft table should also remain open until the very end of the shoot, to help your (perhaps) tired and hungry crew at the end of the day.
But Isn’t it Cheaper to Just Not Do Any of This?
Any producer may have a moment of “but is this really necessary?” At other jobs people provide their own lunch. I had a friend of mine who is not a filmmaker raise this to me some years ago. He asked me why I was bothering putting in the effort to feed people. It comes down to making sure people feel appreciated by taking care of basic needs, but also maintaining some control of your set. People coming and going for lunch even in the best scenarios can potentially lead to delays. Even timely responsible people can get held up by traffic.
Finally, please, just don’t order pizza, okay?
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