The Topic At Hand: How Do You Like Your Eggs?

Have you ever been held captive, in some horribly dirty and cramped space not fit for human beings, where you were deprived of sleep, forced to stand and perhaps not allowed to go to the bathroom (if there even is a bathroom) for long periods of time, and forced to eat whatever somewhat food-related substance they put in front of you?

No, I’m not talking about Guantanamo. I’m talking about an average day in the world of film production.

I suppose that this is why one of the favorite pastimes of a film crew is complaining – about the incompetence of the production that’s trying to fit way too many shots into a day, or doesn’t have the equipment you need, or sticks you and 35 other people in a tiny apartment building in a bad neighborhood where people who don’t want you there throw things out the window at you when you use your free 5 minutes of downtime to go outside to breathe; about how they’re trying to screw you out of overtime/kit rental/having a weekend (there is a term that has officially entered the crew vocabulary called “Fraturday,” which I think was coined by the crew on a job on which every Friday inevitably ended sometime on Saturday – probably The Sopranos,); or about the shoot scapegoat, that one person who drives everyone just a little crazy and therefore bears the brunt of the general hatred for humanity that bubbles up when you spend 16 hours a day with the same people.

But the number one target of complaints, bar none? The food.

Back when I worked on independent films, these complaints were extremely well-deserved. Although I didn’t realize it at first because I was coming from film school, where if your classmates rewarded you for your hard if semi-incompetent labor with sludgy/crunchy deli coffee and bologna on Wonder Bread, you would take it and like it. (And you would then punish them with similar treatment when it was their turn to work on your film – HA!) But gradually I came to see that my indie film crewmates had a point when they got disgruntled at having yesterday’s canned green beans turn up, mixed with yesterday’s rice and something unidentifiable that made it all stick together, as today’s entrée. Especially when there was little or nothing to eat between meals at craft service other than the stale bagels leftover from breakfast, and nobody really had time to go find something else to eat and wolf it down during a half-an-hour lunch, even if they could eke something out of their $400-a-week salary to do so and weren’t shooting on, say, an island in Maine somewhere a good 50 miles from even the nearest Whopper. Plus, I discovered that complaining was part of the bonding experience. It was what you did while you rode to location together in the van in the morning, or waited for the set to be lit, or over beers at Blue & Gold or Lucy’s or whatever podunk bar you could find at the end of the day.



So I became a complainer too. And as I got better at my job, I also got really, really good at complaining. I eventually even got to the point where, by week three or so of a shoot, I was telling production to their faces how much the way they were treating us sucked. Once, I got so sick of the combination of Pringles and Little Debbie cakes on offer at craft service that I went out and bought bags of fruit for the entire crew and showed the production manager the $10.00 receipt, which embarrassed her into realizing that, for the same amount of money, human beings could actually be fed something other than saturated fat and high-fructose corn syrup. Of course she never hired me again, but I was fine with that because by then I’d decided I never wanted to see any of those people again, ever. I admit it: working on low-budgets turned me into something of a hater.

Then I moved up – or at least over – to episodic television, where the catering was marginally better. For one thing, they always had hot food; no more donuts for breakfast – not unless you wanted donuts, which usually remained an option, ’cause you have to keep the Teamsters happy. And when you need to have hot food on location, you get to experience the exciting phenomenon of the catering truck. There’s something about a catering truck that makes you feel like you’re really on, like, a set, with, you know, professionals. Probably because the catering truck tends to come with between 5 and 15 other trucks full of gear – lighting & grip, camera & sound, honeywagons with bathrooms (bathrooms! Cleaned daily!) and even trailers containing bonafide – or not so bonafide – stars. Once you’ve got a catering truck, in other words, you know you’re in a different league.

Which is cool, until you realize that there hasn’t been much improvement in the actual food. Maybe this shouldn’t be a surprise, considering it was cooked in a truck. One that generally emits such an overwhelming smell of grease and charred protein matter that it makes me glad I’m too short to look over the edge of that little window and glimpse what goes on in there. I mean tacos, kabobs, ice cream – by all means, give me a truck. But sole almondine? Still, there tends to be at least a complete meal guaranteed when you eat episodic. There will definitely be a starch, a cooked vegetable, a salad, some vegetarian entrée, which could be the aforementioned starch, redefined as needed, and some protein, which will be chicken. That’s not an absolute rule, the chicken part, but it’s close enough that when joining the catering line –- which forms either at the truck itself or in some church basement or Elks Lodge accommodating serving tables where the food can be dumped into large aluminum pans kept nicely tepid by cans of Sterno –- you will inevitably hear at least one person joke, “What’s for chicken?”

After.  (They called it 'sweet and sour,' but to me it just looked scary.)

After. (They called it 'sweet and sour,' but to me it just looked scary.)

I think this gets at the root of why crew people complain so much: on any given workday, we have very little control over anything. Somebody else dictates what time we have to show up, and where, what we have to do when we get there, how many times we have to do it and when we can leave. They decide when we’ll eat and what and who makes it and when and how. I suppose that, because it’s not intended to be punitive, it’s really less like being a prisoner than it is like being a child. So we whine, we rebel, we tell stupid jokes, we stick to our little cliques and refuse to let other ones use our C-stands (yes, grip clique, I’m talking about YOU). Because it seems like the normal thing to do when your parents are pissing you off.

