Production,  Sustainability

Craft services 101

Long before Google provided free micro-roasted coffee, or WeWork offered complimentary refreshing fruit water to their workers, the film industry created “craft services.” Every film set has a table (or sometimes a food truck) nearby that is filled with various drinks and snacks to “service the crafts” who are working hard on the film. Craft services keeps everyone hydrated and sated and each production offers their own version based on budget, logistics, tradition and more. I’ve always thought of it as a bastion of civility so I thought I’d write about it. (Affliate links below)

What are the factors that feed (pun intended) into the craft services for your production?

  • Budget
  • Cast/Crew size
  • Personnel support for set up, oversight and wrap of CS
  • Filming Location (interior, exterior, public, private)
  • Food preferences
  • Allergies
  • Hydration
  • Caffeine
  • Area available for the set up
  • Healthy vs. Unhealthy
  • Additional non-food offerings
  • Green/Sustainable production practices
My own craft service bag and cooler

Let’s take these one at a time:

Budget is probably the biggest factor in how you create your craft services. I’ve done commercials with big budgets and I’ve produced lots of low budget productions where the amount of money available is really tight. We have all heard about the film sets that offer hot food passed around by a server, custom smoothies and bespoke cappuccinos and espressos geared to every crew person’s whim. Why can’t I ever work on those films? For the rest of us, we try to figure out how to provide healthy and delicious snacks for the cast & crew on set each day. We’ll focus on ideas for the lower end of the budget.

Cast/Crew size is another consideration. Is it a big or small crew? What about the cast – is it just principal actors or is there a big crowd scene that day with 50 extras/background actors?

Personnel available to purchase, set up and offer craft services impacts what you can provide. Having someone dedicated to this job is best but not all productions can afford it. In that case, a Production Assistant can be deployed and supervised by the production team to buy all items on the craft services list on the Pick Up day, put together the table and supervise/replenish it.

The Filming Location also affects craft services. If indoors, is there a place near set but far enough away so it doesn’t affect filming (think of the sounds that coffee makers can make)? If outside, is there an area that won’t be disturbed if you have inclement weather?

Hydration is the most basic job or bottom line for craft services. Make sure to have a water station that allows everyone to fill out their own water bottles to eliminate/reduce plastic on set.

Food preferences influence what is offered. Does the director or lead actress have an specific food or drink that they would like to have on set? Does the DP need a double espresso after lunch each day so they can keep focused? For key cast/crew, food preferences may need to be taken into consideration.

Allergies need to be factored into the craft services. If someone is gluten-free you need to have GF foods that person can eat. Nut allergies are serious, so find out the crew person’s needs and criteria and research the ingredients so the craft service table is safe for everyone. For those with lactic acid sensitivity or are vegan, plan for to have foods and beverages that allow them to partake of the options. In pre-production, the production team should ask all cast/crew about allergies when they are hired and a spreadsheet should be created to make sure any food issues are tracked and taken care of.

Caffeine is usually a constant option on a craft service table, especially in the morning when people often need an infusion to wake up and focus. Coffee, black tea and some sodas will provide caffeine. Conversely, it’s important to provide non-caffeinated options like herbal tea, decaf coffee and juices.

Choosing the optimal set-up location is important because of sound and smells. The coffee maker, hot water maker and water station often make sounds when operating so it’s usually best to choose a place that is away (or in different room) from filming is taking place. At the same time, it is best to keep the craft service table to be as convenient to the majority of the cast/crew so they have access to it when necessary.

Healthy snacks are key. Everyone has experienced or watched others go through a sugar rush and then the inevitable crash after eating too many carbohydrates and sugar. I have a rule of “No chocolate until after lunch” so that everyone can modulate their sugar intake till later in the day. When children are on set, we also try to make sure they get healthy food only and sugary sodas are avoided.

Additional non-food offerings are important to provide cast/crew on the craft service table. Make sure to include a well-stocked first aid kit, sunscreen and bug spray (if you have exterior filming), ibuprofen, vitamin C packets, cold packs and hot packs.

Cleaning supplies and serving tableware are needed to keep everything clean and organized. Paper towels, garbage bags, disinfectant spray, sponges, and toilet paper are good things to have on hand. Don’t forget coffee maker and reusable filter, hot water kettle, reusable cutlery, napkins, paper table cloths, reusable serving bowls, platters and utensils, bread knife, cutting board, paper cups (as back-up if anyone forgets a personal water bottle or travel mug),

Nice (but not necessary) additions to a basic craft service table include things like a microwave, toaster and/or toaster oven. This allows cast/crew to toast bagels and bread. Additionally you can heat up small bites like frozen snacks like mini-quiches, cut-up burritos, mac & cheese, etc.

Green/Sustainable practices are as important to follow on the craft service table as throughout the rest of the production. Purchasing a water pump dispenser will allow you to reuse on each of your productions and save money by procuring the 5 gallon water cooler bottles. Set up a recycling system and post signs so everyone knows to put bottles and cans in a different bin. Think about packaging when purchasing the craft service items – buying in bulk may be a good option for the budget and the environment. The Producers Guild of America (PGA) has put together the excellent Green Production Guide with a Toolkit to give you ideas and tools to run a green set.

For craft service snacks, think about the arc of the day and switch out/add to the offerings throughout the day:

  • All day – Water, water, water!
  • Morning – Emphasis on caffeine, breakfast type foods-bagels, muffins, juice and fruits
  • Mid-Morning – Healthy snacks that don’t ruin anyone’s appetite for lunch – energy bars, nuts & berries, fresh cut fruit, peanut butter & jelly
  • Mid-Afternoon – additional snacks to boost the post lunch lull and help with sugar levels before wrap – chips and salsa, dried salami, cheese and crackers, small chocolate candies, dehydrated fruit and healthy cookies

There’s a lot more to craft service than you might think. Make sure to plan for it so it is easy to purchase, set up and look after. Your cast and crew will be most appreciative!