4:00 am alarm clock. 5:00 am Chef pulls up to my house. We travel through the early morning to the kitchen “On Broadway” to gather and pack the car full of food and supplies that we will need to set the stage for a “party’, just like and completely unlike the parties we have set for hundreds of times. We are headed to Waynesville, NC as professional food stylists for a movie being filmed in and around Asheville. Chef Kim is clearly qualified to stage a lavish and exceptional buffet, fit for the finest of films. What nobody mentioned to tell us, is that everything changes on a movie set, sometimes by the minute.
The scene is set on the front lawn of a breathtaking estate. We are the first feet to disturb the dew on the lawn. The sky is just turning pink. The poolside guesthouse is bigger than both of our houses, combined. There is a gigantic statue of Poseidon towering over the pool. This was my first day on a movie set. Chef Kim had spent the previous day with Celine, doing a smaller scene in a different part of the house. She was already a pro.
Chef Kim. Chef wears many different hats, in life and on set. In the original planning, the first scene that we were staging for, one of the lead actors was to take a sip of gazpacho and exclaim that it was the best gazpacho he had ever tasted. It would really be the only thing that was eaten from all the food that was staged. Chef prepared the most spectacular gazpacho possible! It came time for the actor to sip it down and exclaim in delight and instead he casually decided that he didn’t feel like doing that and it was struck from the scene. Just like that. What? Seriously? This particular all-star actor did not seem so cool anymore. This was the first of many things that shifted on a dime.
The main part of the food staging was a lavish buffet. Chef had prepared beautiful platters of sliced pork tenderloin with roasted red peppers, cascading breads and squashes and rainbow carrots, chicken salad stuffed endives, a giant seashell bowl of colorful pasta, bacon wrapped scallops, tiny tea sandwiches and a great big turkey named Betsy surrounded by little Cornish game hens. None of the food was to be consumed. It was for filming only and had to look the same at all times, day after day. As Chef was applying the final touches, a crew of ‘chefs’ entered the stage to attend to the buffet. One of them looks at her, points to the roasted peppers and asks her, “Why are those peppers all burnt?!” Well, that ‘set the stage’ for their relationship and the fake chefs, as they came to be known, never found their way into her good graces.
Rolling with it. All of a sudden, they are setting up a second buffet. We had only planned for one and Chef has high standards for the presentation of her buffets. Lavish. Beautiful. Most of what we brought was already set on the first buffet and some holes needed filling! With limited resources, Chef threw together pieces and platters in minutes and no one would have ever guessed that she didn’t plan it exactly that way. The ultimate victory was her grabbing seven long skewers with bacon-wrapped scallops on the ends and sticking them into the leaves of a pineapple top that had been cut off and tossed aside. Like a boss. It was the most unique and glorious culinary presentation I’d ever seen.
The learning curve. For me, the learning curve of being on a movie set was mind blowing. One of my favorite moments; on day two or three of watching the same extras take the same steps and sit at the same tables with the same people, one of the ladies approached me and whispered “Do I have a booger hanging out of my nose? I really don’t want to ask the guy I am sitting with.” Well, I’ll be. It was the 20th time I had seen them walk together and sit together and talk but it was the first time I had even considered that he was not actually her husband and it in fact he was a complete stranger. There were a myriad of “duh” moments throughout the week.
Craft Services. It was apparent pretty quickly that there was some confusion that we were not feeding people on set. Understandably so; we were hauling food in and out every day and we wore black aprons. From time to time, someone working on the set would ask us to get them something. We gladly did. The Craft Services that were actually serving food to the cast and crew were phenomenal. Their trailer was a mobile convenience store and kitchen all in one. I had never seen such a thing. Can you say “kid in a candy store?” The first problem that this created, and probably the biggest problem of our whole week on set was the unlimited supply of delicious coffee. Hot or Iced. We had a good amount of free time on our hands and walking to the Craft Services trailer to make coffee gave us something to do. We would take turns going on coffee runs, making coffee for ourselves and other crew members. On about day four, just after lunch, with very little sleep in days and waaay too much coffee in my system, we were standing in the background waiting to watch a scene being filmed… “Quiet on the set! Camera up! Rolling!” This was the billionth time I had heard this but this time it was the funniest thing I had ever heard in my life. I could not control my laughter but I could also not make a sound. My body started shaking and tears began to stream down my cheeks. Chef sent me directly to stand in the corner until I could pull myself together. I started to rotate decaf into my regiment after that.
The people. We worked within the Art Department. This included production designer, special effects supervisor, art directors, set decorator, set dresser, property master, and assistants. Many of them had won or been nominated for Emmys for movies like The Dark Knight Rises, Hunger Games, Into the Wild, A River Runs Through It, and even Lord of the Rings and Die Hard! These people and their hardworking assistants and extra hands were the coolest people to get to know. Endless stories and experiences shared, even some with scars to prove it.
Friends for life. The set designers chose to bring in real local professional caterers to set the stage for this party scene (us). They also chose a local DJ to set his own equipment and act as an extra. The nature of this particular set included a couple hundred people, all extremely busy at different times. Our new DJ friend fell into the same grey area that we did. We were busy at set up and breakdown and handful of hectic, crucial, crazy moments in between, like when the unpredictable mountain weather would give no warning and begin to pour rain onto all of our hard work! The rest was downtime for us. We did not sit in a plush air conditioned room like the cast. We did not get shuffled to the nearby elementary school with the 100’s of extras. We were not really restricted from any part of the property. We hung out, we played cards, we explored as much as we could and we managed to stay relatively out of trouble. Except for when Chef was using a potty inside the house instead of the porta potties down the drive and got busted by one of the top producers! Ten minutes later there was a sign on the door that read “Cast and Executives Only.”
Pyrotechnics. The day there was planned to be an explosion scene, everything on the set changed. Tents and fans and directors chairs were brought in. All of the top producers and investors were on the set. Everyone was there for the show. A fire truck for safety and a drone for filming. It was exciting. We were given safety instructions and strictly forbidden from taking any photos or videos. We had third row seats for six exciting explosions.
The celebrities. I haven’t said much about the celebrities for a few reasons. There was so much excitement and experience during that week that passing by one of the A-list actors or even talking with one became not a big deal. I thought the best moment with a star was early one morning as Chef and I were sitting on a sidewalk on the edge of the set and one of the actors who is also a well-known comedian was passing by and stopped to do Steve Martin ‘Wild and Crazy Guy’ impressions for us. He was hysterical.
The kicker. The movie was set to release one year after filming, which would have been several months ago. Due to some financial setbacks, this major production has been hanging in limbo. It was announced in October that the film may still be released. Will we ever get to watch the fruits of our labor on a big screen?