How to Eat Healthy on a Film Set and Avoid the Temptations of Crafty

How to Eat Healthy on a Film Set and Avoid the Temptations of Crafty

Between all the pressures, anxieties, and sleepless days on set, it's a wonder anybody manages to stay alive for long in the film industry -- it isn't exactly condusive to healthy living. A large part of the unhealthiness pervasive on sets is the diet of crew members.

When you have sour skittles and twizzlers constantly in supply at the craft services table and keep yourself awake by chugging Red Bulls every hour, you aren’t treating your body kindly.

And it can catch up to you — you get tired, sluggish, irritable and even, well, fatter.

There are definite advantages to eating healthy, but it’s hard to make that adjustment when you’re in the fast-paced production world. Still, even the smallest steps towards eating healthier on set are better than no steps at all.

So let’s take a look at some tactics to help yourself be healthy the next time you swing by crafty.

10 Tips for Healthy Eating as Below-the-Line Crew

Healthy eating and the concepts that define it are nothing new to us, but applying them within the context of filmmaking is a whole different challenge. These are ten tips I’ve drummed up from my experience (and struggles) with the temptations of junk food on the film set.

1. Don’t Make Crafty Your Hangout Spot

As tempting as it is, don’t let craft services become the de facto hangout for your department. Meet in a staging area, at a truck, or somewhere else off-set. There’s only so long you can stand by the crafty table before your stomach starts to control your hands.

2. Portion Food to Control Your Appetite

Modest portions spaced throughout a day are much healthier than huge meals once or twice a day.

While production only breaks for lunch halfway through the day, you can still munch on food every few hours or so to curb your appetite. This will help you avoid a massive pile of food on your plate during the traditional lunch break after 6 hours.

3. Fill No More Than Two Plates at Lunch

While modest portions throughout the day is ideal, sometimes it’s not practical or you still end up hungrier than a hippo.

If you do want to have a big lunch, limit the trips you take through the catering line to two. Anything more than that will make you feel sluggish and is likely to be overeating.

4. Lay Off the Late Night Snacks/Drinks

On a feature film I worked on, the camera crew and I had a bad habit of going to Sonic at the end of every day. As a result, I must have gained closed to 15 lbs. — no joke.

Eating before you go to bed is a big health no-no and though a long day can leave you hungry, it’s better to go to bed on an empty stomach and eat a healthier breakfast in the morning so you have all day to digest it.

5. Speak Up for Healthier Food

Many craft services crew are willing to take requests — their goal is to keep the crew fed and happy.

If there is a particular healthy snack you like, don’t be afraid to ask them for it. It’s likely other crew who are hesitant to ask would also like healthier alternatives to the usual candy and trail mix faire.

As a follow-up, don’t be intimidated when production tries to order the same thing for everyone. For instance, if they’re ordering pizzas and ask if that’s OK, politely ask if you can have a salad or pasta instead. Most productions are willing to accomodate.

6. Drink Lots of Water

Besides the obvious benefit of preventing dehydration, water is incredibly beneficial to the amount of energy you have and your ability to exert maximum amount of effort.

And in the film industry, every little bit of extra effort makes a big difference.

7. Eat Lots of Water

By this I don’t mean eat the water bottles, I mean eat foods that contain a lot of water. Why? Because foods with high H2O content are more filling, so you will consume less calories while feeling more full.

Here is a list of foods with high water content shown as a percentage:

  • Lettuce (95%)
  • Watermelon (92%)
  • Broccoli (91%)
  • Grapefruit (91%)
  • Milk (89%)
  • Orange Juice (88%)
  • Carrot (87%)
  • Yogurt (85%)
  • Apple (84%)

Based on these figures, you can already implement some choices to have a profound effect on your healthy filmmaking lifestyle: trade coffee for orange juice, load up on any salads offered for lunch, and make your crafty snack of choice a fruit or yogurt (if not available, see tip 5).

8. Drink Coffee, But Not All At Once 

The film industry might as well be sponsored by Starbucks. It seems no set operates without crew ingesting a few gallons of black gold every morning.

While I’m no coffee drinker (Diet Coke, please), WebMD seems to think a cup of joe has benefits:

Coffee may be one of the world’s most popular pick-me-ups, and evidence suggests it works — at least in the short-term. Caffeine steps up the body’s metabolism, temporarily improving mental focus and energy. Frequent mini-servings will keep you alert and focused longer than a single large dose.

