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Napoleon and film crews
Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach.
He was Emperor of France and knew a thing or two about armies. A film crew of
any size can be likened to an army serving long hours under difficult
circumstances doing a job that is result-oriented rather than just putting in
the hours of a shift. The food provided and the conditions under which meals
are served take on greater importance relative to the difficulty of the job at
My first experiences with movie locations were with The Wrecking Crew
(Palm Springs), Winning (Riverside Raceway) and Sole Survivor
(Victorville). It was typical that we would be served lunch on the set by movie
caterers and dinner was at a restaurant of our choosing paid for by the per
diem provided by the company. For the most part, we would all eat in the hotel
restaurant because the remote location meant a limited number of available
restaurants in the area. One exception to this was on The Wrecking Crew
when I took a “co-worker” to a Chinese restaurant in my Ferrari...
Any shoot tends to be economical with time but this is especially true of a
production on location. Breakfast and lunch tend to be hurried and to the
point. Dinner is a more relaxed occasion unless after dinner shooting is
planned. The imperative is to keep the camera rolling.
Living in France, I found that food took on a completely different
significance. Not only did its preparation become elevated to an art form, a
meal was the social convention that formed meaningful friendships. As I
acclimatized to living in Paris, dinners starting at eight in the evening and
lasting until well past midnight were quite common. Fine food and interesting
conversation bonded people who had previously been strangers. I decided to
carry this ritual into my filmmaking.
On my first film, Montmartre, we ate in various restaurants around Paris
where we were shooting. Couscous Merguez and steak-frites were favorites. Vin
rouge was the beverage of choice. Preparing to shoot The French Chef,
my partner and I dined out in some of the best restaurants in Paris where the
proprietors (in France, the chef is also the owner of the restaurant) would
“audition” for the shoot by inviting us to a dinner that they would present on
shoots found us in isolated areas that offered limited choices of places to
eat. Desert Center, Success, Terminal Velocity, Dead
Right and Double Cross were all shot in part on El Mirage lake bed
and in and around Victorville and Las Vegas. When we were in Victorville
breakfast was always at a truck stop where the biscuits and gravy were
intoxicating. Lunch was where we could find it but dinner was open to crew
input and we would have prime rib one evening and pasta the next. Las Vegas
offered even more exotic possibilities as did Mexico when we were there
shooting Fait Accompli. In Ensenada, dinner one evening was hosted in
the restaurant of a former New York gangster who took a liking to us.
Regardless of where we took our meals, they were unhurried affairs and I could
generally get a feeling from the group when they were ready to return to work.
This approach made for some very pleasant shoots and, no doubt, the thought of
doing things this way would drive any respectable unit manager crazy but I've
found there's more to making films than making films.
My special thanks goes to France and my Parisian friends who informed my
approach to filmmaking and, yes, to life as well.
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