What Do the “Hawai‘i Five-0” Stars and Other Film Crews Eat on Set?
Three local food businesses dish out the inside scoop on feeding hungry cast and crew members shooting in Hawai‘i. Learn some do’s and don’ts of film food etiquette.
It’s my first day as Extra #56, call time 5:30 a.m. I’m raring to go, albeit in dire need of caffeine. In my bag is a humble granola bar, since breakfast wasn’t mentioned on the call sheet. But lo and behold, as soon as we check in, we are told by harried production assistants to “go to catering.”
Turns out “catering” is a huge white tent with long tables, chairs and a divine smell of made-to-order omelets. “What kind cheese? You want spinach? Portuguese sausage?” Next to the chef, a table is piled high with fresh mangoes, pineapples, cantaloupe and apples. An assortment of cereal—Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, Apple Jacks—and their carbolicious friends: hot, sweet pastries, sliced bread and bagels. Granola and oatmeal are available for the health conscious. There is also POG juice, milk and, thank heavens, hot coffee.
Around 2 p.m., lunch is served: cacciatore chicken thighs, gently braised with rich red wine sauce; prime rib, freshly carved to order; a salad bar of tossed greens, pasta salad and couscous salad; homemade red velvet cake, topped with cream cheese, freshly baked cookies and brownies. Mind = blown. Where does all this food come from? And who makes it?
The Main Cast
Feeding a film’s cast and crew is a niche only for the most experienced and tenacious caterers. Miguel Neza, executive chef at Limelight Catering, has been in Hawai‘i for the past four years, cooking for Hawai‘i Five-0. His star-studded L.A. résumé includes swapping jokes in Spanish with Zach Braff on Scrubs, helping Anthony Hopkins sneak bacon from his pantry on Hitchcock and chumming it up with Sean Penn’s personal chef on Gangster Squad.
Every day, Neza and his team—two sous chefs and two assistant chefs—arrive on set in their mobile kitchens, aka trucks, by 3 a.m. or earlier. “I have to be on set at least four hours before crew call time,” says Neza. He preps for both breakfast and lunch—or, at least, preps as much as he can, for a day could always potentially go off its rocker. An actor might have food poisoning and never show up, cutting the shooting day short. The crew might break for lunch two hours ahead of schedule, or maybe there’s a second location to drive to after breakfast. “Traveling means I have to make sure there is minimum cooking and baking involved, so I might do a barbecue, something we can do on the spot,” says Neza. “And, of course, I have to consider traffic.” Don’t we all?
Cooking for the same crew means Neza has to switch up the menu daily. Mondays, the Five-0 folks get Mexican. Think tamales, enchiladas and quesadillas. Tuesdays, they eat Italian—lasagna, spaghetti and Neza’s go-to dish, osso buco. Wednesdays are Chinese days, and so on. “The Five-0 crew’s favorites are usually local foods, like rice, pork, shoyu chicken. We get them good-quality laulau and poi as much as we can,” says Neza.
The first thing to disappear from the Five-0 buffet is Limelight’s salad of the day. (Good to know, I think, for the next time I’m on set.) “They go really fast,” says Neza. “We made Chinese chicken salad today and, last week, a berry salad. The crew’s been wanting something light and refreshing because it’s been so hot.”
Camille Komine of Camille’s On Wheels made her debut during the initial Hawai‘i street food truck craze of ’11—a time we remember fondly. With a background in film-set decorating and food styling, she’s made her mark as a caterer and, after being in the film business for 30 years, she’s happy to kiss the big features and TV shows goodbye. Find her now on the sets of local independent films such as Under the Blood Red Sun, commercials for clients that include Ward Warehouse and miscellaneous food shoots.
Why the change? “Quality of life,” Komine says. The reality is, no matter what, the film industry is a hard mistress. “Once you’re in production, your personal life pretty much comes to a stop.” Another issue was the gap between Mainland and local prices. “When Big Hollywood comes to Hawai‘i, there’s a bidding process among the caterers,” Komine says. “They take our numbers and they compare them and, no matter what, we local caterers do take a hit since food costs in Hawai‘i are 25 percent higher than the average on the Mainland.”
She and her truck have long since been off the road, and her menu has evolved from “fusion tacos” to “healthy local with an eclectic twist.” She serves farm-to-table cuisine such as fresh, local fish, quinoa and salads. “I have a very intimate relationship with the local crew after spending 26 years in Hawai‘i working in film,” Komine says. “It’s like visiting my family and I want to feed them well.”
With Guest Stars …
There is day-to-day catering, and then there are the special guests. The Curb is well-known already here in Hawai‘i, serving the kind of gourmet coffee Starbucks haters love. As a specialty vendor, the company gets hired on set because a generous director or an A-list actor wants to treat the entire crew to a free cup (or three) of coffee. And who can say no to an Oxymoron Chocolate—a blended, iced chocolate drink—made by Sumner Ohye?
But with great coffee comes great responsibility. “We have an espresso machine that takes 30 minutes to heat up,” says Ohye. “We need at least an hour to get there, figure out where we’re going to go, how to find and hook up power and then heat up the machine.”
He recalls a time on set for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire after he had finished setting up his truck when the scene changed and they were told to move. Then there was the time he brought the wrong cables for his generators, and the film’s electrical team had to help out. “But that’s how the film industry works. We have to be flexible, we have to be prepared. Thankfully, on set, there is a strong family vibe,” he adds.