Even now that I’ve moved up, or at least on, at least most of the time, to working mostly in commercials, where the food tends to be much better (think about it: if you’ve got the same amount to spend on 30 seconds that some poor shmuck of an indie film producer has to spend on 90 minutes, who’s going to have more disposable income?), people still complain. Granted, there are some awful commercial caterers, like the notorious and now defunct T&A, who learned the secrets of their craft preparing fine meals for the U.S. military, who seemed to like to serve their vegetables flaccid and black – including the iceberg lettuce – and everything, including the lettuce, coated with American cheese, but who were so nice and so cheap that they managed to stay in business for far, far too long; or Y-Cats, the caterers who think that anything potentially edible can be improved by sprinkling it with lots of oregano and/or mini marshmallows. But in general, at a typical work lunch I can now choose from salad with homemade sesame or Dijon vinaigrette, sautéed broccoli rabe, roasted potatoes with rosemary, pasta with fresh mozzerella, basil and tomatoes, Chilean sea bass with a wasabi-soy glaze, sliced skirt steak with chimmichurri sauce, and homemade strawberry rhubarb cobbler with fresh whipped cream for dessert. But that’s still only two choices each of vegetable, starch, and protein, and only one dessert – meaning that inevitably you will hear somebody on line say, “Fuckin’ sea bass again?” or, “Rich is the caterer? I’m not eating, everything he makes has so much butter!” Actually, what they more often say is, “Rich is the caterer? I’m not eating because that man spits in the food.” Which may or may not be true but people say it because Rich is just your basic all-around asshole, the kind of person who loves to watch me approach the chocolate mousse and then say, because he knows I’m lactose intolerant, “You can’t eat that, Stick Chick, it’s all dairy!” And then laugh maniacally.

But I don’t complain about the food any more. I like food and I love free stuff (as some of you may already know), so a decently-cooked free meal, even if it’s not what I would have ordered that particular day, would have to work pretty hard to be a bad thing in my book. Plus, at some point, complaining just got boring – especially when I realized that complaining about the things you can’t control makes you feel more like a helpless little kid, not less. I suppose I finally figured out that, as a rule for life in general, you can complain about the chicken, or you can eat it. (And write an anonymous blog about it).

And – there’s always breakfast. At breakfast on a commercial or a movie, you can actually go to the truck and order just about whatever you want, made to order: eggs any style with a variety of cheese and vegetable options, ham or bacon or sausage and sometimes turkey bacon or sausage, 2-3 kinds of toast, pancakes or waffles, not to mention a selection of fruit, cereals, muffins, coffee or tea, caf or decaf. So if I arrive at work feeling like an omelet with smoked salmon, onions and capers, or a waffle with strawberries and blueberries and lots of syrup, or a breakfast burrito with eggs scrambled with spinach, mushrooms, onions, turkey sausage and a little – just a little – bit of cheese (because what’s life without cheese?), and no salsa, that is what I get. And even if it’s thrown at me from inside the truck with a, “There you go, Stick Chick!”, for the five minutes I get to scarf it down it before somebody shouts, “We’re in!”, I’m a happy person.

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    10 responses to “What’s For Chicken?”

    1. Jendra says:

      Fraturday was coined when I worked on Sex & the City. It wasn’t just ending after midnight, it was ending on Saturday morning, usually wrapping after sunrise. This of course was more the rule than the exception.

    2. It’s comforting to think that someone out there might actually get to say “I drive a sole almondine truck” with a straight face.

    3. Rachel says:

      “Complaining about things you can’t control makes you feel more like a little kid, not less.” Brilliant. You should quit film and charge 400 an hour as a life coach.

    4. Amy Meckler says:

      i worked craft service for a friend’s short film. it was horrid. one day a ton of bugs got into the house we were cooking in and as i was making stir fry, they just kept falling in. i know i personally ate a daddy long legs.

    5. Emmiebyrd says:

      Once again, I love your posts. You remind me of Anthony Bourdain in your writing (and that’s a compliment from me). If you haven’t read any of his essays, they would prove to you that you should collect all these and publish. I even copied this for my boss to read…looking forward to the next one and thanks for leading us here to ‘Revolving Floor’…it’s a great read…

    6. Nathan says:

      Excellent. There’s been a slight rash of posts about food on set (well, by Ken Levine and me anyway), and yours is a wonderfully different take on the subject.

      Tag! You’re linked!

    7. Nathan says:

      Oops, I posted under my broken URL above. D’oh!

    8. ntsc says:

      I’ve never done movies, but I was in television for 30+ years. We don’t have it any better.

      Food tables for set up are usually set up outside the bleacher johns. We have no idea why, we didn’t think it was in our contract.

      I’ve done 6 political conventions, world series, monday night football, and scads of college basketball.

      By the way it is no better on the managment side for the engineering/production folk. Now if you were senior sports/news or sales it was a different story.

      I could also discuss airplane food, back when there was such, and hotel food. In 1996-2001 time period I did a third of a million miles on United and even more on Continetal.

      Thank you Nathan for pointing me here.

    9. Bill says:

      “bacon infused bourbon”! Good god where can I get my hands on a bottle of that?! Yum!
      And please don’t refer to that Julie Powell food blog. I just saw the movie. Coulda been cut in half. And I think we all know which half.

    10. ecigs says:

      Good job on this post, do more please

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    The Author


    BTL is a New York-based filmmaker and writer who listens to stuff for money – aka, works as a sound mixer and boom operator on movies, TV shows and commercials. She blogs anonymously not to build her own mystique (which she's been told she already oozes) but to make sure she gets her next job. BTL is currently working on a screenplay, a novel, and a documentary, none of which she can tell you anything about — but she can tell you that she likes travel, platform shoes, and bacon-infused bourbon.

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