Feed Your Darn Crew!

January 19, 2013. Opening Cast at Yas Waterworld. Photo by author.

Seriously, feed your darn crew.

The way to a person’s best work is paved with taste buds and gastrointestinal comfort. 

You probably already know this. You must know this. Though, I think some may not know this, so I’m going to say it.

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Decades ago, when producing Press Conferences for national and local political campaigns, and upon discovering that the Press Corps often had to be at their desks by 8am…I would hold Press Conferences at 8:30 and always provide donuts and coffee. That way, they could be late to work – as they’d want to be in position before the conference began AND get free breakfast. 

Packed, every time. 

Feed those you need.

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Over 20 years in Production; I learned early-on and have always considered it a given that The Crew Must Be Fed…and always a Real Meal. 

This is not Rocket Science and it ain’t no mystery; but when I encounter a Producer, Director, Project Manager or Events Person who begrudges or in any way resists the precept of feeding the Crew, I am repeatedly stunned at the Obvious Benefit can be so myopically missed. And yes: I judge.

Seeing that the crew is fed is not about Union Rules and contracts; it’s about building a team and infusing the qualities of collegiality and respect. A happy, well-fed crew knows they are appreciated and respected; and will likely go the distance – above and beyond – when the situation calls for it… And in live show work, you can pretty much count on the situation calling for it.

When a crew is treated as an expense, with marginal craft-service & meals and contractual boxes to be ticked in order to comply; one can expect that that is how one’s job or production will be treated. With such an attitude underlying the production, a crew can then be expected to do only what they are contracted to do and nothing more. Professionally Professional, certainly: but a great show depends on that relationship being Personally Professional.

Communicating the importance of feeding the production crew is often one of the first “come to jesus” conversations I find myself having with a new client…and sometimes with a regular one. 

“Why should I feed ‘em when I’m already paying them?” 

“So that your show happens…and, it’s the right thing to do.”

Sometimes…people who don’t ever really worry about food on the table fail to perceive its importance to those who live closer to the line. [This pertains, too, to paying cast and crew at the close of the show so that they depart with the deal complete and needn’t worry about when they’ll see the money: but that’s yet another column.]

A few years ago, on site with a colleague, she was grousing about the concern being expressed by her crew heads about the quality of the breakfasts that were being supplied. Skinny, aluminum-wrapped breakfast burritos seemed fine to her. “Why do they make such a big deal about breakfast?”

I was all, “Are you kidding? <Name withheld because I love her>, are you nuts? Why buy a Ferrari and put unleaded fuel in it? You have a great crew, keep ‘em happy and in top form. Scrambled eggs, biscuits, BUTTER (spreadable), jam, potatoes and bacon…lots of bacon, and you’ll have one of the smoothest-running shows you’ve ever had. Trust me.” 

Bonus: they’ll be inclined to show up early for a good breakfast and be ready to go at call-time.

The Ferrari metaphor resonated; she upped the quality of breakfasts and the Day Two show eminently surpassed that of Day One.

One’s crew are the most important guys and gals one wants committed to oneself as Producer and to the vision of the experience or show one is striving to deliver. The crew should know that the Producer or Director knows s/he is dependent on them and that genuine respect underscores the relationship. 

When that is known and appreciated, the crew are all about supporting the show and the vision. 

This is a commitment the rewards for which will become eminently evident and valuable as one finds members of the crew coming up with creative solutions to problems the Producer may not yet have seen coming. They take ownership of the show at a more fundamental, personal level and treat the responsibilities under their purview with that much more acuity and concern for quality.

It’s a Human Trait.

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There existed an even greater dichotomy to be discovered during my years in Dubai. The “caste” distinction between levels of the production crew is even more pronounced in that part of the world; most especially between the (generally Western or First World) professional / creative / technical crew and the Third World labor class brought in to do the actual building. 

Early on in my experience, it took much insistent negotiation between a client and me to obtain even a simple table of water bottles and bananas placed under a canopy, specifically for the laborers on a show or project. It also took a little friendly education to convince the laborers that there were no negative consequences for helping themselves to the table whenever they were thirsty or had a pang. 

The smile and laughter quotient among the laborers tended to rise, after that…and I’ll tell you, experiencing all those guys smiling and quietly speaking or signaling a greeting as they passed rather than having them silently avert their eyes from “Sir” is transformational and spiritually empowering.

Feed your crews.

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Bit of a post-script: 

Concomitant to this is the cardinal rule that a Producer NEVER yells at or belittles a crew or crew member – especially in public. ALL public communication must remain respectful and, when there is a problem, the wise, experienced Producer engages the crew or crew member to collaborate in addressing it and in coming up with and applying the best solution to the problem for which they are responsible to solve. 

ANY upbraiding, criticism or firing is always done in private. Always.

A producer who shouts at a crew sows seeds of disrespect, mistrust and conveys a sense of ownership that is at cross-purposes to the spirit of show and project crew culture. The best work comes through respect. 

Shouting and berating is Amateur. 

Such a producer will have a hard time engendering loyalty and finding crew colleagues willing to join the next project. 

So. Feed your crews. 

Feed ‘em meals. Feed them respect that offers self-respect. Treat them as your valued team and you can trust that you will benefit from their best efforts.

That: and they’ll both speak well of you behind your back and will jump at the chance to work with you, again.

IMHO.

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Omani Performers – amazing, generous men – Dubai National Day, 2012. Photo by author
Stage Management Team. Dubai National Day, 2012. Photo by author.

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10 thoughts on “Feed Your Darn Crew!

  1. A student of life professional should come for the beautifully written “unpack” of Kile’s insights.
    But then said student sees “concomitant” and is enveloped in a visceral, body and brain euphoric response.
    Said student: So damned grateful for you.

  2. You could not be more right you are a true gentleman and a showman Kile! As a young Imagineer building Innoventions at EPCOT, I was tasked with helping manage the load in of five hundred semi trailers of show elements in less than 30 days. It was a three shift, 24 hrs. a day operation, we had to bulild a loading dock just to handle it all and we knew the distance from the back stage break area to our work site was a one hour walk round trip making lunch breaks a two hour ordeal. Disney was not forking out for free food but they let the independent food trucks backstage for us and the crews loved us for it. I applied that same lesson on Jurassic Park the Ride at USH where again, we had crews 24 hours a day three shifts to get the job done and again the journey from the lower lot to upper lot was a one hour round trip walk. I had a craft service set up a tent for our crew just like the film crews got and the respect and commitment and camradery our crews had was unmatched. It was laegendary. Ron Bension had class and he got the bill and did not bat an eye he knew the guys made $30 an hour and to buy them a $10 meal was winning the game. IMHP it’s the little things you do that make a big difference. Feed your crews people!

    • Mr. Daurio! Great contribution; good history and excellent case(s) in point. Thanks for reading and THANKS for adding this set of anecdotes. The concept does seem so simple, don’t it? Good to hear from you!

  3. Always enjoy and admire your – um: what are the kids calling them, these days? certainly not ‘essays’ – blogs (?). This is one of those that any of us with theatre backgrounds find puzzling. In every show, during every “lunch” or “dinner” break, food was served. (I’m excluding college, community, and crap theatre; strictly “union” shows. It was a rule.)

    You have, once again, hit the head on the nail. Bravo, dear Kile.

    Love and misses, and congrats again for everything you’ve done, are doing, and will ever do.
    xok

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