So you’re safe to have that cup of coffee first thing in the morning when you arrive on location, but try to keep it a Short instead of a Venti.

9. Always Eat Breakfast

It may seem counterintuitive to eat more to be healthy, but it’s a well-known fact that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (didn’t you ever listen to your Mother?)

Eating a well-portioned breakfast will boost your energy (for lifting that camera gear) and boost your mood (for dealing with upset DPs). It will also help your appetite stay reasonable and keep your stomach from growling during those early-morning room-tone recordings.

10. Stand Up for a 30-Minute Lunch

Far too often on film sets we as crew are stripped of the precious 30-minutes during the day when we get to eat lunch. Whether it’s because a producer says to “work while you eat” or a 1st AD encourages a shorter meal time to stay on schedule, you have to stand up for the full 30 minutes.

There are numerous health benefits to a full mealtime: less stress while eating = less weight gain, a longer meal allows you to eat slower which causes you to eat less, and you will be happier being able to relax and savor the food you eat rather than gorge on it.

At the very least if you can’t get a full 30 minutes for lunch, demand a moments time to sit down and eat. Nobody should have to schlep cable while eating pizza at the same time if they don’t want to.

Healthy Eating Will Help Your Film Career

It’s not easy to stay healthy in the middle of a shoot. The stress, pressure, and chaos of a production can sometimes lead to overeating, undereating, or just eating junk food in general.

But if you give yourself a few moments pause before each trip by crafty and each meal on set, you can exponentially increase your healthiness and benefit from more energy, a more positive attitude, and a greater work ethic — all things that will help you love your job and get hired for more gigs.

I know it’s tough — trust me, I’ve been guilty many times of gorging on whatever candy crafty puts out at 2 AM on night shoots — but you can’t deny the tangible benefits of eating healthier. Even if you only take one piece of advice from this article, you will be better off than you were before.

And, if all else fails, well, maybe you should transition to a film job that doesn’t require heavy lifting and is conducive to sitting down a lot — like a producer :P

  • HumanGobo

    Evan, this is a great post that’s near and dear to my heart!

    I’d say one of the best things to help eating healthy is to start at home. (easier said than done, of course). In a way, I’m lucky. My g/f has a whole dietary restriction thing going on, which has led to me eating a LOT healthier than I used to. I still cheat every so often with a chocolate bar or something, but overall, it’s changed my habits. I crave sweets a lot less, and thus crave them even less on set.

    It’s tough the make the adjustment, but it’s what I would recommend as the best start to eating healthier on set :)

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks Jeremy!

      Having gone on a few diets myself, I think you give great advice. The first two weeks of any dietary change is hard, but your cravings do start to shift after that. And as you point out, craving sweets less in general means you crave them less on set.

      As a side note: I wonder how many boyfriends/husbands have ended up eating healthy because of the diets of their girlfriends/wives? My guess is a lot :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbie.leung Barbie Leung

    Thanks Evan, for bringing up this issue. I try to casual tell my colleagues to eat with energy in mind all the time!

    As part of my AC kit (or whatever position i’m working) I also carry an Altoids tin filled with almonds. Especially when working on no-budget NYC shoots, where crafty can be sketchy, offering up a few almonds when lunch is late can potentially make you as popular as having say an extra screwdriver or leatherman.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Good idea, Barbie! I always try to raid crafty early in the morning and have a few granola bars or something in my kit to offer around when someone is fading or complaining. It’s like those Snickers commercials where the person gets angry or testy when they’re hungry.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Japs

    I have always wondered why they don’t have specific nutrition designed craft services. It would allow for more energy and prolonged health on a shoot. A happy and healthy crew is a good crew.

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Experienced crafty crew do a good job with this, but when you throw a PA in charge of it or a producer who is winging it, things get bogged down.

  • Oren Soffer

    I have found that on most larger budget shoots, crafty usually offers healthy breakfasts and a wide selection of fruits and vegetables at the crafty table as well as the usual salty snacks and candy. However, let this post be a big lesson learned for smaller budget or student shoots: Spend money on good crafty! Food companies make it unbelievably easy – and cheap – to go to Costco and stock up on candy bar value packs. But if you find yourself involved enough with the production crew on a small budget shoot… try to convince them to spend more money on getting healthier food options, and offering plenty of crafty during the day, to minimize lunch portions. It really is worth it. An excellent, topical post, as usual!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks Oren! You make a good point about the delineation between smaller budgets and bigger budgets. Usually the bigger budgets have a variety of snacks to indulge those looking for something junky and those looking for something better.

