What do you want to become?
Key Craft Services
Alternate Career Titles:
Key Crafty Service, Key Crafty, Key Craft Server
Career Overview: Key Craft Services provide snacks, coffee and refreshments to crew and cast throughout the day. They also maintain trash on and around set.
Average Annual Salary: $130,000
General Salary Range: $110,000 to $180,000+, depending on whether you rent or own your trailer.
Become a Key Craft Services
Heather Lapp, purveyor of Craft Services to top television shows like Sorry For Your Loss, The Catch and People Like Us clarifies how Craft Services is different from catering: “Caterers are the people who come in and provide breakfast and lunch, they do that huge setup. What I do as a Key Crafty is come in and maintain all day. I do coffee, I do snacks, I do the trash, I take care of anything the cast, crew and assistants need. I have a whole setup on stage with snacks and then, after lunch, I’m making fruit platters to go out. People can even come on the trailer and get anything they want. It’s drinks, food, little snacks, early dinner — that’s where I come in as a Crafty.”
Lapp explains that her day starts early, earlier than every other department head: “I’m there before everyone, and I leave after everyone. I have to get my setup done pretty quickly in the mornings so I come in an hour before the crew and start getting water and trash ready. People need to be hydrated right from the start. Also, people are super tired and start to complain if I don’t get the coffee going as fast as possible! You gotta keep everyone happy and make sure they have what they need, right from the off.” Lapp runs her own department and maintains her own schedule independent of anyone else: “I don’t have to check in with anyone. If I’m on stage, I go in early and turn on the coffee machines and the warmers. Then I get the water into the coolers and check the trash — as a Crafty, you get a system down.” Lapp has people coming in and out of her trailer all day, and the numbers are astronomical: “You have 150 people, at least, that you’re dealing with on a daily basis so you build relationships amidst the chaos. I have a great relationship with the PAs — they have a really hard job and take the brunt of set stress, so I like to take care of them. I have a really nice deli bar and a hot dog machine so they can come in any time and get what they need.”
Lapp shares her favorite analogy about being a Key Crafty: “I’m like a Bartender — people come into my trailer and share all kinds of things. The cool thing is, you become a part of a family, a dysfunctional one. When people are dead tired and having a horrible day, they start telling me their problems — it’s really fun! And I cheer people up — it’s lovely when I bring something special out, some cookies or special chips — and I see the effect it has on people. I try to be positive, I try to have fun with it all.”
Most of the time, Key Craft Services are hired by the UPM (Unit Production Manager), but if the Line Producer or even an Executive Producer has a particular preference, they can also hire the Craft Services team. Lapp explains that it’s your reputation that precedes and follows you: “With Crafty, if someone sees you on a show and they like you, they’ll ask a Producer to hire you. Then you have to interview and sell yourself. At an interview, I bring my resumé with all my shows and they ask you lots of questions: what’s your setup like, describe your trailer, what does your coffee cart look like. The aesthetic on set and at basecamp is very important.”
Lapp tries to put her finger on what differentiates her from other Craft Service providers: “It’s always tough to articulate what makes you special, but I’m very attentive, I’m a people pleaser. It’s important to watch what’s going on to know when to jump in and when to back out. Actors might be about to do a heavy, crying scene so you won’t even want to look at them. Some Actors even want to stay in character. I really try and give Actors space; I introduce myself and let them know I can bring them anything they need in their trailer, or I can send a PA with their needs. Some Actors have special dietary requirements and I’ll buy what they need and leave it in their trailer.”
Every time Lapp interviews, she is given her daily budget. She laments that the range is variable and it can be a challenge to make the daily pot stretch: “It could be $1,000 per day and I’ll have to make everything work. Ice, water, soda, snacks, fruit… it all comes out of that. $1,000 might sound like a lot, but for 150 people, it goes very quickly. Right now, we’re on location shooting Season Two of Sorry For Your Loss and it’s hot. I have twenty-two bags of ice and we’re going through it like crazy! I love working with decent budgets ($3,000/$4,000 per day) because it is hard to keep people happy otherwise. I once did a feature and the Producers didn’t even articulate a budget; they just said, ‘Do whatever you want, just keep people happy!’ I love that!”
Lapp goes on to lay out some of the changing trends on set and the fiscal challenges that come with them: “More and more people want the healthiest food possible on set, but it is more expensive so smaller budgets can be taxing. Plus, productions are now becoming ecologically responsible with non-plasticware and no single-use plastics, but going ‘green’ is a lot more expensive. Production doesn’t give us extra to do that — it’s a ‘make it happen’ attitude. And once you do it successfully, you’ve set a precedent: you have to keep doing it!”
