• Xanthe Z. Young

Adventures in Filming Food

It seemed so simple, in my experience a close up of an inanimate object is normally the easy end of the day shot when you’re shooting fiction. No actors to keep in a good mood, no unpredictable movements to follow, we point the camera at it and it’ll stay looking exactly as it did as we set up the shot. Thank you inanimate object, you’re a one take wonder!

But filming food is different. When you film food for food’s sake it can’t just look aesthetically pleasing or simply say ‘I am bacon, I’m here by the way’ suddenly it’s practically character in its own right. It can’t look fine or even good, it has to look delicious. The multiple stresses of capturing it in this state arise further problems if you’re a two-man crew. Food, as it turns out, requires an audience of five or six at least to put on a half decent performance.

Here’s a few tips from the novice who jumped in at the deep end:

Don’t prepare the food yourself

How many filmmakers does it take to burn a piece of bacon? One at least but it turns out two is just as good. Granted, a teaser for a local charity campaign is unlikely to have the kind of budget that includes food stylists but even getting an extra person who has nothing to do with the filming to just focus on preparing the food would be an improvement.

If you can’t do that, don’t think you can shoot the film like I cook an unsuccessful dinner – with needless additional multi-tasking. Don’t have one thing in the oven, something else on the hob while you efficiently complete a shot of a fresh orange at the same time. Filming requires full focus, you can’t expect to remember to check the oven as you go and the equipment is unlikely to thank you for sitting in a smokey kitchen.

Focus on one thing at a time. Prepare the food, then film it. Just focus on filming it – nothing else.

Allow yourself plenty of space

Kitchens are often cramped awkward spaces, try and plan ahead. If you can’t call in a favour from a friend with a big kitchen (preferably with an island for 360 access) as least make your kitchen as clear of unnecessary obstructions and appliances as possible.

Don’t expect to eat the food when you’re finished

The way it smells and tastes is uncapturable on camera so focus solely on making it look good. It’s unlikely you’ll be ready in time to capture film steaming naturally, I poured a little boiling water on the full English in our video just before we rolled.

What’s realistic also goes out of the window. In a shot of butter melting, the traditional knob any normal person would use in cooking translated as a weird blob on camera, instead we cut a precise square.

Shine a ton of light on the slow-mo

Our biggest technical lesson of the shoot was that high frame rates and macro lenses can create a perfect storm for under exposed footage – particularly when you’re shooting in a log profile as it is less noticeable until you try to grade.

Try to get as much light on the food as possible – this makes it all the more important to try and find a good space as the awkwardness of the kitchen fort with us on what was possible with lighting equipment.

Allow more time than seems necessary

In terms of seconds of raw footage relative to prep and faffing about this was probably one of the worst I’ve experienced. It seems deceptively simple but trying to make something look perfect under the kind of scrutiny food photography invites is time consuming. Allow time for moving lights around, re-positioning, preparing the next item and, if you’re filming in slow-mo, watching playback will take (in our case) eight times as long!

Use a sausage dolly

Because when there is a sausage and a tiny dolly available why wouldn’t you put the two together?

Enjoy the strangeness of the sausage dolly in full with our teaser for Autism Wessex's Big Brekkie Campaign: