How To Become a Film Catering
Film Catering (or Craft Services) provides food and beverages on a production set. They do not handle meals, but supply snacks and drinks.
Bonnie Christiansen, who has worked on features, commercials and music videos explains, “For your job, you must be prepped already. Before you even get on set, you have to do all the required shopping. Every job has different requirements and needs due to budget and diets. If you’re working with movie stars, then they have riders, which means that they have contractual guarantees certain items will be provided on set.
“Commercials are a bit different because they require pass around snacks. It’s good to have those planned out ahead of time, with ingredients ready so they can be served on schedule.”
Crafty’s day begins by getting prepped, waking up extra early to go to the store and getting last-minute items and refills, like ice. Then it’s going to set and putting out the spread: coffee, juice, water, etc. So, when the first crew members arrive for breakfast, it’s ready. It’s always a good idea for a Craft Services person to snag their breakfast and save it since they’ll be working right away.
The rest of the day is restocking the Craft Services table, passing food when required and making additional runs to the store. The Crafty table should always be neat and orderly, with appropriate food rotated throughout the day. Each person does it differently, but usually, there are things like fruit and yogurt in the first half of the day and beef jerky or things like that in the second half.
Wrap out can be difficult because Crafty is usually a department of one. Production Assistants can help, but only Craft Services knows how everything should be organized. It’s good to keep an ear on set so when the martini shot is called they can begin breaking everything down.
Crafty is usually one of the last departments to leave set, and they are typically one of the first ones there so it’s good for them to not be there longer than they have to be.
The average annual salary for a Film Catering Person is approximately $49,000. The salary range for Film Catering people runs from $29,000 to $56,000.
The pay for Crafty varies. In the beginning, it is a ten percent kit fee and working for free to build contacts. This should only be done for the right people because there are those who will abuse the free labor and not make recommendations or pay in the future.
Christiansen recommends, “If people keep expecting that, then you’re running with the wrong crowd. Talk to other people. Pay really depends. On some jobs, it’s thirteen dollars an hour, which can be good if the amount of days is long enough. Higher paying commercials that last only a couple days can be good to do as well. They pay about thirty an hour. It’s up to the individual to balance their schedule.
“The most important thing is to go where the industry is. That way a person can get into the union because their rate is thirty-eight an hour.” Beyond negotiating the Crafty pay is also negotiating the budget they must use. The production company is going to give a budget which usually isn’t enough.
It can be very helpful to find a mentor who can give recommendations on how to stretch a dollar and give estimates. Depending on the budget, a Crafty may be able to buy brand name food or a generic dollar store brand. They always need to be open and transparent with production on how the money is spent. Keep all receipts and a petty cash envelope.
Otherwise, any missing funds will be taken out of Crafty’s pay. At the end of the day, as a person’s career progresses, then they’ll be in charge of more money and get paid more for their time.
Craft Services needs to plan on a fifteen-hour day most of the time, even if they’re working a standard twelve-hour shoot. Additionally, if it is a long show, they’ll get only one day a week off, because the other will be spent prepping. “Crafty really works every waking moment,” explains Christiansen. “You’ve got to hustle up work all the time. When working on a feature or TV show then there’s a chance to relax and just do one thing for the month.”
Usually, the day for a Crafty starts out in the early morning, an hour before crew call to set up breakfast. If they’re late it throws the whole day off. Their day ends when set ends, so that can be an additional twelve hours. But don’t forget any midnight runs to the store for re-ups on food!
Night shoots can be a bit easier because the store runs can happen when more places are open, but it means working nights. Set can be day or night and any time of the year.
Crafty is hired by the Producers and that’s who they report to for budget. However, everyone eats so Crafty interacts with everyone on set. A well-fed crew is a happy crew, thus Craft Services is an integral part of the work environment.
The entry-level position for Craft Services is going to be as an Assistant. Christiansen explains, “That’s the way it happened for me. I was a PA and met my mentor, Cassy. She often gets hit up for jobs but is busy or they have too low of pay, so I started going out on those jobs. Then on a big job, when more than one person is required, I’d work alongside her.”
After years of experience, a Craft Service person will build up their kit, owning a transportation vehicle, buying tables, baskets, and supplies while expanding their professional network. The better they are known for doing a good job, the higher wages they will get.
The best way to land a first opportunity in Craft Services is to meet someone on set. Become a PA and help Crafty. Christiansen says, “Express to them your interest. It’s not super glamorous. But it is good pay and Crafty gets to be on set. They learn a lot about everyone and their departments, from the Director all the way to the Production Assistants.”
By taking the extra time to help Craft Services on set, that individual or team will become a point of contact and possibly a mentor or boss. After a fourteen-hour day, a generous extra set of hands goes far.
Once Producers get to know someone in Craft Services and can trust them, then they’ll make referrals or bring them onto larger jobs. It does take a while to build up a kit but if an individual has found a mentor, often they can rent theirs to use.
