In film, television or video production, craft service refers to the department which provides food service and beverages to the other departments or crafts. In addition to policing the set, they provide buffet style snacks and drinks. The crafts in film refers to departments such as camera, sound, electricians, grips, props, art director, set decorator, hair and makeup, background.
There is a difference between craft service and catering. Catering handles the regular hot sit down meals that occur every six hours and usually last between thirty minutes and an hour. Catering is brought in from an outside company hired by the production, but craft service is a crew position and craft service people are sometimes represented by the union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). In Los Angeles craft service workers are represented by IATSE Local 80 but, in New York, craft service is a non-union position and is not recognized in the Local 52 charter.
In the mid-1920s to the late 1940s, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Motion Picture Machine Operators organized the motion picture and television production business in Hollywood. Locals represented set lighting technicians, grips, cameramen, propmakers, make-up artists, and many others. The idea was to create better working conditions and pay. These were volatile and stormy times.
As the technology evolved, crew positions became more specialized, and "crafts" could no longer cross over, for example, electricians doing "grip work" by moving a stand. It became necessary to hire an "all-around" laborer who could help any department and perform menial tasks such as digging holes or cleaning up after animals. These laborers could be temporarily upgraded in salary. They could be put on the "cable rate" for helping to guide sound or lighting cables for a shot.
In the mid-1960s, craft service employees still operated as general laborers. They had also been put in charge of answering the telephone and making coffee. At Universal Studios, they had huge roll-around carts where they would brew coffee. These carts could be shut during takes so that the bubbling machines would not spoil a sound take. There was a dish into which cast and crew members could throw a quarter for their coffee at Universal, not at other studios. Eventually, the laborers added doughnuts as a revenue stream, but often had to interrupt the display to dig a trench for dolly tracks or clean up after animals.
In European union film studios, buffets would be set out in lieu of a lunch break, so as not to disrupt the momentum of the day. At 4:30 in the afternoon, the crew would vote on whether they should continue working on overtime, or wrap for the day. As low-budget and non-union filmmaking took hold in the USA, production companies would provide day-long buffet spreads to make up for long hours and lower wages.
Occasionally there are two craft service stations, with one being for cast and crew and another for non-union background actors. The food provided can vary widely, due to fluctuating budgets for example: pilots, low budget, often offering very limited food, while big budget productions often offer generous food and drinks.
- "Craft Service". JohnAugust.com. Retrieved 2009-08-22.