Craft Services

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

The best way to give somebody bad news is, first, give them a doughnut. This is basically the idea behind what we in Hollywood call "Craft Services."

Craft services, otherwise known to newcomers to the business as, "Holy Cow! Look at that huge table of snacks!" is, well, a huge table of snacks, originally designed to feed, water, and otherwise satisfy the between-meal cravings of the various craft guilds that populate the business. Following the principle that hungry people are cranky people, and that cranky, hungry people are the last people you want handling six-ton pieces of equipment and million dollar sets and wires with eighteen zillion volts of electricity crackling through them, inches from the neck and face of America's beloved TV and film stars, well, free Snapple and unlimited Cool Ranch Doritos are sort of a bargain.

But that simple calculation has morphed, over time, to include the need to placate everyone involved in a production. I had a show on the air, years ago, that involved a lot of complicated location filming. We had weather trouble and airplane noise trouble and crowd control trouble and all sorts of trouble that could only really be solved, it turned out, by an enterprising craft service guy passing out a tray of mini egg-salad sandwiches at ten o'clock in the morning.

Egg salad doesn't solve production problems, of course, but it's soothing and eggy and pleasantly bland, and doesn't take much energy to chew, so eating one – or, in my case, eating a fistful – is a little like sucking on a mayonnaise pacifier. You forget what you're supposed to be upset about.

I know of a major television show-runner who had the craft service person whip up, at the end of a long shoot, a mini chocolate soufflé. And as they were shooting pickup shots and retakes, the show-runner would sit in a directors chair, face and lips smeared with gooey chocolate, staring slack-jawed and glassy-eyed at the monitors. "They're just mini soufflés," the show-runner would say, as if that somehow made it less elaborate. But the truth was, they weren't mini at all. They were served in one-quart ramekins, with a double-big spoon. Like a bog chocolate pacifier.

I know a former network president who let it be known that he wouldn't be offended if, during the shooting of the many many pilots he attended during pilot season, a bottle of his preferred Cabernet was available.

So, of course, the studio trying to sell the pilot made sure that there was a bottle in the green room. And so the next studio, also vying for the same slot on the schedule, put out two bottles. It escalated into a half-case, until eventually we were asking the PA to take a case directly to the network executive's car when he arrived, and any leftover bottles after the shoot.

A network executive isn't really a member of a Hollywood craft guild, in any sense of the term, but the idea of craft services is all about soothing, easing tempers, making difficult situations go better with Hershey's kisses and bagel chips. And then one day you discover that you need a new belt.

This has happened on every show or film set I've ever been on. Eventually, somebody gets all up in the craft service table, somebody with clout and an obsession with health, and suddenly, the chips and M&M's and double-stuff Oreos get replaced by good stuff, healthy stuff, by rice cakes and carrot sticks and power bars and things with carob and antioxidants.

And then, suddenly, people start to lose a little of that extra flab. They have more energy. Things happen faster. Pants button. Polo shirts get tucked in again.

And before you know it, the entire production is at each other's throats. The network is feuding with the studio, the studio is trying to fire the producer, and craft guilds – the who reason we have craft services in the first place – end up cranky and hungry and a little careless with the eighty-pound lights dangling above the head of the million-dollar star.

And you can always buy bigger pants. But it's hard to replace a star.

That's it for this week. Next week, we rehearse our last day in the business. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long