Nice work if you can get it: Movie set Caterer

Brekke and Geoffrey Rush became great friends

(This is part of our Nice work if you can get it interview series, in which I interview friends of mine who have intriguing, envy-inducing jobs. I’ve known Brekke since we were tiny blonde girls running through the linoleum halls of the Aitkin United Methodist Church. We even lived together for a summer, during which I coveted her wardrobe and repeatedly tried to clean her room for her. Now she travels the world, cooking for movie stars and breaking hearts. Seems like a pretty nice gig, eh?)


So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I am a caterer for movie crews. Everyone on the movie crew, actors and all, get two meals a day. At least two, depending on the number of hours they put into a day. There are union laws dictating time between meals.Tell us about an average day in movie catering.
We usually show up anywhere between 2 and 3 hours before the first meal (breakfast) which is more than likely served around 6 am. We take the trucks on set and start to serve. Usually just one person cooks the breakfast, to order, as the crew shows up for work..(This service can go on for up to 3 hours) In the meantime, The rest of us prep for the second meal (served about 6 hours after breakfast starts) This involves setting up tables and chairs, setting up a buffet line, and preparing the food. The type of food we serve is fairly high end for this fast-paced, on-the-move, mass-quantity type of cooking. It’s non-stop work.The amount of people we serve can range from 50 (commercials) which takes 2 people to do, to 1000 (Pirates of the Caribbean) which employed about 14.
I’ve worked on Pirates of Caribbean 2 and 3, Into the Wild, The Dark Night, Die Hard (Live free or Die Hard) and The Longshots.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
I didn’t have any schooling for this, (it’s not really necessary). I did, however, have quite a few years of restaurant work behind me.

How did you get into this line of work?
I got the job from my brother who called me up one day with the news that someone had quit on the catering crew for Pirates. So, I was offered an opportunity to go to the Bahamas for 7 months and work. I instantly quit my Assistant GM position at the restaurant I was at, and showed up for work on the island 6 days later.

Are there any drawbacks to working in the movie industry?
We work an average of 16 hours a day – 14 hours is a short day! I have worked a 38 hour day before. This is all with sitting down a total of maybe an hour for break. Three hours of sleep becomes natural, if you want to get anything else done in your day. On Pirates we were working 120 hours a week. So.. the quality of life, or the life -at all- is not there.

What are the highlights?
The income! At the end of the week, when that paycheck comes, you sort of forget how hard you worked and how tired you are. Also… the day off is sort of a celebration every week. Through out the week there is always talk of which bar everyone will go to, then Friday night hits and it’s a party! Beyond the hours and the parties, a definite highlight is seeing the movie. Its great to see the places you’ve been and the people you know on the big screen.

Are there any misconceptions about working in craft services?
Actors, they are not picky with food, or stuck up any more than anyone else is. Its strange how differently I think of actors now, and how star struck I used to be. They really are just my co-workers. Although, don’t get me wrong.. I still, 3 movies later, lose all ability to speak when Johnny Depp walks by!

What suggestions would you give to people interested in getting into this?
Make yourself known.. Go where the filming is – Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York – find a catering company, and apply. Most companies don’t require schooling, and as long as you prove your determination and work hard, a food service background may not even be needed. This is a great job for meeting people and networking, getting into a different field of the movie business is a huge possibility as long as you get to know people. Catering is a good place to start.

The Soundtrack of your Adolescence

So, we’ve established the soundtrack of your childhood. There was much dancing and a few themed outfits. But what about those tender years between grades 6 and 12?
  • Despite that fact that you are the epitome of white bread, you like to dabble in the hip hop. You’ve got your JNCO jeans, you’ve got your oversized 26Red t-shirt, you are totally ready to do the running man to this song at the middle school dance.
  • Even though you know it’s much cooler to hate this song, you secretly weep to it. At the movie and when you’re driving in the rain and when Captain Football dumps you for that girl who will let him get to third base. Sometimes you sing it into the back of your hairbrush … and really go for broke on that “Iiiiii-eeeeee-iiiiii” part.
  • This is the perfect song for making out with that cute, long-haired guy you met at the county fair. Sure, he drives a van with carpet in the back. And, yes, you’re fairly sure he’s dropped out of school. But he’s from Out Of Town! How cool is that?
  • You spend a large part of your summer listening to this song and driving to different beaches, stuffed into beat-up hatchbacks. Nudity seems to be a reoccuring theme this summer – skinny-dipping, flashing, getting caught doing the former.
  • You attempt to rectify previous bad music choices by totally devoting yourself to The Beastie Boys and this song. You like to attempt the robot while dancing to said song. You develop a thing for dark-haired, large-nosed boys that lasts well into your twenties.

