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 make-up, background.
There is a difference between craft service and catering. Craft service is the food that is always available to the crew while they’re working, and can range from a single table of cookies, candy, cereal and coffee (on a low-budget indie feature), to more elaborate meals. Catering handles the true meals like lunch (which, on most American shoots, occurs six hours after the start of the day’s filming, even if that means 2 a.m.) and second meal (which occurs six hours later, if the crew hasn’t finished the day’s work).
Catering is a sit-down hot meal that lasts either 30 minutes or an hour, unless the crew is working "French hours" (also called "Northwest hours" in Seattle and Vancouver), in which case the meal is brought to the set, and people eat whenever they get a chance.
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.
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, prop-makers, make-up artists, and many others. The idea was to create better working conditions and pay.
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" labourer who could help any department and perform menial tasks such as digging holes or cleaning up after animals. These labourers 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 labourers. 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 labourers 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 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 film-making 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 2015-02-03.