Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Here's Your Lunch...That'll be $250,000.00 (plus tip, please).

Ken Levine's Blog got me thinking about this today.

The various rules and customs that surround feeding a movie's cast and crew are different. They also happen to be Byzantine, arcane, and sometimes, incomprehensible. Feeding the crew can become the most important factor in a day's shooting. If the amount of thought and effort expended on feeding the crew on a daily basis were redirected toward...oh, say curing cancer, we'd have that sucker licked in about a month.

The food falls into two categories. There are the meals and there is Craft Service. Let's look at Craft Service first, since that one is a little simpler...which isn't saying all that much. The Craft Service guy is responsible for providing snacks all day long. The job title comes from the old days when the Craft Service guy was sort of a Jack-of-all-trades who could be loaned to the different departments when they needed an extra set of hands -- i.e. to service the various crafts. He might operate a second mic-boom if it was needed. Maybe he'd be pulling cable for the camera department. Maybe he'd spend a few hours in the Electric truck helping to wire up some table lamps that the D.P. wanted to use as practicals. Regardless of what anyone needed, he was always the guy who got sent out for coffee.

Over the years, it became obvious to everyone that the coffee runs were the most important part of the job and eventually, it was decided that having the Craft Service guy help get the shot was interfering with his raison-d'etre...snacks! So now, that's all they do. (It's still a union position in L.A. and the labor is always accounted for in the Grip Department's budget.) Anyway, if you go to the Craft Service table at any time of day, you should be met by a wondrous array of coffees, teas, cheese & crackers, crudite', breads, lunch meats, fruit, sodas, waters, pretzels, chips, salsa, fruit juices, chocolates of every stripe, Twizzlers, M&M's, nuts, wasabi peas...the list obviously goes on. At various times during the day, the Craft Service Guy may be passing out soups (hot or cold depending on the season), chili, chicken wings, egg rolls, cute little tamales or tacos, and on and on and on ad infinitum. What used to be a guy with a van full of stuff and a few coolers has become 3 people in a mobile kitchen with refrigerators and hot plates.

I'd be the last person to say that Craft Service has gotten out of hand -- I like snacks as much as the next guy -- but whereas they used to throw a table on the sidewalk and be ready 15 minutes later, now, they have to set up a pavillion and they need 2 hours of prep.

If the company moves during the day, they'll need one hour to wrap things up, 45 minutes to move to the next location and another hour to set up at the new location. The A.D. usually calls wrap about ten minutes after they're ready.

Regardless of whether or not the company has to move during the day, a visit to Craft Service three hours after lunch will present you with a wondrous array of cold or burnt coffee, half of a bag of Doritos and two cans of Fresca at the bottom of a tub of ice-cold water.

So, let's see...If you just figure in the money for food and supplies, you'll usually budget around $10/head per day (doesn't include salaries for labor) so...125 crew X 50 shooting days X $10 = $62,500. Note: That also doesn't count snacks for the extras, but don't worry, you can budget a little less for some of them -- we'll get to that later.

Ah...the meals! This is where it gets truly interesting.

First, there's breakfast. Breakfast is served before call time in the morning and it's known as a courtesy meal. It's usually some hot cereals and some cold cereals and a buffet that will have pancakes or waffles, some fruit, bacon, sausages, scrambled eggs, coffee, teas and juices. And there's a chef there in his truck doing up breakfast to order -- breakfast burritos, omelettes, eggs benedict...you name it. If call time is 7:00 A.M., the breakfast will be ready and available from about 6:15 until 7:30 A.M. The mobile kitchen will show up at 4:00 A.M. in order to be ready. The Location Manager will not be there at 4:00 A.M. and, in spite of handing the chef a diagram showing where he should park and set up in the morning, the kitchen and the set-up will be where the generator needs to park. The buffet will also be set up so that it blocks the entire sidewalk (which looked fine and dandy at 4:00 A.M. and a little more -- obtrusive, as the rush hour approaches).

Here's where the first complication comes in. There are rules about how long we can work after call time before we have to break for a meal. If you called in some of the actors and the Make-up and Hair people earlier, say 5:30 A.M., you need to get all of them onto the same schedule as the rest of the crew -- other wise, you'll have to break them for lunch an hour-and-a-half before the rest of the crew. Trying to get that last shot before lunch is really problematic if you had to release the actors earlier. You'll hear the A.D.'s over the radios making sure that the P.A.'s "N.D.'ed" (En-Dee'd) the cast. This stands for Non-Discount meal -- which doesn't count as time off-the-clock, but does count toward getting everybody's obligatory meal times synched up. (Note: Since the cast and the Vanities -- that's what we call the M-U/Hair people -- will want food as soon as they get there, the caterer will now be arriving at 3:15 A.M. No worries -- they can't park any more wrongly just because they're earlier.) (Note 2: This N/D meal shouldn't be confused with N/D -- the neutral density gels used to reduce daylight coming in through the window to balance with the lights you're using inside or with N/D cars - non-descript cars parked on the street for a scene.)