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Lapp can trace her career all the way back to her best friend that she has known since she was fifteen. She was working in a grocery store, blew out her left shoulder and had to get surgery. She says, “After that, I was trying to get a job but nobody wanted to hire me; once you say you’ve hurt yourself, you’re a liability and nobody wants to take you on. I had a buddy doing Craft Services on Land of the Lost and he asked me to come and see what it was all about. I went in and worked for free just to see what he did; it was so cool and magical, to watch Will Ferrell and Anna Freil and Danny McBride doing their thing. Frankly, it was something different, something I’d never seen. And it was so laid back — nobody cared that I was hurt. I guess I didn’t feel so judged.”
Lapp worked from the entry-level of Craft Services as a 4th and a 3rd Crafty, always working for other people. After that, she landed her first Key Craft Service job on Happy Endings: “That’s when I started renting trailers — you have to if you’re keying a show. I was learning the ins-and-outs of the business, the timings, the amounts, the relationships, etc. Then, after puerile people giving me a hard time about renting their trailers, I decided to buy my own trailer (without a lift gate, because they’re dangerous!) Now I have a beautiful 26’ trailer called ‘Big Red’ — I know it’s dorky, but I’m in love with this trailer. It has taken on my personality: there’s music, food, it’s a happy place to be. It was really expensive — these things can cost up to $200,000 — and it was built for me from the ground up. The beauty is you can then rent your trailer to production to earn your money back; that way, it will eventually pay for itself.” Lapp describes Big Red as her home on wheels: “Honestly, I spend more than 16 hours per day in there. I can always go in there if it’s hot or cold or if I’m hungry — it’s my happy place. I actually have two trailers but if I bring my white trailer, people get upset and say, ‘Where’s ‘Big Red?!’”
Education & Training
Lapp explains that there’s really no experience necessary to get into Craft Services. You don’t need a degree or any specific qualifications. However, Lapp has some general advice for anyone considering a career as a Crafty: “It helps if you’re passionate about food. Some people do go to culinary school and/or they’ll become personal Chefs to certain Actors but, in reality, it’s all about getting your foot in the door at the beginning.” Lapp has some very particular insight into why Craft Services offers so much to so many people: “I have Level One Autism but I’m very high functioning — Craft Services allowed someone like me, someone who had a harder time learning, to achieve what I have and make something of myself. These days, I’m in an industry and a position where I’m not judged and I don’t feel dumb.”
Experience & Skills
In terms of experience, Lapp proffers that any customer-facing job gives you an opportunity to hone your people skills, no matter where it is. As she points out, “I’m a really engaging person — I’m outgoing and people really like that. Also, your trailer takes on a lot of your personality, and Big Red certainly has mine!”
It’s also vital to focus and work as hard as you can, so any gig or job in which you have had to graft will stand you in good stead for a career as a Crafty. Lapp states it clearly: “In this job, you have to give 150% because there’s always someone who wants to take your job. I give it my all. I’m also a person of my word — if I say I’m going to do your show, even if something ‘better’ comes up, I will still do it. It’s part of building a reputation.”
Lapp feels like outgoing, fun people do well: “They enjoy their job and people are drawn to them. Saying that, there are crabby Craftys, ones that have been doing it for too long and forget where they came from. People don’t want to be around them because they’ll suck the life out of you. They’re the kind of people that if someone says, ‘Oh, I think I preferred the food yesterday’, they’ll reply, ‘Well, it is free…’ There are mean Craftys out there!”
Craft Service personnel also have a unique viewpoint on production days, as Lapp explains: “One of the cool things about my job is you see departments drinking and eating in their own little groups and cliques but, as a Crafty, I can kind of roam around and annoy everyone — you can be a social floater. I can mess with people because, to them, I’m the ‘food girl.’ It’s kind of great.”
Saying that, Lapp describes certain challenges on her way up the ladder: “It was very hard as a female to get to where I am. I can’t tell you how many times I was degraded or people were offensively rude to me. I worked hard, but there were people out to hurt my feelings. I didn’t even plan to get my own Craft Services trailer until I was sick of guys demeaning me and coming down hard on me about how I was going to have to rent their trailer. But it was all fuel to me.” Lapp has some sterling guidance for young women coming into the industry: “I would counsel you to be tough, have thick skin, and be ready to sweat. It’s 80 hours per week, pushing carts up hills, hauling trash, so you can’t be the damsel in distress breaking your fragile nails on things. It’s not that kind of job — you have to pull your weight. I’ve had friends come in and they literally can’t push the coffee cart. Not only that, but you’re dealing with 150 different personalities and you have them all complaining to you because they can’t complain to their own department. Be ready for that.”
