Food and Film: Keeping the Crew Fed and Happy
You’ve seen commercials with famous faces, amazing stunt work and breathtaking cinematography right? But have you ever thought about the unsung heroes who work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring these commercials to life? We're not talking about the amazing video editors or the visionary directors, but rather, the often-overlooked production/catering team responsible for feeding the crew. Let’s dive into some essential knowledge on feeding a full crew on set.
I mean, who knew that the sambal in your morning nasi lemak can cause so much drama on a commercial shoot set? If mostly everyone's tummies are upset from the spicy sambal, you’re going to expect delays in the schedule, and we’re not going to want that.
A very common issue to encounter on set is late deliveries of meals. Let’s just say this happens, one of the best ways to buy time is to get a PA/runner to buy some food nearby, anything fast and quick. Here’s where the initial recce during pre-production is very important. We’d have to have some nearby mamaks or warungs in mind for when this happens. Earlier this year on the the set of Astro Platinum Pack - The Wans, our caterer got lost when looking for the studio we were shooting at, that we had to send our PA out to go look for him while our other PA and I pushed out snacks early so everyone can alas perut (have something light before a proper meal).
Low Budget Shoots
Now, for those passion projects and low-budget shoots where every ringgit counts, the value of good food becomes even more evident. Even though funds may be tight, skimping on meals is a big no-no. Here’s what you can do to stretch the allocated budget; if you have 2 shoots within the same month, you can negotiate with the caterer to give you a better price and book them to cater for both shoots. Here’s another one, if there’s a restaurant location needed for the shoot, why not lump sum the budget for location and catering together and get food from the location? That’s what we did for our Taylor’s Merdeka shoot.
Even if the budget doesn't allow for fancy spreads, make sure the portions are generous, and meals are served at regular intervals. Nobody wants to toil on an empty stomach, especially when they're making personal sacrifices to be part of a project they believe in. Good food on set isn't a luxury; it's a necessity.
But one important factor we never skimp on is the mineral water on set. We live by one rule: Always 👏 purchase 👏 green 👏 capped 👏 mineral 👏 water 👏. If you notice, white capped water bottles are not labelled as “Mineral Water” but always as “Drinking Water”. So try your best to stay away from the white capped bottles. Green ones are actual mineral water from natural sources. Another tip is to buy a smaller (250-300ml) mineral water to avoid finding half drunk bottles around the set. Of course the best practice is to have large (5L) bottles of water on set and have the crew use their refillable tupperware water bottles. But that’s a goal for the future!
Don't Forget About Snacks
While meal times are vital, snacks are the unsung heroes during those long film shoots. Production days often stretch into the wee hours, and snacks are lifelines when the crew needs a quick energy boost or a pick-me-up. Stocking up on an array of snacks, from mimi to tamtam to muruku to fresh fruit, not only does this keep energy levels up but also shows your commitment to their well-being. On the regular, the PAs on set would wheel around snacks and kuih for the crew. Once on a 15 hour shoot day, we had those small fruit jellies on set just as a little pick-me-up and that was exactly what everyone needed to get that one last shot.
Circling back on tight budgets; just remember that our country is blessed with very affordable and more often very nostalgic snacks. Make that work in your favour.
Meal Frequency Matters
It doesn’t matter if the shoot day starts at 6am or 10pm; ‘Breakfast’ is always the first meal on set before any work starts, ‘Lunch’ is always 6 to 7 hours later, ‘Dinner’ comes 6 to 7 hours after that and our all-time fave - ‘Supper’ must be served if the shoot wraps more than 3 hours after ‘Dinner’. Our go to meal for supper is Ramly Burger; a staple Malaysian street burger. But why Ramly Burger? Its stalls are famously known to open till the wee hours in morning and can be found in front of any 7-Eleven in your neighbourhood. On top of that, they’re affordable and convenient - the crew can easily tapau (takeaway) it back home.
Surprises Make a Difference
Ok here’s one of the most important things to think about when handling the crew’s meals. Surprises! It can add an extra layer of warmth and appreciation to a film set. Imagine working outdoors under the blazing sun. Now, imagine a surprise delivery of cendol for the crew between meals (that’s what our PM, Rais Aqil had for us on our BigPay Raya shoot) . It's not just a sweet treat; it's a thoughtful gesture that shows you care about the crew’s comfort.
And let's not forget birthdays! If it's one of the crew's special day, take a moment to find out their favourite cake flavour and order it. Then, as the shoot wraps, surprise them with the cake, and get the whole crew to sing along Happy Birthday. That’s what we did for our DOP, Matthew on his birthday after our Netflix LCDPKR shoot.
He even almost fell off the table he was sitting on as we came out singing with his cake! These small acts of kindness can turn an ordinary shoot day into an unforgettable one, strengthening the sense of unity within the team. It really does help with everyone's mood after a long shoot day.
On our sets, the best times for problem solving are during meal times - be it trying to figure out how to make up for a delayed schedule caused by the slight rain in the morning, or dealing with a hailstorm that blew away our production tents and crew’s dinner. We’re laughing about it now but this actually happened on our PUBGM x Polis Evo 3 shoot as everything got destroyed by the heaviest rain of the year. You should’ve seen our PA, Baling’s face when he saw our tents fly away.
So the next time you enjoy a captivating commercial, do remember to appreciate the unsung heroes behind the scenes - the production/catering team, whose dedication ensures that the shoot goes on without a hitch. Without these people on the team, without the crew being fed properly, no work will ever get done.