Food Stylist

The job of food stylist is not found often in feature films. Most work for food stylists is in stills or commercials, but every now and then a film job will require the specialized skills of somebody who can make camera-ready food. When that happens, one of the first people to get the call is Alice M. Hart, owner of Food for Film Stylists, a food stylist company.

What Alice does is prepare food to the manufacturer's specifications, making it look as good as possible. In a film, if the actors are eating something, it was probably prepared by craft service or the caterers. If it's a big banquet spread in the background of a scene, the prop department covered it. But if the camera comes in tight on specific pieces of food, then Alice comes in to create the perfect dish.

Commercials are where Alice is really put to the test, though. She starts working a week or two before the shoot, preparing the food and making kitchen arrangements.

Kitchens are their own headache, and Alice has had to convert empty soundstages to full-fledged gourmet kitchens. For a Taco Bell commercial, Alice took a cube truck (the kind normally used by the prop or camera departments), had a generator installed, and turned it into the most unusual kitchen on wheels ever seen.

Preparation, on the other hand, can make building kitchens seem like a walk in the park. Part ofthe preparation involves cooking the food as truly as possible. There are no sprays or dyes or shellacs here; everything is completely edible and made the same way you'd find it in the restaurant or out of the package. Since Alice has to make her food look as good as possible, she won't just grab a handful of her client's Trix cereal, dump it into a bowl, and shoot it. No, Alice will spend several days to a week going through dozens of boxes of Trix looking for the perfect, or "hero," pieces of cereal with which to fill her bowl. And not only one bowl. She may have to have four or five bowls ready at any point, depending on what the director wants. For a "milk drop," where milk is poured into the cereal, the cameras are filming at extraordinarily high speeds, up to 250 frames per second, with very hot lights. Under these conditions, the cereal may wilt or become damaged and need to be replaced every shot.

The other part of preparation is the shopping. Alice is a frequent visitor to her local supermarket at two o'clock in the morning, shopping for anything from a good piece of meat to the perfect chili pepper.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Alice loves it. She says there's never a dull moment. "But," she cautions, "it's not glamorous. It's grueling, dirty work. You can be on your feet for hours." Alice wouldn't do anything else.

Alice started her career as a chef for two years in Paris but says that most of the fifty or so people who work in the movie industry as food stylists have degrees in home economics. After getting out of college, a job with a food manufacturing company is the next step. Once involved with the food industry, hard work and determination will move you to where you want to be. As you advance, you should be acquiring pieces for your portfolio—stills of any print work you've done and a video reel of your film and commercial work. Or you can find someone like Alice to take you on as an apprentice. No matter how you go about getting into the field, Alice says the most important thing to know are these three words: yes, I can. Those words show you can be flexible and are a team player. And with all the people you're working with and for, diplomacy is something you can't afford to be without.

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