With all that said, Lapp is extraordinarily passionate about her job and her love is tangible: “The job has been so good to me, it’s made all my dreams come true. If you are prepared to work very hard and not take things personally, you can make a fantastic living.”
Lapp explains that it is hard to find time for ‘life’ after an 80 hour week: “My body is tired — on Saturday I just want to sleep and rest, then Sunday is about paying bills and getting groceries so your house functions for your child for the week. When I got into this job, my son was only five and it was very challenging. There were times he told me, ‘Oh Mom, you’re never home,’ and it broke my heart. But to survive, to pay your bills, you can’t do it on minimum wage and I know he appreciates everything now. You can’t be hard on yourself if you can’t find balance at times. No matter how tired you are, you do need to find time for your kids, but it can take all your strength! For me, I paint and try to find space between shows to hang out with friends.”
The entry-level job is 3rd or 4th Craft Service. If the production has a lot of Background Artists or five or six location moves, the Key Craft Service will need extra hands so newcomers can enter at that level. As for how to get in, Lapp says: “You speak to the Key Craft Service person and they will put you on a list. Call them all the time and take any job you can. That’s the way you get your thirty days. You have to work thirty days in a year to get into the union — it’s not that easy and it took me two years (because of the Writers’ strike). It’s not impossible, but it takes some tenacity.”
As for finding those Keys, “Look Key Crafty people up on IMDB and contact them. Or if you’re on the lot, say, as a PA, walk around all the Craft Services and get yourself on their lists. Keep your head down, don’t complain and do whatever they ask you to do. Tell them you’re looking for work and make yourself available. Get their number, text them, stay in their orbit.”
For a Key Craft Service person, earnings vary depending on whether or not you own your own trailer. Lapp breaks open the numbers: “Without owning a trailer, you make around $14,000 per month gross. That’s $40 per hour. For me, I bring home $2,500 per week after tax, which adds up to about $150,000 per year.” On top of that, renting your trailer can bring in even more income: “I can get $1,250 per week for Big Red and that works out at a lot of supplemental income. Honestly, I wish I’d bought my trailer earlier. I have my second trailer now, ‘Little Red.’ Eventually, I’ll get her painted fully red!”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The Union for Craft Services is IATSE Local 80. Lapp welcomes their support: “They provide amazing health insurance, a great pension, and retirement fund, chiropractic, Lawyers, all the good stuff. They don’t really help you get a job, but they do provide support on other fronts.” Lapp clarifies how to rack up those all-important thirty days so you can join: “You need to call the union and get a permit to work those days. Once you’re permitted, you’re building your union experience before joining.”
- If you don’t know anyone in Crafty, try and get on set as a PA. Once you’re in, speak to the Key Craft Service person and see if you can get on their list for when they need help.
- Focus on what it is about yourself that people enjoy. Accentuate that consciously and bring it to your work!
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Go to Local 80 and attend the orientation meetings. Once there, get to know the union reps; they can really help you find the Keys who will get you in. Don’t hide from them — get out there! Interestingly, in Craft Services, it’s not just food. You can just do cleanup, and skip food altogether. Or you can do something called ‘Layout Board’ where you go to the shows and layout all the board and plastic wrap so we don’t ruin the floor in the place. Craft Services has all these other elements — there are people who do only those things if they don’t want to do food.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“I see people who don’t want to learn, who want everything too quickly and they don’t watch. If you just watch and pay attention to your surroundings, you’ll learn so much. The smart people are those that never stop learning. If someone is willing to teach you, take it because it’s a really hard job. When you know what you’re doing, there’s nothing to stop you! Keep quiet, listen and watch!”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Persistent. I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You know, I’m proud of what I do. I love it. It’s time to retire if I stop loving it.”
Heather Lapp has been working in Craft Services since 2008. She took on her first Key Craft Services role in 2011, bought her trademark Big Red trailer in 2013 and has been trailblazing ever since. She has provided incredible Craft Services to all kinds of leading productions, including Transparent, Sorry For Your Loss, The Catch, Franklin & Bash, Vida, The Circle, People Like Us, and Superstore.