What was the music that played while you wore braces?

The Soundtrack of your Childhood

No, but I mean really. When your life is finally made into a movie, what’s the soundtrack going to be?Scene: One-bedroom apartment, circa late 70s – early 80s. Mom is tiny in her maroon double knit jumpsuit and Dad is rocking some Alabama Thunder. You are but a wee, bald muffin in a onesie. Mom and Dad are teary and joyful over you and this song.

Scene: You are five and you are an excellent dancer. You love this song so hard! Best dancing outfit: green footie pajamas. Best dance venue: the kitchen while Mom’s cooking dinner. Best dancing moves: punching from side to side, marching in place (sometimes in circles), jumping jacks.

Scene: You are seven and totally embarrassed of your amateurish dance moves of yesteryear. You have moved on to a sophisticated ensemble of pink leotard, striped leg warmers and arm poofs. You and the BFF spend your summer choreographing dances to this and forcing the neighbor ladies to watch.

Scene: By 5th grade, you are wicked hard core. You’re so tough you listen to rap! You memorize the lyrics to this classic and recite them to kids on the playground for a quarter, which is a pittance for this caliber of entertainment.

Scene: Sixth grade is full of angst (in the form of a triangle perm, braces and glasses) and Kurt Cobain is the only one who can understand you. You wear your dad’s flannel shirts and your winter boots all year round because your allowance won’t cover a new pair of Doc Martens.

Scene: You know it’s deeply uncool, but you really love this song. You even bought the single! On tape! You secretly dance to it every morning before school, but swear allegiance to Pearl Jam when asked.

What music were your formative years set to?

Top 10 Essential Activities to Partake in Before Winter Is Over

(Megan usually blogs at Charade. She a traveler, a student and a general life-enthusiast. She is also a competition level polyvore pro)

So, Christmas is done for, we’re all a little bit chubbier, and the arctic days no longer hold the charm of the festive season, they’re just cold. About now you’re probably demanding the imminent appearance of summer, but hold your horses. We’ve a few months left so let’s use them wisely.

1. Go ice skating, indoor or outdoor depending on your preference/global location. Did you know it’s thought to burn between 250-810 calories per hour?! Bye, bye mince pie muffin top!

2. Walk in a winter wonderland. Long, leisurely walks in the winter have their very own charm. Crunchy, frosted grass underfoot, robins in the trees and the chance of snowfall, how can you resist? Get yourself out there with the promise of a cosy pub lunch.

3. Sit by an open fire, preferably toasting marshmallows. If you don’t own one, find one. I’m serious, beg, borrow or steal to get your butt beside one, you won’t regret that instant nostalgic, fuzzy feeling a roaring fire is sure to generate.

4. Wear Mittens. If you don’t have any, shame on you. Buy some, wear them, and hold hands with a fellow mitten wearer. Be happy. Ear muffs are an optional (but highly encouraged) extra.

5. Eat porridge for breakfast. It’s ridiculously nutritious, tastes of sunshine if you had a little fruit or syrup and will keep you feeling warm and content for hours afterward.

6. Experiment with warm drinks like Hot Dr. Pepper Try a hot chocolate made simply by heating some milk and stirring in a huge chunk of chocolate, or even add alcohol and have a red hot cocktail party with recipes like Hot Buttered Bourbon. You can always make a huge batch of your chosen beverage and utilise a cute flask like one of these when you’re out an about on those extra nippy days.

7. Celebrate the act of wrapping up with Charade’s Chunky Knits feature.

8. Help out your local homeless or elderly. The cold weather may suck for you but think how much more severely it can affect someone without a bed or with weak health. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen or make a donation to a charity like Age Concern

9. Go to the beach. No, I’m not kidding. A beach in winter can be a truly magnificent spectacle; the crash and drag of a roaring sea; invigorating winds; a moody, looming sky and the eerie absence of the general public…

10. Get fit! Summer will be here before you know it and cold weather now doesn’t excuse a jelly belly when you’re in your bikini. Yoga or Pilates classes can be a truly heavenly activity in the winter months, as long as we’re not talking draughty church halls.

Nice work if you can get it: Sled dog Vetrinarian

You know how sometimes you meet someone at a party, and after three minutes of small talk you discover a kindred spirit? You then retire to a corner and spend the next hour swapping stories and periodically yelling “I KNOW!”? This is my story with Justine. If you see us at a crowded house party, we will be the ladies in the corner, talking intensely about what to wear in Egypt. In addition to being a traveler of epic proportions, Justine is an author, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the owner of The Best Dog in The World.

