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Charlie Scott and his son Charlie Scott III with a platter of food. (NPR)

How Hollywood Gets Fed: A Lesson In Craft Service

Mar 4, 2010 (Morning Edition)

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Charlie Scott and his son, Charlie Scott III, in the food trailer. Charlie Scott prepares a plate of fruit. A plate of fruit prepared for the set of 'Burlesque'

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When Napoleon said that "an army travels on its stomach," he was talking about military troops, but he might as well have been talking about Hollywood. Moviemakers, with their long hours and tight schedules, count on calories to keep them going — and on any set, it's up to craft service to tend to their care and feeding.

In literal terms, craft service assists not so much the stars, but the crew: "craft" workers such as grips, gaffers, property masters, costumers, electricians, hair and make-up artists. These days, the job is mainly known for providing workers and actors with lavish snacks — all day long.

"The actor [who] makes $20 million a film can have fresh lobster flown in every day. That's not a problem," says Craig Conover, who used to be in craft service and now works for the local union. "But it's the guys that are hauling around the lights and the cameras that need that sustenance so they can do their job day after day after day — 14-, 16-hour days — in some reasonable amount of comfort."

Not Just About The Food

In the old days, craft service didn't deal with food at all, because there was no free food service on the studio sets. Actors simply brought their own food in brown bags, and there was a break for lunch.

Universal Studios started a tradition of rolling a coffee and doughnut cart to each stage — everyone would put a nickel in the cup in the morning. But then hours on set really began to stretch out.

"Now you get into issues of people being tired, being hungry," Conover says. "Well, who's gonna order the pizza? We'll have the craft service guy do it."

Craft service was already doing odd jobs: digging a hole to place a camera at ground level, laying out protective material on sets — and cleanups, too. After a movie car crash, for instance, craft service would sweep up the broken glass.

Conover tells an old saw about the movie elephant that "divests" itself of a meal on location: Someone nearby runs over to clean it up, "and the craft service guy stops him and says, 'No, no no! It may look like crap to you, but it's my bread and butter.' "

Bread And Butter ... And Much, Much More

Eating has become an important production on set. The main hot meals are catered, but all the snacking between meals is the domain of craft service.

Charlie Scott has been feeding people on movie sets for 15 years. His latest job is with the film Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci and Cher. Scott works long hours; no matter how late he stays on the set, he gets a morning wake-up call around 4:30 a.m.

Today, he needs to keep about 250 people on the set fed and hydrated, so he'll make numerous trips throughout the day to various stores and supermarkets for fresh bagels, doughnuts and snacks.

"I've been doing this so long there's no need to keep a list," Scott says. "Sometimes I go to the store for 130 items — never a list."

In the supermarket, Scott grabs lettuce, handfuls of radishes, and celery for a salad and veggie platters. He piles bananas, oranges, mangoes, pineapples and strawberries in his cart.

"More and more people on movie sets are into health," he says. (Though he already has an ample supply of chips, candy and chocolate back on the set.)

"They eat all day," Scott says. There's only half an hour allotted for lunch. There won't be any leftovers, either. "By the end of the day, it'll all be gone," he says.

His morning shopping cart runneth over — $260.67 worth of "in between" snacks. By day's end, he'll have spent $1,000 to feed 250 people snacks.

This 250-person movie set is nothing compared to the time Scott worked on The Longest Yard — the 2005 football movie with Adam Sandler. There were 5,000 extras in the stands for 30 days in the summer months, Scott recalls. And that wasn't even including the crew.

"I had a crew just for water," Scott says. "I had another crew just for cleanup. Another crew just for food."

It's All About Preparation

The film Burlesque is being shot indoors on the Sony Pictures Studio lot in Culver City, Calif. Scott prepares the food, cutting up the fruit and vegetables, in a trailer a few hundred yards from the studio stage door.

His son, Charlie Scott III, is in the trailer with him, helping out. The two Charlies have been working together for nine years.

"A lot of times when parents are in this industry, they really don't get to see their children," Scott (the son) says. "In the morning, you know, Dad's gonna be there. Like death and taxes."

Charlie Scott III carries a large fruit platter from the trailer into Stage 23 and places it on a 12-foot-long table just off the set. The table is full with the food his father bought this morning. People wander by, look and graze. At various times throughout the day, crowds of people will swarm the table.

The Heart And Soul Of The Set

Back in the trailer, Charlie Sr. flips a switch on a blender. He's making a special fruit smoothie for someone on the set who isn't feeling well. ("Strawberries, blueberries, banana ... I'm giving her some natural fruit," he explains.)

But there's little time to waste, Charlie and Charlie (and another helper) have to prep for the next round of snacks. Glenn Gainor of Sony's Screen Gems says a craft service veteran like Charlie Scott is on top of everything — he's good for the stomach and the psyche.

"He's definitely the first person on the set." Gainor says. "He's got to make sure, when everybody struggles their way at 6 o'clock in the morning, that the coffee's on and the coffee's hot. Charlie is always smiling and happy to see you. ... Heart and mind and soul and spirit are all taken care of in that truck."

Keep the food coming. Keep the place clean. Mr. Craft Service Charles Scott keeps this long day going ... and starts all over again the next day, and the next, and the next.

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