When you think of the working cogs in the creation of a Hollywood movie, your mind inevitably jumps to the big guns, the spotlit actors, esteemed directors, writers, producers, and then a long assortment of crew members — costume designers, the lighting department, stuntmen, stage, art, sound, all the way down to the guy who slams the clapperboard. But there is one component of any movie's production that we are not likely to consider who may be the keystone to the whole industry: craft services.
The everpresent, but underappreciated men and women of the "crafty" world drive one of the most essential elements of any film set — people gotta eat — and jump more hurdles than you might think to do so. According to longtime fixtures of the crafty business like Eat Catering's Danielle Wilson and Joe Facey of Joe's Craft Services, both based in New York, there is a lot more to the field than people think.
Sure, the job may have started out "basically like a stagehand," as Facey puts it. But "it has changed a lot [since he] first started." Facey says, "The term 'craft services' refers to 'servicing the craftsman.' It used to be the guy on the stage who would sweep the stage down, put out some donuts and coffee, and if somebody needed something from the store, you’d go get it for them." These days, however are long gone — the position has evolved to something far more than a glorified gofer.
Today, when you're a craft service worker, you're taking on a slew of other jobs as well:
An obvious element of the food service industry is nutrition, but some figures in the crafty world pay more attention to the idea than others. "I try to keep it super healthy," says Wilson, an experienced chef who worked in restaurants and corporate catering before getting onto craft service in 1999. "My table, I try to keep at least 60% or 70% whole foods or organic foods or healthy foods. There’s always going to be people on the job who just want their chips or their candy, but I try to keep it pretty minimal. I try to keep a bigger selection out there."
Wilson is "more intro nutrition" than some of her contemporaries, who might "just throw out Oreos or Ho-Hos on the table." Wilson's goal isn't just to keep people fed, but also "sustain[ing] energy throughout the day with food choices, making sure we have six or eight little hot meals or little hot choices throughout the day, in addition to healthy platters. So it’ll be sustained energy, instead of a sugar crash."
"You have tons of big name actors, and hundreds of people with their cameras," Wilson says. "We have to put up screens to get them away from us, so that we can actually start the filming day, or we’d get nothing done." Sometimes, however, a screen is not enough. And it's not even the actors that people are after...
"Being in New York, the biggest thing that drives me nuts is people who aren’t even affiliated with the film who come by and try to steal and take your craft services," Wilson says. "We have to defend the table. I’ve worked in L.A., too. And I’ve worked in Connecticut. All around. But in New York, it’s the worst. People seem to think they are entitled to stealing or taking your craft services. You constantly have to defend and get the people off the table."
Wilson continues: "People steal! It’s amazing ... You get people with Louis Vitton, driving Mercedes, that act like since you’re there, you’re serving the whole town. Which is crazy." She says, "I have treasure chests, or big glass jars full of raw nuts, or something like that. I see them trying to take the whole thing. You’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ There’s many times I don’t go to lunch, if we have a lot of background or we’re in a location."
And that's hardly even the worst of it: "I’ve had random people — like in Chinatown, guy in a suit came up to pee on my tent. Broad daylight, at 8 AM, where there’s tons of people. I had to hose down the side of my tent with hot water. A human being peed on my tent. For no reason whatsoever.
But even in the presence of healthy foods, crews can endure their share of aches and pains. "Then there are things like, someone gets a headache," Facey says. "Or they have an upset stomach because they ate something wrong the day before. So you want to carry Pepto Bismol, and Aspirin, and things like that."
And along with internal maladies, you also come across external injuries: "You want to make sure you have ice, in case someone hurts themselves," Facey says. "Sometimes, you have a set medic on set, sometimes you don’t. But they don’t carry ice. They carry icepacks, but what you need is a real bag of ice." And it's not only the cast and crew that suffers such fates, but the craft services folk themselves...
"People seem to think it’s an easy job, but ... it’s very physical," Wilson says. "I’ve been hurt many times ... Both my knees have been injured, both my ankles have been injured. I literally just got out of a walking boot cast — I sprained my foot." It's vexing to wonder what aspects of the craft services job throw their workers into this kind of danger. "You have to move around quickly, heavy stuff needs to be lifted, lots of movement. Sometimes you have to change locations up to five times a day, depending on your shooting schedule.
Local Business Patron
Wilson "like[s] to work with the community" in which her project is shooting, throwing a bone to local restaurants in return for the production's occupation of their neighborhoods. "if I can buy local, I’ll buy local. A lot of times, if we’re in the neighborhood and taking up a lot of the parking, I’ll go to one of the neighborhood restaurants and order a couple of hundred dollars of food — hot food to put on the table." While Wilson "could easily cook it," she's in the mindset that you "want to make sure you’re aware of your surroundings," so that you can give back.