So what’s the deal? What do you do?
To “get out of the office,” I volunteer as a veterinarian for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. I’m one of 40 vets who work to ensure that the sled dogs running this 1,049 mile race from Anchorage to Nome are healthy. We examine all 1500 dogs before the start of the race, and run blood work and ECGs on them to make sure they are fit and well.

Once the race starts, I’m then flown throughout bush Alaska (in small 2-man Cessna planes) to various checkpoints, where I work (with a small team of vets) to examine every dog that comes in through the 24 checkpoints. All the dogs are examined at the end of the race also, ensuring dogs are healthy. As vets, we also take care of “dropped” dogs – in other words, dogs that couldn’t continue on with the race for various reasons [like diarrhea, being in heat (and distracting the other dogs), or sore wrists].

Tell us about an average day in sled-dog vetting?
The average day of sled dog vetting includes the following: waking up chilled on the floor of some abandoned building in some small village in Alaska; grabbing a coffee and some instant oatmeal gruel; donning lots of winter gear; going outside in -20F to watch dog teams run in; approaching a sleep-deprived (often grumpy musher) to inquire about his or her dogs; performing physical examinations on the team of sled dogs (typically 14-16 dogs/team); repeating this last step for the next 80 dog teams coming in all day and night long; freezing your hands off; stepping in poop; getting your face licked by lots of sled dogs; getting covered in dog fur/diarrhea/saliva; running to a frozen outhouse to then strip off lots of winter gear; freezing your butt on a frozen toilet seat; donning lots of winter gear; running inside to drink some Tang and hot coffee; grabbing a quick bite; getting surrounded by local Athabascan kids who are excited to see non-villagers; working 18 hours a day followed by an occasional nap, a quick shower every 3rd or 4th day; repeat.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
I first developed my love for sled dogs at Cornell University, where I attended veterinary school. During my 3rd year courses, I was taught nutrition by a sprint sled dog veterinarian. The world of sled dogs immediately grabbed my attention – I was amazed to discover that Iditarod sled dogs burn approximately 10,000 kcal/day. I was instantly in love with these marathon athletes.

Since then, I’ve done advanced training at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital (associated with the MSPCA in Boston, MA), where I completed my internship, and then went on to University of Pennsylvania, where I completed a fellowship and residency in emergency and critical care. I’m currently a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency Critical Care (DACVECC), which means I’m a veterinary specialist. Of course, that’s not necessary to be a sled dog vet – one just needs to have 5 years of vet training, and be adaptable to substandard Alaskan conditions!

How did you get into this line of work?
I’ve always loved animals, and knew I wanted to be a vet since I was 7. I didn’t discover the world of sled dogs until later in my life, but have always loved and respected the different relationships and roles that animals and humans have with each other – whether or not it’s for companionship (like my dog sleeping in my bed with me) to working police dogs or sled dogs, I knew I wanted to be able to provide the highest level of quality care for all of them.

Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
Aside from being sleep deprived, constantly cold, reeking of dog, craving a salad after 10 days of ramen noodles, going 5 days without bathing, and having frost-nip on the tips of my fingers?

What are the highlights?
My two favorite parts of working as a vet for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race are my colleagues and the environment. I work with wonderful, compassionate, fun-loving, adventurous vets that I typically would never meet otherwise (like horse vets from all over the country or Texan vets trying to survive a temperature below 70F). We’re able to work together, share floor space in an abandoned, cold gym or wall tent, and bond over frozen supplies and fingers while exchanging funny work stories. Next, bush Alaska is beautiful – the trail is constantly variable – you may be at a checkpoint that is a deserted ghost town, or at a large fishing village along the frozen Bearing Sea, or at the base of the Alaska Range.

Are there any misconceptions about working in this field?
The biggest misconception is that it’s a glorious position. You’re working like a dog, 18-hours a day during the middle of the night, hungry, dehydrated (no! not the frozen outhouse seat!), sleep-deprived, dirty, cold, and sweaty, and now you’re surrounded by grumpier, dirtier, people.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in getting into this?
If you’re a vet, I’d recommend attending the annual International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association (ISDVMA) pre-race training seminar (in Anchorage, AK). This is held just days before the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (which starts on the first Saturday of March), and offers you the opportunity to learn more about sled dogs. I’d also recommend joining the ISDVMA ( which works to ensure the highest levels of quality care in this field. Veterinary race applications are typically available through the ISDVMA newsletters or via the chief veterinarian.

If you’re a vet tech, or just curious, I’d recommend going to the Iditarod website to check out how to volunteer – it’s competitive, but once you’re on the trail, you won’t regret it!

Any would-be vets out there? Any questions for Justine on how to wrangle Huskies?