So, now breakfast is over and everybody is now on the same schedule. Yay! Lunch is to be served no earlier than 4 hours after call time and no later than 6 hours after call time. On the hypothetical day we're imagining right now, that means between 11:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. Unless we're planning a wierd day, you can throw the earlier time out the window. However, the A.D. will always want the caterer ready to serve an hour before he absolutely has to because, well, you never know. We could get the morning's work done early. The result of this is that when you break for lunch on time -- at 1:00 P.M., the food will have been sitting in chaffing dishes for an hour drying out. (Good caterers know how to fudge this entire part of the sequence and just pretend to be ready for Noon. It almost never happens.) No, the more likely scenario is that as 1:00 P.M. approaches, the A.D. will realize that we may need to shoot until 1:15 P.M. before it makes sense to break. "Big deal", I can hear you all saying. "What's fifteen minutes?"

Well, this is where the meal penalties kick in. And now I hear a chorus of "Meal penalties!? What the fuck are meal penalties?" These are penalties that the production pays to each crew member when we're late breaking for a meal. I haven't had to deal directly with meal penalties in years (it's someone else's job), so I don't know what the rates are, but essentially, the crew gets additional money for every 15 minutes that lunch is late. The rate during the first hour isn't outlandish, but the rate escalates during each subsequent hour until it gets truly outrageous. And while it doesn't amount to all that much for the crew on an individual basis, it adds up to some real money for the production to have to dole out. (There's also a thing called grace which has nothing to do with bowing your heads before eating, but this post is already getting kinda long, so I'm not going to complicate things by explaining that one. Suffice it to say, the producer can take the first fifteen minutes as a grace period without penalty -- except when he can't.)

I'm also not going to get too deeply into what is being served for lunch -- just that there are salads, choices of hot and cold entrees, choices of side dishes, desserts, something for the vegetarians, something for the ovo-lacto vegetarians, something for the vegans, something for the gluten-free crowd...There's a lot of choice. Otherwise the producer will hear about it!

So, now, we've had two meals -- Breakfast and Lunch. Let's figure breakfast is $6/head and lunch is $20/head. Same 125 crew members, so...125 X $26 X 50 shooting days = $162,500.

Now I mentioned extras before. In NY, at least, you're required to hire SAG members as the first 100 extras working on any particular day and then you can hire non-union folks for crowds in excess of that. By SAG rules, you're required to provide the exact same meals and craft service to the SAG extras as you do for the crew. If you have a gazzillion non-SAG extras, you can feed them some cheepo sandwich for lunch and crafty can be coffee, water and a few boxes of Krispy-Kremes...but you'd better segregate them in their own area so they can't see what us folks in Business Class are getting. They know they're getting screwed before they show up, but there's no need to rub their noses in it.

Anyway, we just finished breaking for a half-hour lunch at 1:00 P.M. and we're calling the crew back to work at 2:00 P.M. I bet you're wondering how it takes an hour to eat a half-hour lunch. Well, the half-hour didn't officially start until after the entire crew made it's way from the shooting set to the catering space and the last union member was through the line with his meal in hand. This is where you get the entertaining spectacle of the lowest P.A. on the totem pole trying to make sure that all the union crew gets through the line first, and that everybody else goes after them. This means he gets to tell some Executive Producer (who may be a Big Deal on the movie, but otherwise has no idea how films are made), that he needs to get in line behind the dirty, smelly people. (The military may have a tradition of "The Men" coming first, but in our business, if the Big Shots want to go first, it's gonna cost them.)

So now, it's 2:00 P.M. and the crew is back at work and that clock has just started again. This one says that you are required to feed the crew again...no earlier than 4 hours from finishing lunch and no later than 6 hours after finishing lunch. The Producer, the A.D., the U.P.M. and the Location Manager are all now looking at the list of work to be completed this day and calculating the odds of finishing before 8:00 P.M. And there are permutations that go with this.

If you'll wrap camera (finish shooting), by 7:30 P.M., but expect to have all the gear back on the trucks by 8:30 P.M., you're golden. You won't owe another meal.

If wrapping to the trucks is going to take longer than an hour, you may decide that it's worth it to forego another meal and just pay everyone the meal penalties.

Maybe you're just a nice guy and you're going to pay the penalty and get something to eat for the crew that won't be finished yet.

Or maybe, you'll need (cue creepy music) Second Meal. Again, I can hear you all..."Second Meal?! They've had two meals already. Isn't this dinner or third meal or something?" No, you dolts! It's Second Meal. Because breakfast was a courtesy meal or it wasn't a meal or it was just breakfast dammit! (OK, I'll admit it. I have no idea why dinner is called Second Meal...It just is. Live with it.)

Second Meal requires negotiations. 1.) For it to really count, it's got to be a real sit down meal -- with the crew taking another full 1/2-hour break that takes an hour. 2.) It has to be real food. No fucking pizza and no fucking Chinese Food. (Those are obviously the two easiest things to come up with and I really can't blame crews for rebelling ages ago and telling Producers to come up with some real food if they want everybody to stick around for 20 hours.)