Typically a Craft Services kit includes a van, tables, chairs, coffee makers and other things of that nature — basically, all the tools needed for the job. Usually, the kit fee is 10% of the value of the items used. It’s not so much a way of making money as replacing and fixing broken items.
It isn’t just networking but also acquiring the tools to become a full-fledged Craft Services individual.
- Get a Production Assistant job on set and help Crafty.
- Talk to the local union and become a Permit.
- A person should let their contacts in the film industry know that they’re looking for work.
- Develop a good attitude and stay excited.
- If attending a film school, talk to Professors. See who they know who’s working in the industry and ask if they can set up a coffee meeting or Skype call. That can be a good way to get a mentor.
Experience & Skills
A competent Craft Services person will have knowledge of food but also how to deal with disgruntled people and on set politics. Christiansen advises, “Work in a restaurant and do all the positions. That way you get experience working with food as well as angry patrons.”
Every set is different and usually, when things are going wrong, people tend to take it out on Craft Services or the Producers will try to fix their mistakes with the Caterer by rushing Crafty to produce extra food or snacks. It can be a balancing act that is served by having experience in high-stress situations where food is involved.
It’s important to not take things personally and practice time management when working Craft Services on a film set. Christiansen explains, “People can get disgruntled about selection or on set politics. By practicing time management, it’ll save you from people griping about things not coming out on time. Some people will get on your case, wondering why snacks weren’t passed exactly three hours after lunch.”
She also recommends, “Know your place on set. Don’t be distracting or in people’s faces. It’s okay to be a bit introverted. People have a lot on their minds and they don’t want to deal with Craft Services. Getting in their way, even to say hello, can be distracting.” Someone who is calm, who keeps a tight schedule and moves like a ninja on set will do a great job.
Education & Training
There is no specific degree required for a Craft Services career. However, training as a Chef, or working in the foodservice industry could help. They must know about food and food safety.
Christiansen says, “I went to school for theater and playwriting and was interested in the world of entertainment. Something that has really helped me is that I’ve worked in restaurants and pizza shops since I was a teenager. That experience really helped me. School isn’t absolutely necessary since most of the career is learned in the field, however it can be good for meeting people and getting recommendations.”
Practical experience is paramount for doing Craft Services and the best way to learn it is to find a way on set, which can be done through networking.
Check out Craft Services Local 80. Christiansen states, “You have to have a certain number of days for new media, features, commercials, etc. to join the union. The way to get in as an entry-level person is to contact the union and become a Permit. They’re not in the union but the union will still work with them by recommending specific jobs.
“It’s easy; call the union and say you’re trying to get in. Ask if they have any work. If they say yes, then you can fill in on a union set. When a job comes up that the union is giving out, they do it by location. So, where a Craft Services person (and Permit) lives matters. Whoever is closest, gets called first.
“The other way to get into the union is to work on a set that was non-union and then flipped. That’s usually contingent on a few different factors, but mostly budget.”
Another online resource is Facebook. There are private groups and filmmaker pages where people list jobs. When starting out, look for posts trying to hire Craft Services Assistants to learn the ropes. The Crafty Union is a great way to learn the job and turn a passion into a career.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“You’re only as good as your last job. A career in Crafty is based on reputation. That’s how the jobs come. When on set, you can have everything and be missing out on one thing. Guaranteed, that’ll be the only thing that’s talked about.
“People are very picky about their food and sometimes talent has specific things listed in their contracts which need to always be there. So, it’s important to always be on top of your game so that Producers will be trusting and recommend you for other jobs.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The biggest mistake people make is to be flaky and unreliable. This is easier said than done. When working a regular job, it’s possible to miss days. However, that can be very difficult on film productions. If you’re booked, then you typically have to be there. That’s a big thing. Even if something else comes along, like another job that pays better, you’re stuck.
“Producers deal with so much turnover and problems that if they catch wind someone might bail in the middle of production, or right before, then they’ll hire someone else. Be reliable, in every sense of the word.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What is the best way to approach Crafty to build a relationship?
“Ask general questions. If you ask any questions, it’ll blow Crafty’s mind and make them like you. The genuine curiosity will start a conversation. Even, ‘how we do what we do’ is generally appreciated and welcomed. It’s a super weird job that often goes unnoticed. Taking the extra time to express interest on set as a PA will build a connection that could lead to future work or a possible mentor.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Bonnie Christiansen is a twenty-three-year-old woman currently working in the film industry. After completing her BFA in Playwriting at the University of Houston, she moved to Los Angeles. Having worked in food service since her teens, she took an interest in craft services and found an awesome mentor while working as a Production Assistant.
Since October 2017, she has worked as a Crafty on both union and non-union sets. She has tackled a new media show, numerous commercials, and an independent film. Bonnie is very excited to work on her first music video and an even bigger feature set for production!