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Craft Service Workers Do More Than Just Provide Food for Production Crews

Food makes people happy. Nowhere is this more evident than on movie sets, where craft services — or “crafty,” as it’s called — is an inevitable first stop for crew members.

Crafties, the unsung heroes who keep both blood sugar and morale high during long days of production, are often represented by IATSE Local 80. While the culinary contributions are much appreciated, many people are not aware of the range of other kinds of work crafties perform.

Craig Conover, assistant business agent for Local 80, explains the purpose of the local is to service the other crafts. “The title of the job has always been crafts service,” he says, though somewhere along the way the “s” was dropped from “crafts.” The union’s members are among the few employees who cross jurisdictional lines to assist other departments.

Conover recounts an example from “The Perfect Storm” — the 2000 film starring George Clooney — when Local 80 members helped set dressers with an underwater shoot. Mesh bags of decor were dropped into the water, and a craft service member delivered them to the underwater set. There, the set dressers took over. In effect, craft service assisted the department without actually doing its work.

It may seem, then, that Local 80 members perform functions similar to those of production assistants, but there’s a key difference. Craft service members may do union-specified labor, whereas PAs cannot.

Special-effects technician Kirk Barton (“Westworld,” “Interstellar”) has spent decades in craft service — always as part of the special-effects department. “When people hear craft service [they] assume it’s food,” says Barton. “I love food, but I don’t like to do food service. I’d rather do something physical, and there’s a lot of physical work involved in the special-effects department.” Barton does everything from maintaining shop equipment to unloading trucks and driving forklifts.

Since jobs like Barton’s become local hires when productions leave Los Angeles, the jump in television and film production in and around the city as a result of the increased incentives put into effect in 2014 and recently extended to 2025 has resulted in more regular work for him. “I can work steady without much time off, which gets me closer to retirement,” he says.

Like Barton, layout board technician Kat Grace (“The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) is part of Local 80, and her specialty has nothing to do with food. “I’ll put mats on the floor; I’ll put corner guards on the wall and bubble wrap any kind of delicate furniture,” she says. Grace calls her work an insurance policy for the production, noting that her position is typically hired and paid through locations, not a specific budget set aside for her union.

But while Local 80 maintains a list of members with specific skill sets like Barton’s and Grace’s, there’s no doubt that the union is best known for comestibles.

A common misconception is that feeding the crew means a quick trip to Costco and setting out a fruit platter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Working in production craft service requires a health certification for food handling; the job involves extensive budgeting and planning.

Craft service worker David Kasubowski (“Santa Clarita Diet,” “Mad Men”) has spent nearly 20 years feeding cast and crew and considers his work as being somewhat like “a crew bartender with no alcohol. People come to us and want to get away from their reality.”

Kasubowski takes the morale component seriously and works hard to keep a crew of 100 to 150 happy; that means offering a variety of food that’s presented well and tastes good. He provides options for every palette and reaches out to
various sources like to delight crew
members with favorite childhood treats — for instance, Portillos Italian beef sandwiches from Chicago, Utz Potato Chips from Baltimore, Tastykakes from Philadephia and beignet mix from New Orleans’ Café du Monde.

At times, craft service can involve meeting some unique challenges, such as when a production abruptly decides around lunchtime that a second meal will be necessary that day. In such cases, Kasubowski may find himself with only a handful of hours to rush out and get food for more than 100 people.

Also, if the crew is shooting in a difficult-to-reach location like downtown Los Angeles during rush hour, traffic itself can present a complication. And while pizza may be easy, “no one wants it every day,” he admonishes.

Regardless of which skill set Local 80 members use on a regular basis, their contributions help ensure that productions run smoothly. “We all pick and choose our poison,” says Grace of her career. “This is my poison, and I love it.”

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