Last night during the broadcast of Jay Leno’s final time hosting The Tonight Show, a grocery store commercial I worked on in Houston aired. Okay, it didn’t air nationally, but it was a treat to see it on KPRC in Houston. The 30-second spot features a family of four enjoying Lone Star Legacy beef during a meal at home.
The shoot, produced by Locke Bryan Productions, was actually the second one in the same location that day. The earlier version had a Hispanic family, including a friend of mine in the mom role. I’m not sure what they ate, but my “kids” ate hamburgers while their mom and I enjoyed steak.
I’ve done more than a few commercials involving food, including one for Luby’s when I pretended to eat a greasy hamburger while actually chewing (and spitting out) bites of a ham sandwich. I still think about the poor guy who had to hold the spit bag for me under a desk. Luckily, we didn’t need anyone in that capacity for the grocery store spot.
At some point in your career, you will have to simulate eating or actually eat during a scene. I’ll share some thoughts on how to handle food and beverages. Using the Lone Star Legacy beef spot for Fiesta Mart as a guide, I came up with 10 Food Commercial Tips to help you prepare for future “bite and smile” opportunities.
10 Food Commercial Tips
1. Is it real or fake? If the food is fake, eating it is out. If it’s real, plan on taking real bites. Ask about beverages, too. In some cases, the drinks may be real but the ice cubes could be fake.
2. Make food allergies known. A nut or seafood allergy, for example, is important to know before the shoot day.
3. Eat what you’re given without complaints. Production doesn’t need to know you don’t like baked potatoes. If that’s what they want you to eat, that’s what you eat. It’s best to keep your personal comments in your head.
4. Eating on camera is unnatural. You probably don’t smile after a bite. In fact, you may look stone cold serious when eating a hamburger, but that doesn’t help you sell the product during a take. Your job is to make the unnatural look natural no matter how foreign it feels.
5. Avoid random nibbling. Save your eating for actual takes. Even rehearsals should only simulate eating. There is usually a limited amount of food to replace what’s on the table.
6. Measure twice, cut once. Think like a master carpenter before cutting into a steak on the first take. Make sure the director wants you to make the cut before just doing it. Clarify the action before “action” is called.
7. Check your teeth. Bring a small mirror or compact so you can take a quick look at your teeth in between takes.
8. Reflect on actual meal experiences. You may be asked to serve food or pass dishes during a take, and you want it to look like an everyday act, not a first-time thing.
9. Be aware of your hands and movement. When continuity is important, you want to help the production (and the editor) as much as possible. For example, train yourself to pick up your water glass with the same hand each time and set it down in the same place.
10. Avoid changing the place settings. If there is an art department on the shoot, someone is responsible for placing everything on the table. Even after it’s dressed, changes can be made to best suit the camera placement and the action. Leave the movement of glasses, silverware, and plates to a person in charge. Keep in mind, as the camera moves, there may be a need to slightly modify the location of items on the table. Again, let the person in charge handle it.
It’s good to practice these steps before the shoot day. You will have to make adjustments depending on the set you’re working on. But the key is to appear natural throughout each take even while doing unnatural things, and that’s the top priority of any acting gig that comes your way.