The Craft of Craft Services
Keeping crews fed feeds local businesses like Headwaters Café.
Can you imagine George Clooney brown bagging it to work?
It’s hard to believe it now, but in the early days of Hollywood, actors used to do just that.
As hours and demands grew, however, so did the need to provide sustenance to cast and crew — now commonly pulling 12 to 14 hour days.
After all, there’s nothing like a nice plate of cookies to turn a day around.
“On set, the main meals are provided by a catering company,” explains Jason Robertson, owner of local catering and craft service company, Headwaters Café. “Craft service provides everything else — the coffee and all the snacks and drinks.”
A native of Portland, Oregon, Robertson took his 1968 Streamline trailer on the road in 2010 and didn’t stop until he hit New Orleans.
He says he immediately noticed that the competition was stronger than he was used to. “I’d say there’s about five or six major craft services providers and another five or six that focus on more the small to mid-range projects.”
Robertson says it’s his focus on healthy options and eco-friendly methods that set him apart.
“I’m a chef who does craft service,” says Robertson, who was a past contestant on the popular Food Network show “Chopped.”
“I describe what I do as ‘Northwest fresh cuisine’ — vegetable driven creations paired with grilled meats that often have an Asian influence.”
It was another kind of focus on green, however, that got this NOLA newcomer his first gig.
“During a kind of recon mission before I made the move out here I went to the New Orleans Film and Video office downtown and introduced myself,” he says. “I told them all about what I do and how both my trailer and pickup ran on waste vegetable oil. They told me they couldn’t directly recommend me to any producers, that’s not what they do, but they told me to give Diane Wheeler, director of sustainability at Second Line Stages a call.”
Robertson did just that, and ended up working a few commercials and photo shoots at the studios. “They also let me park my trailer there,” he says. “I’d bring in free food once a week for everyone.”
From there, word spread about Headwaters Café and Robertson was in business.
“I love this work because it’s so dynamic — nothing is ever the same,” he says. “One day you could be filming at a prison, another out in the countryside or in the French Quarter.
While working on the Warner Bros. big budget drama “Geostorm” (starring Gerrard Butler and set to be released January 2017), Robertson says that filming took place for several days in Tunica Hills, outside Baton Rouge. “We were driving around on ATVs through sand dunes to deliver food,” he says. “There were even camels hanging out.”
While days are long — commonly 14 hours, not including daily shopping trips to places like Restaurant Depot, Costco and Rouses, Robertson says he loves the chance to really get to know people on set.
Assisted by a few associates, Robertson says he can comfortably feed crew of up to about 150. His snacks are far from chips and dip. “One of my popular items is a grilled chicken wrap with a hoisin balsamic sauce, feta cheese and sautéed vegetables,” he says. “I also do a great frittata and things like cheese and salami platters.”
Robertson says he’s definitely seen a slowdown in Hollywood South since the tax credit cap.
“When I came here in 2010 there were about 14 projects in the works in October,” he says. “This October there were only four.”
Robertson says he’s heard a lot about how Atlanta’s film industry is booming, but says he has no plans to leave.
“My daughter’s here so I’m here to stay,” he says. “Hopefully things will pick up again, and if not, maybe I’ll start doing more catering for private events.”
Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life and is thrilled to be covering its emersion in her newly adopted home.