Free meals is one of the best perks of working in the film industry.
But, to be honest, it’s a little weird. How many other jobs do you know of where the employees show up and expect their boss to feed them?
That doesn’t make it any less awesome, however, and the free lunch I get whenever on set always tastes a little better than the same meal I cook myself at home. Maybe it’s because I eat it with a dose of hard work or maybe it’s because it’s consumed in the company of friends — I am not sure.
I am sure, however, that some of the best meals I’ve eaten have been ones in the midst of a 12 hour day — especially when filming inside a restaurant.
Eating in Restaurants Your Filming is Hit Or Miss
Shooting inside of a restaurant almost always means eating a meal from that restaurant when the time comes. For that reason, it can be the best thing ever or the worst stroke of luck — it all depends on the quality of the establishment.
I’ve been subjected to dry hamburgers scraped off the grill of a mom and pop burger shop in Nowhere, Pennsylvania, but I’ve also eaten a gourmet vegan meal at 4 AM in one of the finest restaurants in downtown Washington, D.C.
And, in a situation of cruel irony, I watched two producers eat ice cream cones from an ice cream shop while I lugged a camera down the street in 100 degree weather. My ice cream cone? No one else got one because we were hustling so hard and didn’t have time.
All of those moments were memorable to me and, in some cases, those meals were delightfully filling. But they don’t compare to the one I had in — of all places — Hamilton, Virginia.
“It’s Starting to Rain…”
Out of 20 shooting days, we had maybe 5 days outside of our main location in Leesburg, VA. So when I saw the call sheet with directions to Lowry’s Crab Shack in Hamilton, I was a little miffed to see it would be an extra 15 minute drive on top of the 30 minutes it generally took me.
Further, I knew it was going to be a crazy day when I saw there were three locations in the same town listed on the call sheet.
While the director was gracious and the crew got along great, our forte was not company moves. In fact, company moves on this shoot almost always took double the time production expected them to.
So as expected, by the time we arrived at Lowry’s Crab Shack, the schedule had been thrown out the window. It was now a mad dash to get the essentials of each scene and get the hell outta there.
This sense of urgency wasn’t helped by the small corridors and feeling of claustrophobia that ensued once we filled the shack with extras, lights, and a huge RED One camera rig. Getting in front of the camera to slate was a chore, fetching lenses was difficult, and any movement was limited.
With a slight loss in time due to the immobility of the location, we managed to get most of what we needed. But before we could take a breather, a grip came barging in the door:
“Hey, just to let everyone know it’s starting to rain a bit.”
“Watch the camera,” the 1st AC said to me, “I’m gonna get the cart.”
With my hand steadily on the camera, I watched the 1st AC dash outside and immediately throw plastic sheeting over the camera cart. As he was unraveling it, the drops got larger, thicker, and came at an increasing pace — though it was still only drizzling.
A few moments later, he came back in a hoodie spotted with rain drops with the good news the cart was safely on the grip truck.
As the last few pieces of gear got loaded up into the trucks, the 1st AD made the call:
“Annddd that’s lunchhhhh!”
Two Plates and a Buffet of Food
In a blessing from the movie gods, the rain didn’t really start pouring until all of the equipment had already been packed away in the grip truck. Nothing was left out to be hastily wrapped and thrown into the back of someone’s car.
In another blessing from the gods, this was the exact same time all of the food from the kitchen had been done. The restaurant was expecting to feed our crew — some 40 – 50 people, including extras — and so they decided a buffet style with serving trays of various items was the best approach.
I’ll never forget the moment I walked up to that buffet line. It smelled like you dream food smells like.
Lowry’s had laid out almost everything on their menu: salads, hush puppies, french fries, curly fries, homemade potato chips, cole slaw, potato salad, Alaskan king crab, crab cakes, pulled pork barbeque, and a tray full of hamburgers — and that doesn’t include the stuff I don’t remember.
I sat down with two plates of food next to the 1st AC and DP (also with two plates) and our grins said it all. The first bite of my hush puppy was crispy on the outside with a buttery, fluffy dough on the inside. It didn’t take long for me to finish the entire two plates.
The Effect of the “Itis” – An Hour Long Lunch
So, by now, I bet you’re wondering what makes this story so great — “so it was a good meal, huh?”
What I distinctly remember about this meal is not just everyone loving the food and eating way too much of it, but also how incredibly nice the people working at Lowry’s were. Even when it seemed everyone had been struck by the food-itis (the “itis” is when you are rendered immobile from food consumption), they still continued to offer more food.
My favorite part was how we had to take an hour long lunch instead of 30 minutes because both the directors and assistant directors ate too much — they couldn’t bare to stand up yet!
The downpour of rain gave us the perfect excuse to take an extra half hour and soak in that meal.
That’s why the meal at Lowry’s was so damn amazing: It was a combination of the great food, the fun shoot, and the time we took to relax and reflect on it all.
What is so awesome about shooting in restaurants — good restaurants — is you get the satisfaction of a finely prepared meal without the guilt of paying for it. In fact, someone is paying you to eat it.
So maybe you get shafted on your rate now and then, or you work overtime without being compensated, but the free meals that come along with the jobs in the film industry are sometimes so glorious, so good, and so gluttonously delicious that you forget all of that and, for a moment, savor the taste of someone else’s money melting in your mouth.