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Mike Mizgalski

How do you direct an eating scene?

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I'm a first time director and have a short film requiring a pretty important scene that involves the two actors to be eating at a table while having a discussion. How does this work with the food etc. I've heard of the "spit bucket" between takes but is there another way without using that. Do they just fake eating, hard when the eating is so important to the scene. Thinking of selecting specific lines to actually "eat" on, or just have them eat naturally and shoot? Some help with this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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Whether they need a spit bucket just depends on how much food they are willing to eat, which depends on how many takes and angles you are planning. Most actors have learned through experience to take small bites and not eat too much unless the scene is about how hearty their appetite is, then it's going to be a question of how much they can consume before they can't take another bite, at which point you end up having to use a spit bucket once you get into later coverage.


As far as continuity, that's what a script supervisor is for, though if you are really concerned about matching, you may want to consider multiple cameras. But give yourself some cutaways or angles that isolate one person from the other so you can get around mismatches. If you only have over-the-shoulders, for example, you might be seeing the foreground person's hands going up to the mouth on certain lines that might not match on the reverse over-the-shoulder (unless shot simultaneously), so it helps to get some clean singles as well.


You might want to consider the type of food, some things are noisier to eat than others or are harder to reset -- for example, it's always easy to pile some more pasta onto a plate for a new take, but harder to put back together a whole chicken or uncut cake, etc.


Also, check your actors' dietary concerns.

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As David said experienced actors tend to push their food round the plate rather then eating. When you watch an eating scene in film - often you won't see much eating, since the focus is more on the dialogue (usually). If the scene is about eating then thats more tricky - have a look at the Trip by Micheal Winterbottom - its focused around meals. I read some interviews with the actors about how difficult it was to keep going through multiple takes and improvisations and that was Michelin star food




I used to work at a drama school on an acting for film course and we used to cover eating on film - in terms of watching for continuity and not eating much.


Also make sure how long food is left out if its a hot day and a long shoot food poisoning is a risk. I would extra carful if you actors were eating sushi in the sun. Safe food handling, preparation and storage are key for certain foodstuffs. Remember under hot film lights it can send off quickly.


or fix it in post:


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I don't think I've ever worked with an actor "watching their figure" so to speak during an eating scene. How concerned are the actors with their calorie intake? Of course that will have on impact on what technique you use to simulate a meal for the screen. This isn't an eating contest scene, right?

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