      It’s the low budget, one-size-fits-all, crafty mentality that gets dangerous where if Twizzlers is what one crew person asked for, it’s what everyone gets.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7717548 Lawrence Marshall

    This is one of those articles that I think people will underestimate how important it is (wait, most of your articles are) but for sure this one! When you hit hours 12-18, what wil keep you sane and more energized is the food you ate at hours 6-8. It’s the difference between a good day and a crummy one. Every time crafty has healthy food, I make sure they know they made a good investment!

    • http://www.theblackandblue.com/ Evan

      Thanks Lawrence! I agree — this is something people don’t talk much about, which is exactly why I wrote it. Good food usually equals a good day.

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  • Wis S.

    I’ve been watching my eating habits on set since I’ve noticed that practically all local gaffers and any heavy lifting techies have an unpleasant protruding tummy! These guys sure need to eat well since all the physical work is on them, but they eat randomly too easily out of boredom between long shots.
    Since then I’ve been resisting the urges of having random snacks and excessive coffee/tea between breakfast and lunches. Replacing the afternoon snack by an apple feels more refreshing (I won’t lie, I can’t resist the fancy chocolates most of the time! One only though :).

    Obviously enough, the quality of your catering will affect your whole crew’s mood and will to work throughout the day. Sure lower budget productions can’t always afford fancy catering services, but you shouldn’t overlook your own eating healthiness:
    I still take some low budget and university projects, sometimes too many in a row, meaning sandwiches for lunch, and the same sandwiches for a whole month or two!!! I do love shawarma and shish taouk wraps but not every single day! You’ll also feel the weight of all that bread.
    I try negotiating with production for some different lunch at least every 2 or 3 days of sandwiches, explaining that I’ve been working for longer than this particular project and been eating the same stuff everyday. If they can’t provide it, I just buy my own lunch from any nearby resto making sure I remain polite towards production and the rest of the crew (don’t rant and eat by myself to avoid misunderstandings/jealousy). That’s my own money flying on it but hey, I guess it’s the price to pay to maintain your stomach/body and avoid a massive rant.

    Like Barbie and the almonds, a couple of apples and granola bars are part of my AC/shoot bag. I think I’ll be adding the almonds! Cheers and eat healthy!

  • http://twitter.com/amyclarkefilms Amy Clarke

    I’ve been working on film sets pretty much full time for a year now. And you know what I’ve gained a stone (for the first time in my life I’ve got a belly). This is a very useful article!! I’m going to start bringing fruit with me on set to snack on. The more Indy a set is the less likely they will have healthy food and if all im offered is that KFC I have to take it. It’s going to be tricky to stay healthy and work on film sets. The days are too long to do any exercise and although I feel tired and hungry at the end of the day – the majority of the time I’ve just been standing still.x

  • http://www.diyfilmschool.net/ DIYFilmSchool.net

    It’s interesting, healthy options at crafty in Los Angeles are almost ubiquitous. I’m nearly repulsed by junk food anymore, though I will say sometimes I’ll indulge when on set. On the projects I’ve been on in the recent past, there’s been trail mix, fruit, nuts, etc., over Skittles and things like that.

    I can’t say I abide by all these principles all the time, but I’m typically too busy to hang out at crafty during a shoot anyway. To be totally honest, a lot of the time I don’t think to eat when I’m working. I tend to focus on the job THEN get something to eat. Probably not the best stance to have…

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  • J Charter

    I worked crafty for awhile (still do on occasion) and for awhile I made a conscious effort to stock healthier items, but I was often met with negative feedback when I did. As far as budgets are concerned, it shouldn’t be more expensive to have healthier options available if you find the right person. If crafty makes their own crudite trays, hummus, granola, fruit platters, etc. it can be pretty affordable, but if your crafty people just opt for the pre-made stuff it can get almost cost prohibitive to provide a healthier option. It also helps to have a crafty person who has cooking experience and isn’t just some guy who trolls the aisles of Costco or Smart & Final.