She recalls a recent shoot that took place in Schenectady, N.Y.: the upcomong Ryan Gosling drama, The Place Beyond the Pines. "That was a fun one ... I’m really big on dealing with the farmer’s market. I wound up meeting all the farmers." This sensibility has earned her a handful of symbiotic relationships over the years. "I would tell them, ‘Listen, let’s do a deal. If I come here right before it closes at two, any of your leftover produce I’ll buy off you for half price.’"
It's not only Wilson and the markets that benefit from this, but the production crews: "I got to meet a lot of local farmers, got a lot of local harvests, and got to use it on the show. Everybody was happy, because we got to do a lot of corn relishes, we made jams. It was great. At the same time, it was kind of fun — like a camping experience, because we were upstate."
In addition to providing pleasure and comfort through food, Facey goes the extra mile, stimulating every sense he can. "My whole idea is to make the experience of visiting the table enjoyable," Facey says.
He plays the librarian: "I, myself, do a magazine rack. It has magazines in it. So if you’ve got some free time to kill, and you’re bored, you grab a magazine or look at a newspaper."
He plays the DJ: "I play music all day. As long as I’m not close enough to the set so that you can hear it, from the moment I open my truck to the moment I leave, I play music at the table all day ... I play some jazz. Nothing really radical. Sometimes, something more upbeat. There are days when I barbecue, and I’ll play something upbeat — I like to have something upbeat while I’m cooking."
He plays the toy store: "I’ve had jobs where we’ve had a lot of kids. I did three seasons of a TV series, Pete and Pete on Nickelodeon. And I did the movie Scent of a Woman, where we had 600 boys. And on other days, we had 30 or 40, where we just had to show kids walking around on campus. And when they’re not eating, and they’re waiting in what we call a holding area for the next scene, how do you keep them occupied? And keep them from being bored? I’ll bring in a bunch of board games. I’ll lay them out in the holding area to keep them busy."
Parent, Therapist, and Captain All In One
Facey and Wilson agree: a film crew is like one big family. Or at least "a cross between a family and a military unit," according to Facey. "You might even say they’re like a bunch of guys on a ship. You’re stuck together, and you have to learn to get along, and deal with stuff."
"You go through ups and downs. If you’re stuck in an 18-and-a-half-hour day, you’re exhausted, you have to keep feeding [everybody]," Wilson says. "Everyone’s cranky. Just like you would be if you were stuck with your family for 18 hours, at Thanksgiving or something."
Wilson explains that because of these tight relationships, she keeps a good memory of her colleagues' dietary preferences, which always surprises them. "[They'll ask,] ‘How did you know I still like Nestlé Quik?’ Or, ‘How did you know I’m still lactose intolerant?’," Wilson says. "When you work with each other day in and day out for four to six weeks, or possibly eight weeks… it’s like if you had a brother that’s allergic to nuts."
All in all, Wilson considers a film set like a home, and her station the heart and soul: "A lot of producers come [to the craft services table] to talk about what’s going on. Fights take place — verbal fights take place. There’s a lot of stuff that happens. Just like at home, with the kitchen. The heart of the house is the kitchen, where people have discussions, and you argue, sometimes it’s great…"
When asked to supply words of wisdom for any youngsters hoping to get into the craft services business, Facey had a very specific piece of advice: "I know for sure, now, that if you’re passing out Italian ices to people in the summer — because it’s really hot — that you don’t want to let the actors have any cherry." Why, you ask?
"They can only have lemon," Facey says. "I worked on the movie Men In Black, and Tommy Lee Jones took an Italian ice. It was a cherry flavored one, and he ate the whole thing right before he was supposed to do a scene — and his lips were bright red. Which didn’t make Barry Sonnenfeld very happy."
He continues: "He saw Tommy’s lips and just started screaming, 'Where’s Joe?! Where is he? Find him now!' And it was funny, because I was actually right behind him with the tray of ices. I said, 'Barry, I’m right here,' and he turned around, and he went, '…Maybe you shouldn’t feed the actors so much.' That was kind of funny. You learn those kinds of things."
So the next time you think of craft services, don't stop at images of 6-feet buffet tables topped with muffins and bottled water. Think of Wilson and Facey — their work keeping their crews healthy, happy, entertained, protected, and free of embarrassing red lips.
And none of these are easy jobs. Actors love cherry.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
[Photo Credit: Joe's Craft Service]