How to Survive a Road Trip with Your Grandparents, or Why I Believe in God. Pt 2

(This is part 2 of Erin’s tale of dealing with geriatric travel mates. Usually, she blogs at The Fierce Beagle. Also, she can probably out-dance you.)

Uncle R: Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [fumbling with the digital controls for the air conditioner, which is on full blast] What?
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [louder] WHAT?! [Pushes wrong touch-screen button; snow is now starting to form around the window panes]
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [louder still] WHAT?!? [pushes two or three more buttons; air conditioner shuts off in flourish of industrial-grade noise]
Uncle R: [unfazed] Every time we go on a trip, we stop at Mickey D’s ‘bout ten for coffee, orange juice and some fries, right, Mom?
Grandma: [with exasperation] What’s “Mickey D’s?”

I was in no mood to appreciate the absurd humor of this exchange between my uncle and grandmother, and not just because we were deep into a road trip that I was sure would end in mortal catastrophe. You see, we had just spent the night with front-row seats at the second circle of hell.

Aside from hopping in the van and conquering long-distance travel for the fun of it, my apparently younger-than-me-at-heart grandparents also love spontaneity. Though we had embarked on a three-day tour of New Mexico, they hadn’t planned so much as what towns we would stop in for the night, nevermind made reservations at a hotel. So after our rather fascinating trip into the Carlsbad Caverns, our spur-of-the-moment plan to find lodging in Alamogordo went to pot upon discovering that every hotel in town was booked solid because of some biker convention. Or, to clarify, I should say every reputable hotel in town was booked solid.

After inspecting and dismissing more than one motel, the grand’rents decided on a rinky-dink motor inn near Holloman Air Force Base that was clean yet kitschy. Like in a movie, I told myself. And for a good two hours, it was like being in a movie: We watched TV on an old 13 incher, and cuddled up in a bed that looked and felt like it could belong in your sweet Aunt Mildred’s attic guest room.

Then our neighbors arrived. And suddenly, our wholesome family film turned into a horror movie of the Zodiac variety: No calamity befell us (the protagonists), but the feeling that we were on the cusp of something terrible hovered constantly. Especially after the tone of the terrifying sounds emanating from just inches on the other side of the wall changed suddenly and ominously after we called the front desk to complain. To this day I don’t know exactly what was going on in the room next door or the parking lot outside, but I do know that we had stumbled into a favorite locale for some of the guys from the base to party with their hookers. ’Nuff said.

One benefit of traveling with elderly grandparents is that they just don’t question your motives when calling their motel room at 6 a.m. and asking if we couldn’t leave already.

One disadvantage of traveling with elderly grandparents is they take life at a leisurely pace when you just want to get the hell outta dodge.

Lucky for us lucky lucksters, Denny’s was open. So instead of adiosing Alamogordo posthaste, we sat down to a three-course breakfast. My uncle, who eats excruciatingly slowly, ordered the biggest meal of all: a short stack (with whipped cream), eggs and bacon. Four hours later (or so it seemed) we were finally on the road again. For about 15 minutes. Because then, Uncle R’s watch went off.

The sun rises and sets according to Uncle R’s watch. When the alarm goes off at 5:30 p.m., he makes his way to the table with the conviction of a farmhand who just heard the dinner bell. So when Uncle R is tasked with timing the grandparents’ two-hour driving shifts, he takes that job Seriously.

When that wristwatch alarm went off barely a quarter of an hour into our second day on the road, I foolishly dismissed it. When Uncle R dutifully uttered “Mom?” I still didn’t clue in. But when my grandmother pulled over to the shoulder to switch seats with my grandpa, comprehension dawned: She had just completed the final 15 minutes of the previous day’s two-hour shift.

Truth be told, after that, the last leg of our trip was fairly uneventful: We frolicked across the dunes of White Sands National Monument; we indulged my fantasy of visiting the Very Large Array outside Socorro (where Jodi Foster discovered the extraterrestrial broadcast in Contact).

By the time we were pulling back into Albuquerque, I erroneously believed we were in the clear and started jovially chatting with my grandma while my grandpa eased the ship safely into harbor. Then the van (and my stomach) lurched as we swerved across three lanes to make the exit to home; my grandma forgot to shout her driving instructions from the back row since she wasn’t paying attention, and so my grandpa wasn’t paying attention either.

So, how exactly does one survive a road trip with elderly grandparents? Put simply: Prayer. Start praying before the trip, if possible, so God knows you’re serious. If you’re Catholic, I might even suggest having a ritual Mass done on behalf of your upcoming journey. And if you’re not much of a religious type, a road trip with your elderly grandparents is definitely occasion to reconsider.