The Curb usually provides cold drinks rather than hot—sweet, blended drinks the hard-working crew can pound down without waiting. “We also serve Intelligentsia, which has a huge footprint in L.A., so the actors and actresses from California love it,” says Ohye. He also sources coffee beans from Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., Four Barrel Coffee and Dillanos Coffee Roasters, and local Rusty’s Hawaiian and Big Island Coffee Roasters.
Ohye is thankful he has enough manpower—20 employees—to be able to keep his Kaimukī shop open while catering on film sets. His other locations include the Pan Am Building and two on campus at UH Mānoa, which means business is good.
Crafty And Catering
During our down time, two crew members set up a munching area for us, with boxes of Chex mixes, arare, whole bananas, apples and dried fruits, and two large coffee dispensers, water, hot tea and fruit juice. At around noon, Spam musubi are passed around in trays between shots to tide people over until lunch.
These snacks are provided by craft services—called “crafty”—and are separate from catering. “It’s a completely different department,” says Connie Alicino, production manager. “For people who are part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) labor union, it’s required for these employees to have craft services.” She adds that it’s also required for the crew to be given vegetarian, fish and meat entrée options in their meals.
The role of craft services is to provide snacks and, if necessary, walk around the set passing out bottles of water and sandwiches or musubi to crew members who are too busy to get to the craft table. They also help catering sometimes: “Sometimes I forget to bring paper towels, and I gotta go ask crafty for them,” says Neza. “Although we’re separate departments, we’re able to help each other out.”
Behind the Scenes
As production manager, Alicino’s first responsibility is to the crew. “I need to know what the crew likes to eat. If a crew is coming from the Mainland, they may be more used to the L.A. style of vegetarian and vegan food. If most of the crew are local, a caterer from the Mainland might not know to make Spam and rice. My job is to try and make everybody as happy and as comfortable as possible, within limits.”
Alicino’s worked on Big Eyes, The Last Resort and Lost, and her job, besides hiring crew and vendors, is to make sure that everything is on time and within budget.
This means the catering company has to be well-versed in the film industry. “An ideal catering vendor can see ahead, monitoring our progress throughout the day and taking proactive steps to make sure everything is efficient for us,” says Alicino.
The hiring and planning process begins up to five months before shooting begins. Is the company bonded and insured? Can it serve the size of crew? Does it have a good report from other producers in the industry? Is it in full compliance with state and federal law? “The food industry in film is a serious matter, because it’s the tangible fuel that keeps our crew
nourished and happily moving along,” says Alicino.
Once the caterer signs the contract and the deal is struck, Alicino will coordinate with the assistant directors to make sure the caterers will be set up in the right place and at the right time. “There’s a communication channel between the assistant director and all of the crew. If lunch is going to be delayed half an hour, they’ll inform catering,” she says.
The worst-case scenario happens when the caterers cause delays. “I was on a one-day shoot when a Mainland producer thought it would be nice to have some food truck from the beach make food for everyone,” recalls Alicino. That decision backfired quickly, when the chef, unfamiliar with the fast pace of a set, took five minutes per burrito for each person. By the time lunch was over, the shoot was two and a half hours behind schedule. “We had to pay overtime for everyone,” Alicino says.
At the end of the day, time is money, which is why union crew members eat first, as well as background actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Both SAG and IATSE workers are required to take 30 minutes of lunch, and the timer starts when the last union member is served. If they go beyond their allotted break, they are paid overtime rates. “That’s why nothing is left to chance. Everything is planned to the last detail,” she says.
WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT
Get the dish from experts on the proper do’s and don’ts of film food etiquette.
1. “Drivers need to eat first, because they will move or service vehicles while the crew is on lunch. When the trucks are ready to go when the crew is done eating, it decreases wait time.” —Connie Alicino, production manager
2. “You can have the world if you give me plenty of notice. Organic chia seeds? We have them.” —Camille Komine, owner of Camille’s On Wheels
3. “You’re allowed to sit wherever you’d like to eat, but it’s kind of an unspoken rule that you should be polite and courteous enough to give an actor his space during his lunch break.” —Priscilla Medeiros, second assistant director
4. “We budget and pay caterers per head count, so try not to eat more than your share. Of course, no one will stop you, but if you’re standing around the craft services table, eating all day, the casting director might take notice. It’s just an honor system.” —Alicino
5. “It’s always nice to be thanked. Being appreciative makes a huge difference.” —Sumner Ohye, owner of The Curb
Follow The Money
In 2014, $223 million were spent on production, bringing in a total of $93.7 million in earnings and 2,141 jobs statewide, according to the Hawai‘i Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the Creative Industries Division/Hawai‘i Film Office records.
Donne Dawson, state film commissioner, says the rest of 2015 is shaping up to be a good year. “We’ll probably do as well or even better than 2014; we’ve had a couple of significant feature productions come here, with more soon to follow,” she says.
She says extending tax credit incentives beyond 2018 and maintaining production support is crucial for Hawai‘i to remain competitive in the industry. While our lush scenery, diverse architecture and population make for a great location, good looks aren’t enough. “The industry needs to know that Hawai‘i will remain stable and that we are going to continue to be strong in this game going forward,” Dawson says.