For five months last summer, Seattle-based chef Justina Panther-Renoud returned to Spokane to work on the first season of Z Nation, an incentive project approved by Washington Filmworks.
Panther-Renoud has been in craft services for nine years and has extensive experience serving cast and crew on various projects, so the decision to hire her was a simple one for the production. Not to mention her hometown roots.
“I’m originally from Spokane, so I knew the UPM there already,” she explains, “and the locations manager actually contacted me and told me to get in touch with producer Marc Dahlstrom. It was as easy as that!”
What wasn’t so easy was dealing with the desert-like conditions of Eastern Washington in the heart of summer.
“It was a grind every day, and very grueling,” she says. “It was a zombie apocalypse, so we never had any green, lush locations. It was always dry and barren, so I had to keep the food as fresh as possible.”
In fact, the temperature reached 105 degrees at the end of July and early August, sending Panther-Renoud scrambling to the store to pick up 350 pounds of ice a day, every day, for a two-week stretch.
“Every day, I was at the store an hour before call time getting fresh food and ice, and usually again at the store for an hour after we wrapped,” she says. Panther-Renoud worked no less than a 12- or 13-hour day, every day.
“For craft services, I always say that I’m kind of the most important and least important all at the same time,” she says. “We’re low on the totem pole, but as far as my importance on set, I’m told by everybody that it’s me who will change the morale of the whole day. Their clocks are set to when I’m coming around with sandwiches.”
A typical day for Panther-Renoud—after hitting the grocery store, of course—began with set-up at 6 or 7am, followed by breakfast. Three hours after that, she brought sandwiches around for the cast and crew. She estimates that she made a total of about 6,500 sandwiches throughout the summer. Then, throughout the day, Panther-Renoud would bring around various trays, from antipasto trays to balsamic drizzled-figs to fruit platters.
“Russell Hodgkinson, who plays ‘Doc’ on the show, called this ‘happy dip time,’” says Panther-Renoud.
What did the cast and crew look forward to most?
“The sandwiches,” she says, without hesitation. “If I didn’t bring sandwiches out three hours into the day… it just wasn’t an option. It’s all they talked about. I still get messages on Facebook about them. My combination of ingredients, it stands out. Whether it’s cranberry mustard, or capers in the tuna salad, everything is gourmet, always fresh, and healthy.
“Typically, crafty is a lot of sweets and candy and that’s just not what the crew wants or needs. So I always have fresh fruits and veggies and gluten-free options. A health-conscious table covers the whole crew.”
She started the production working out of a hollowed-out van, but just two weeks into filming she bought a motorhome that was already set up for craft services. With air conditioning and a sitting area, the motorhome became a refuge for cast and crew.
“I always said, ‘what goes on in the crafty motorhome, stays in the crafty motorhome,’” says Panther-Renoud. “It was definitely a nice investment.”
When asked if she would work the second season, Panther-Renoud says, “I would go back, but I couldn’t do the entire show. It’s going to be 20 episodes instead of 13, and 8 months long instead of 5. I would probably work two weeks on and two weeks off until the summer.”
Whether she stays in Seattle for the summer or returns to feed the zombies, Panther-Renoud truly enjoys working craft services on productions.
“The kitchen is always set up in a different place; it’s always a different adventure,” she says. “I get the most beautiful views of sunrises and sunsets, and I get to do what I love: I get to take care of people, work with food, travel. I love what I do.
“I am so lucky and blessed to be in the niche that I’m in and I love it.”
To contact Justina Panther-Renoud, e-mail email@example.com.