So, you wanna hear all the gossip on a Hollywood film set? And I mean all the greasy, meaty dirty-deedy secrets? Everything from who's sleeping with who to who WANTS to sleep with who and who's sleeping with who right now can be overheard and found out at the table with all the snacks. Yes, that's right, the Craft Services table is the center of everything on a film set, sometimes more so than the actual set itself. It's also the place where you'll find some of the hardest working individuals in the industry. Just imagine how grueling of a task it is to keep the appetite of an entire crew satisfied for hours on end. Breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner are always prepared by a crew of caterers who serve their buffets from a big kitchen on wheels. But what about in the long hours between those meals when the stomachs of the hard working start growling and need a little pick up to get through the day? Coffee? Chocolate? Chips? Sandwich? Water…Water…and more water?
That's the job of Craft Services.
I imagine it started long ago, back in the days when the film industry was just beginning. Perhaps the days were getting longer and longer and even longer still. And perhaps a cameraman jumped back from behind the camera with a swollen eye and piped out a serious ultimatum to the higher-ups "I will not roll another foot until I am served a gingersnap!" Or maybe it was designed by the higher-ups themselves and Craft Services was born out of a calculated move to keep the crew happy and working until the wee hours. "Let them eat cake! And let them hang another light. And another. And another."
Whatever the origin, Craft Services exists today on just about every film set. Even the lowest of the lowest budgeted films have some sort of table or truck designated to display an assortment of goodies and nutritional snacks. Let's face it; film crew's work very hard. The hours can be ridiculous and the elements can take their toll. They need sustenance. And they find it here.
The average Craft Services worker (referred to by insiders as "Crafty") has a longer day than the rest of the crew. When a film is shot on location, and many of them are, Crafty can be challenged to keep the table stocked, clean and continually interesting. This can be quite a challenge when, say they're shooting on location in the hot wind swept deserts of California or in a remote forest high atop a mountain. It's not so easy to keep a cooler of soda and water refreshingly cold when the nearest place to buy ice is on the other side of the mountain or the sun is beating down its 100 degrees heat. It can also be difficult to prepare large servings or snacks without a proper kitchen. If you've ever been camping and made a full on meal, complete with a variety of ingredients, dirty dishes and then leftovers, you probably understand.
Crafty deals with this day in and day out. All day long; serving the crew, keeping the coffee pot brewing and then venturing out to the grocery store after wrap is called to pick up supplies for the following day. Not to mention while the rest of the crew finally has their private moments to unwind from the day and catch some Z's, you can probably bet that Crafty is laboring over a sink somewhere washing utensils and scrubbing celery stains from cutting boards.
On a music video set at South Bay Studios in Long Beach I had the opportunity to catch up with long time Crafty, Jeff Baume. Jeff's been in the business for ten years and he started out like everyone else; as a production assistant. Then he worked his way through several different departments, hoping to find the right fit and something he enjoyed. Ultimately Jeff realized that it was with craft services in which he found a position that at the end of the day was rewarding in a couple different ways. As Jeff and I chatted over a bowl of Red Vines, I asked him what it was he enjoyed the most:
"The people. I enjoy making people happy and this career gives me the chance to do that every day I come to work. Film crews work very hard. There aren't many employers in the world who push their employees like this. We start our days way before the sun comes up, dude. Some of these guys don't even see their kids before they leave and by the time they come home, they're already back in bed. And on set, it can be grueling. It's my job to make them forget, to keep the spirits up.
So I try to analyze the mood. You know, I put the feelers out there to see what the energy's like on set. You can tell what they need. Sometimes, like an hour before lunch, the stomachs start growling and they come to my table looking to hold themselves over. So I hit 'em up with some carbs. But later on, after lunch, when the director wants to pull out all the equipment for a huge set-up and everyone's dragging, I try to prepare something to give 'em the boost they need. It's just a matter of reading the energies. Some people can be picky though. There's always going to be one or two who try to be unsatisfied. I like watching them come to my table. They always have a sour look on their faces because I haven't prepared the right kind of veggies or I'm offering chicken salad on the crackers instead of tuna. But, that's what I'm talking about, dude. I love making people happy so I find out what they like and then, BOOM; I catch 'em later with their favorite cookie. It's not that hard but it IS an art form."
I also asked Jeff about the atmosphere at the Craft Services table:
"This is where it gets interesting, dude! My table is like the water cooler on the film set. Or sometimes, on the longer shoots, it can be like the local hangout. Like everyone's favorite dive bar. You know, they take a break and come to me for a drink and to rap about what's going on. And I hear ALL the gossip, all the good stuff. Like today I'm sitting here re-stocking my cooler and the lead singer of the band is laying his lame game on one of the dancers. And I mean LAME, dude. She was more interested in the bowl of M n' M's than his Steven Tyler wanna-be act. I wanted to scream, Dude…You're the lead singer of a rock band! Get a game, man. Pull out the moves. Come on! But he blew it. Anyway, people gather here and connect too. I see relationships being formed, like good friendships. And ideas! Oh man, great creative ideas. Don't forget, the film set is loaded with a bunch of artists. All these guys have cool new ideas and concepts of their own. Today it's this director's vision but tomorrow it's theirs. And I hear it all. I get to see it at the beginning stages. So, I keep it healthy and nourished."
Jeff went on to say that Craft Services isn't a job for the weak. Neither the weak minded nor the physically weak. There's a lot of equipment involved; tables, serving trays, coolers, and tons of food. He finds himself loading and unloading all day long. Sometimes it's in and out of a sound stage and other times it's up a big hill out in the desert. Wherever the location, though, he's always there prepared to keep the crew going. Dealing with the different attitudes on set can be quite an experience too. Like Jeff said, the film set is full of artists. Some are working through their own ideas in their heads while trying to give this particular job 100 percent. Altogether though, on any given day, there are close to a hundred people working very hard and trying to get along. And sometimes differences come up and tension flares. People like Jeff have to stay strong and step in with something to cool the situation off and keep the crew united.
Check out the website for the Craft Services union, which is shared with a few other departments including the Motion Picture Studio Grips, who are another breed of unbelievably hard working individuals. The union is the IATSE Local 80 and on their homepage they proudly describe themselves as this:
MEN AND WOMEN TOILING IN THE UNDERBELLY OF A BEAST TO MAKE ART, FOR THE ENJOYMENT OF CIVILIZED PEOPLE THE WORLD AROUND.
That certainly says a lot for people like Jeff who take their jobs seriously and commit themselves every day to seeing a creative vision come to fruition. It takes a big crew, a lot of muscle and a lot of talent to pull off a motion picture. And every department is just as important as the other. They all support each other like a family, a brotherhood. And Craft Services is a big part of the family, keeping them all healthy, happy and nourished.