2 Top Mistakes That Will Tank Your Film Overnight

Posted on November 22, 2019 in Uncategorized

There are many ways to look at saving money and sometimes you have to spend more in the beginning to save more in the end. This is true for the two top things that will tank your film overnight.

Mistake #1- FOOD. Have you ever been at work and starving? When you’re hungry its all you can think about. As a resourceful filmmaker you’ve probably made deals with people to work for very cheap, if not free, to help achieve your creative vision. After a couple 16-hour days people start losing steam. The one thing that keeps people going and also lets them know you care about their well-being is food. DON’T go cheap. Little bags of chips for snacks and pizza or subs for lunch every day is NOT cool! It sends a message that you want favors from people but you don’t care enough to feed them well. Take some of the money you saved on hiring cheap crew and allocate it to food. There are a million caterers and restaurants and if you take the time to plead with them for deal, most likely someone will come through with something affordable and you will look like the hero. My partner and I just wrapped a low budget movie filming on a mountain in Topanga, Canyon, California. To drive down the mountain was a half hour so losing someone for over an hour a day to handle lunch was not cost effective for us as we were already short staffed. In pre-production we asked some of our key crew if they could refer a caterer who they like. Catering for film is not cheap but we figured “what the heck” doesn’t hurt to ask someone to work with us on our tight budget. I called a caterer who was known for gourmet, healthy food and explained our low budget situation but said I want to establish the relationship as our film budgets get higher and higher. Would they be willing to work with us on the numbers for the first film? They agreed, and we were heroes every day at lunch with our crew who continuously thanked us for having good snacks and meals. For $10 a person, they delivered and setup the food. They brought two hot meats and one hot vegetarian option that changed every day as well as a hot side and fresh salad with toppings and homemade dressings. The meal included a dessert, coffee with the fixings and a gourmet lemonade or ice tea. With all of that food, it reduced what we spent in snacks and drinks as well as saved on gas for sending someone out to pick up lunch and losing a production assistant. Our crew moved so much faster and efficient knowing that we also cared enough about them to plan good meals. One of our celebrity actors walked over to the caterer and asked for a business card. He was a vegetarian and said most films forget about the non-carnivores and he usually has to pick through the side dishes to try and create a meal. He then walked over and thanked the producers.

Mistake #2- PRIVATELY OWNED EQUIPMENT- It’s very tempting to make a deal with someone to lower their rate and in return you will rent their equipment. We’ve done this deal many times on low-budget sets and sometimes it works out. BUT, when it doesn’t work out, this initial savings in money could cost you THOUSANDS. We were shooting in the middle of the night for exterior scenes and had rented a generator from our gaffer to power all of the extra lighting. About 3AM the generator stopped working and all the lights went out. Since we rented the genny from an individual, he did not have an emergency help line and tech people on stand-by to come out and fix or replace the genny. We were screwed and literally shut down for the night since this was our last day of shooting and didn’t need anymore scenes. We had made specific deals with actors on how many days they would work and now had to go back to their agents to try and get them for another night shoot and work out all the schedule conflicts. Since we had SAG actors, we still had to pay them for the whole night. It was a nightmare and in the end we did NOT save money on our cheap genny.

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Shooting Food — Filming Food So It Looks Good Enough To Eat

Posted on November 21, 2019 in Uncategorized

I’ve worked a number of movie shoots with eating scenes and they can be very difficult because of perishable food items. Since the object is to make the food always look good (even if it is barely on the screen), there are special challenges in shooting edibles. And if you’re filming a feast, the food should look perfect!

I’ve created this list to share some of the most useful information that I’ve come across working Art Department with food handling. These items come from real world experience, so they should be applicable to most filming situations.

Here are some tips on filming food:

Use colored dishes


Most non-professional art directors overlook using colored plates, service trays, glasses, etc. Color dishes do two things for you: add color to your scene and add contrast to food presentation. Imagine a black plate with a tomato and a leaf of lettuce on it. Much better than a white plate with the same items. Warning: Only do this if the colors of the dishes match (all glasses same color, all plates same color, etc.) If it looks like you picked up a hodgepodge of colored dishes at the local thrift store, it will ruin the film illusion.

Use a spray-bottle of cooking oil


Most food has a matte finish so the food surface doesn’t reflect much light. A spray bottle of oil will add a shine to items that will enhance how most food appears on film. It will also add lighting highlights that enhances the look of food. A coating of oil can also be used to simulate wet food.

Think ahead about food rotting


Many people think of food refrigeration before the shooting begins (making sure meat, etc. is well kept before 1st call). Beginners often forget to consider what the food will be like after 5 hours of shooting under the hot lights. Consider this when you’re putting together your on-camera meal. It’s hard to get a good performance out of an actor when a rotting pork chop is sitting right under his nose.

Mix real food with fake food


If you use all fake food (wax grapes, plastic lemons, etc.), the food will appear fake on camera. The best technique is to mix real and fake food. This can work especially well with deserts. Fake ice cream with real cherries and whip cream looks good enough to eat! Also, mashed potatoes can be a useful stand-in for ice cream.

Use the vaseline trick for beading water


Vaseline can be used on an actor’s face to simulate beads of sweat. Likewise, you can coat the outside of a vegetable (such as an apple). Use a hand spray filled with water and the water will bead on the surface for that just-out-of-the-garden freshness. Note that this effect won’t be picked up by the camera except with close-up photography and specific lighting, so don’t bother except under those conditions. This technique can also be used for beads of water on a glass if you need the glass to look like it’s sweating from a cold liquid inside.

Soft lighting makes food look good


The general rule in shooting food is that soft light makes food look good to eat, hard lighting makes it look like poison. The hard light creates harsh shadows which makes food look blacker/rotten. Food lighting is exactly like lighting people — think of your desired effect.

Use dish soap for a head on a beer


If the scene requires beer, dish soap provides a good frothy head that lasts under the hot lights. Obviously, make sure your actors don’t take a swig. That said, I would personally recommend avoiding shooting beer. Unless it is specially lighted, it will show up on film as a flat brown which typically less than appetizing.

Undercook food to retain firmness


Many foods wilt under the long shooting hours and hot lights. Some foods such as pasta (especially spaghetti) can be under-cooked to a rubber consistency. These foods will then stay firm during the entire shoot rather than wilting and appearing exhausted.

Bring spare tablecloths


Almost without fail an actor will spill something on your tablecloth. Both the spill and the stain will cause horrid problems for film continuity. Have 2 or 3 identical tablecloths on set. When a spill occurs, you can quickly swap out the dirty one for a clean reserve.

Consider using food doubles


If the food shoot is going to be very long and the food needs to look perfect, you can use fake food for the long shots and the real perfect food for the close ups.


Capsule Movie Reviews From the 2018 Florida Film Festival

Posted on November 20, 2019 in Uncategorized