Welcome to Directing on a Dime, where indie moviemaker Andy Young provides tips and insight for moviemakers whose budget is more The Blair Witch Project than Avatar. Have questions for Andy about low-budget (or no-budget) moviemaking? Ask away at .
In my first article for MovieMaker (How To Make a Feature Film for Under $200, about the making of The Legend of Action Man), I got some nasty feedback to my comment that “if we wanted to use an actor we’d promise them an IMDb credit, footage for their reel, a chance to see themselves on the big screen and lunch. Though we didn’t always give them lunch.” All joking aside, the truth is that with Action Man we never actually had to pay for lunch. While most feature films shoot 10+ hours a day, due to our actors’ schedules we usually had between two- and three-hour days (our longest day was five), and each day after we wrapped we would all go to Quiznos or Chili’s. On few occasions, my mom bought us pizza (looking back, I should have given her a craft services credit).
I’m not a cook, I’m a moviemaker. But a year after shooting The Legend of Action Man, I now fully appreciate the importance of feeding your cast and crew well. The last thing you want on set is a mutiny, and a full crew is a happy crew.
When feeding your cast and crew, there are a few important things to consider. Always ask your cast and crew if anyone is a vegetarian, a vegan or has any deadly food allergies. If so, make sure to cater to their needs. Also, make sure you always have a source of water on set (e.g., a crate of Dasani bottles) in order to combat dehydration. That being said, here are a few popular (and inexpensive) DIY catering options that you can use to keep your set satisfied.
Pros: Ahhh, pizza, the tried-and-true favorite on every student film set. A few boxes of cheese, a few boxes of pepperoni, maybe one or two specialty toppings and you’re good for the shoot! Quick, simple and—depending on where you go—fairly affordable.
Cons: Like I said, it’s a favorite on every student film set. If you work on enough films, after a while even pizza can get a bit stale. (I once worked with an actor who refused to participate in the shoot unless we had an alternative to pizza on set.)
Pros: I’ve seen this done a couple of ways. Either the sandwiches are pre-made and saran wrapped, or a sandwich assembly line is set up, letting cast and crew put together what they want. All you need is bread, peanut butter, jelly, cheese, meats… I wouldn’t recommend all of them on one sandwich, though. Unless you’re into that.
Cons: Everyone has different tastes (and sometimes deadly food allergies, as noted above), so you’ll have to make sure you have enough options.
Pros: Snack foods are cheaper than cheap, don’t require refrigeration and are as simple to get as taking a trip to the convenience store. I’ve been on some sets where the spread is nothing more than a few boxes of crackers, cookies and doughnuts. You’d be surprised how quickly a box of Krispy Kremes can boost morale.
Cons: This can work on a quick shoot, but if you’re gonna be there for the long haul, consider providing your cast and crew with something containing a bit more substance than a box of Oreos.
Pros: Sometimes known as pigs in a blanket, kolaches are a personal favorite of mine, especially for early-morning shoots. Plenty of Mom and Pop doughnut shops have great deals on them, but you can do wonders yourself with a few pans of Sister Schubert’s. (They also make a variety of breakfast and dinner rolls for the vegetarian bunch).
Cons: If you’re preparing these yourself, you’ll need an oven, and they take a good 40 minutes to cook. Again, you’ll have to be sure to cater to the vegetarians.
Hot Dogs, Burgers and Their Veggie Equivalents
Pros: As with sandwiches, this is highly customizable and can be really popular among people who are just plain sick of pizza.
Cons: They require more time and effort than pizza. Plus, you’ll need a grill (and someone who can use it without burning themselves).
This is merely the tip of the DIY craft services iceberg, so feel free to chime in by sharing your favorite low-budget catering options—or your horror stories about on-set culinary disasters—in the comments below.
Andy Young is a director, editor, writer and composer living in Austin, Texas. At the age of twenty, he has produced over 100 short films and one feature film, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of only $200. Andy continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions.