• November 30, 2009 /  Advertising

    On every film shoot, set off from all the activity, there’s a table with food and drink for the crew, cast and clients. It’s called the Craft Services table.

    In the mornings, you would usually find coffee, juices, sweet rolls, sometimes lox and bagels and so on. It is kept supplied the entire day with cold drinks and all kinds of snacks and munchies.

    If a full breakfast, lunch or dinner were required, a catering company would be called in and they would set up their tables next to the Craft Services table.

    I remember filming a commercial for Mervyns at one of their stores in the Los Angeles area. Since Mervyns would not close the store for an entire day, we were required to shoot while customers were shopping. The Craft Services and catering tables were set up on the sidewalk next to a side entrance to the store. Along with the coffee and sweet rolls, there were scrabbled eggs, bacon, sausage and toast for breakfast and later, hot dishes, sandwiches, tossed salads, coleslaw, potato salad and so on for lunch.

    We ate well.

    Some Mervyns’ customers who used that side entrance thought the store was giving away free samples of food, so they just went up to the tables and helped themselves. I watched as a mother fed breakfast to her two children. She sat on the curb with two plates of food and fed the kids as they sat in their double stroller. One woman asked me the brand name of the product she was sampling. I even noticed a couple of Mervyns’ sales personnel helping themselves during their break.

    Rob Thomas, a Foote Cone & Belding producer, told me that on some of his shoots in Los Angeles, homeless people would come up and ask what they could do to earn a breakfast from the Craft Services table. Usually, they would be given a menial cleanup task and then allowed to eat as much as they wanted. Unfortunately, if the studio happened to be shooting at that same location the next day, there could be a line of homeless people looking for a meal.

    Another time, while shooting a commercial with New York director Murray Bruce at a three-story walkup in Hoboken, New Jersey, I experienced an entirely different help-yourself-to-the-Craft-Services-table experience.

    Normally, when shooting on location, you are required to hire the local police for traffic control and basic security. Usually these are off-duty cops who can earn some extra pay. On this shoot, however, we had none other than the Hoboken Chief of Police providing security.

    The Craft Services table was set up on the parkway at the corner, a couple buildings down from where we were filming. It was easily accessible, yet out of way. While taking a break between scenes, I noticed the Chief loading up a paper plate with bagels and sweet rolls and fruit slices. He placed another paper plate on top with napkins as a squad car pulled up. He handed the plate through the window to the cop inside, along with a steaming cup of coffee.

    I didn’t think much of it, until I watched him load another plate with food and hand it through the window of another squad car that pulled up along the curb.

    It finally dawned on me when I saw the same thing happening with lunch: the Chief was spending the day feeding the entire Hoboken Police Department.

    As I continued to shoot commercials in different locations and with different film studios over the years, I learned a couple valuable lessons about the Craft Services table.  First, if there was a 7 a.m. crew call, make sure you showed up at least by 8 a.m.; any later and the crew would have already polished off the lox, bagels and cream cheese. And second, the film crew and cast were not the only ones eating the food at the table.

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    Posted by admin @ 10:21 pm

1 Comment to Feeding the Masses

  • In the late 70’s, I was a writer at D’Arcy, MacManus & Masius in St. Louis, working mostly on the Budweiser account.

    We were shooting on location at an “authentic”, blue collar bar in LA (despite its authenticity, it had, of course, been styled and dressed to the point that its regular customers would’ve scarcely recognized it) and, since the folks who ran the place didn’t want to shut down during prime business hours, we were shooting really late at night.

    Naturally, a lot of beer was being poured for the principle actors and for the background people. The process was, “Rolling”, pour beers, deliver dialog, “cut”, dump all the beers into ten-gallon plastic buckets.

    Take after take. Time after time.

    When the buckets got full, a PA would carry them outside and dump them into the gutter in front of the bar.

    AFter a few trips to the curb, the PA was approached by one of about a half-dozen, rough-looking men who were lurking on the sidewalk. “WHat’s that you’re pouring out?” the man asked.

    When the PA told him, “Budweiser”, his reaction, and that of his pals, was predictable. And when the PA came back inside, he announced that he would absolutely not be making any more trips to the gutter with bucketfuls of beer. Instead, he started setting the buckets right outside the door. In a few minutes, he’d open the door and bring in empty buckets.

    When our clients from Anheuser-Busch caught on to what was happening, they saw it as a great opportunity to cultivate some brand loyalty. They went outside and gave all the sidewalk “customers” (whose numbers had expanded threefold by this time) bright red t-shirts, emblazoned with the iconic Anheuser-Busch A & Eagle and the slogan “Making Friends Is Our Business”.

    My art director partner and I thought this was a questionable PR move, but we kept our opinions to ourselves, since we lacked the seniority to overtly question a client’s marketing acumen. It’s safe assume that Budweiser made some friends that night. But how much repeating, paying business this impromptu campaign generated is open to discussion.

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