This is going to get complicated by the fact that the crew may be hungry, but they'd really prefer to just get the job done and go home already. So, if the meal is due at 8:00 P.M., the Location Manager (2nd meal is my job unfortunately) will start working on it at 3:00 P.M. What restaurants are nearby? What choices do they have for food? Can they really get it ready for 125 people by 7:30 (so there's time to pick it up, get it to set and hopefully still hot by 8:00 P.M.)? And how much money do they want to do it. Then the Location Manager has to go run the options by the Shop Steward to make sure the meal will be acceptible to the crew. Then the UPM will make the Location Manager wait until the last possible minute to actually order the meal in case, God Forbid, we wrap earlier than planned and then we're stuck with fried chicken and ratatouille for 125.

Oh, this time, let's figure $6/head maybe twice per week - $7.00 X 125 crew X 20 late nights = $17,500.

Ooops. And I haven't paid to feed the extras or the office staff or anyone else during the 7 weeks of prep and 2 weeks of wrap. Let's just add another $125,000 and we should be good.

I'm telling you, if we could harness all of this energy into thinking about something other than meals, we could work miracles...miracles, I say! (On the other hand, we'd probably just be bored and get into a lot of trouble.)

Note: If it sounds like I'm coming down solely on the Producers' side on this and ragging on the crew, I'm not. I actually understand and sympathize with the reason that every single one of these rules came into being. But they do look pretty ridiculous when you pile them all up together like this. Cheers!


MWT said...

Mmmmm... foooood.

Maybe I should go into show business, so that someone else can arrange to feed me. ;) I love work cruises for that reason.

Jim Wright said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Wright said...

Um, this post was so long that I missed my second meal. Now it's cold.

I'm going to have to dock you some food penalties or whatever you call them.

But I'll settle for a beer and access to the craft table - the good one, not that shitty non-SAG extras one.

Nathan, I swear, you need to write a book on this stuff. It's fascinating and I had absolutely no idea that there was this much detail that went into making a movie.

No wonder most of them are crap.

ntsc said...

Works pretty much the same on a big network TV remote.

If call is 8 AM, with paid travel if hotel more than 15 minutes from work, there is then a 1 hour koffe-klatch known as mill-around. If there are reasonable fast food joints around and you aren't on the air, food is on you. You get an hour plus 15 minuets travel each way, or more if needed.

There however is food through out the day, cold food and grill stuff like hamburgers, this is gratis. If you can't leave the set the food is of better quality. Many people don't leave to save the money.

First lunch can be blown, i.e. worked through, but the penalties are incredable, in 20 years of managment I blew one lunch, that guy caught me on a technicality and never worked overtime for me again. Cost him a lot over the years. There also has to be unanimous consent from the crew, which is also unheard of.

Second lunch, which start happening imediately after the 12th hour are never given/taken. There is a penalty and a half hour of over or double time is tacked onto the end of the shift.

I once had a 42 hour shift, 9 AM Sunday to 3 AM Tuesday. I got 8 hours of straight time, 16 hours of time and a half and 18 hours of double time. 8 lunch penalties and the four hours of lunch time gave me a 9th lunch penalty. Two short turn around penalties for not having had 6 hours between shifts Sun-Mon and Mon-Tues. And 8 hours of straight time for Monday because I was entitled to 40 hours of straight time a week, even if I worked them at a different pay rate. And because the break between Monday and Tuesday hadn't been long enough, by one minute. Tuesday was at time and a half, with 8 hours of straight time because I had to get paid for 40 hours of straight time.

By the way nobody, least of all managment thought that any of this was boondoggle, there was good reason for all of those rules.

It was also cheaper to have me do all of it rather than have 8 different truck people in for bits and pieces over that Sunday/Monday night. We had had a major electrical failure Sunday afternoon and all trucks had to be droped from/put back on the internal grid while the electricians fixed the bus-duct.

Some dude stuck in the Midwest said...

Reading post after post after post of movie making makes me wonder... How the fuck are the movies ever getting finished! Unbelievable! Who would ever want to deal with this crap!

Thank you, Nathan, These posts are an amazing read everytime.

Carol Elaine said...

Nathan, I don't think you're far off on why Second Meal is called that. Sure, breakfast is the first meal served, which would logically make lunch the second meal and dinner the third meal. But no one is taking a meal break for breakfast. It's just there when the cast and crew show up in the morning. Which has lunch as the first meal break and dinner as the second meal break.

Voila! Second Meal!

Ya know, Nathan, much as I love my workplace, you're making me yearn for the few times I've worked as a human prop, er, I mean, extra. Of course, I was lucky enough that the cast and crew on every extra job I had didn't treat us like annoying props they had to feed. Hell, John Stamos actually took time to chat with me and another extra when we were waiting for a shot to be set up. He was even amiable!

(I did craft services once for a dear friend of mine who was shooting a few test scenes on a no-budget film. It was nerve-wracking, but I loved it. Obviously I need professional help.)