What It Takes To Be A Food Stylist For Movies And TV Shows | Movies Insider

What It Takes To Be A Food Stylist For Movies And TV Shows | Movies Insider

January 9, 2020 100 By Ewald Bahringer


This is a dish from the movie “Midsommar.” Pelle: I was most excited for you to come. Narrator: You might
think that bright yellow center you see is an egg yolk, but it isn’t. See, over the course of a 10- to 12-hour filming day, egg yolks tend to dry
out and change color. So Zoe Hegedus came up with the idea to top some of the plates
with edible spheres made of orange and mango instead. That’s a day in the life of
a Hollywood food stylist. When food is involved, and it’s involved in movies a lot, food stylists have to figure out how to make the food pop on screen no matter what hurdles are thrown at them. They’re the movies’
biggest problem solvers you never think about. The first thing a food stylist needs is to be prepared to make a lot of food for a lot of takes. For this scene in “The
Amazing Spider-Man,” the food stylist cooked 90 branzinos. And the food stylist for 2014’s “Chef” made 800 Cubano sandwiches. Zoe baked over 100 pies, prepared about 50 fake yolks, and plated 200 real yolks for “Midsommar,” a horror film that takes place at the height of the
Swedish Midsummer festival. It’s a celebration, so naturally there were a ton of food requirements. Zoe Hegedus: Directors, they prefer not using fake things on movies. It’s really important for
them to use real food, so I always try, like, do everything real. Narrator: These little butter churches were actually made out of plaster and are one of the few fake food items audiences saw in “Midsommar.” If you’re using real food, you have to make sure it tastes fresh. One of the first problems Zoe had to solve was what to do with the meat pies, which had to be edible for this shot. The movie was filmed in Hungary during the late summer months of 2018, one of the hottest summers
on record in the country, so keeping a pie filled with meat out in the sun for a 12-hour shoot and then asking actor Jack Reynor to take multiple big bites for multiple takes wouldn’t go well, and there needed to be
something inside the pie. Zoe: You can’t make the same size and texture with an empty pie. For example, this shape wouldn’t stay if it would be empty. Narrator: The solution? A filling of oatmeal
mixed with cocoa powder, which is going to last a
lot longer out in the sun. Oatmeal mimicked the
texture of ground meat, and the powder mimicked the color. Zoe: Oatmeal is a really,
really good ingredient to use on set and on camera because you can shape
it and, like, color it with, like, edible ingredients and make something also that is tasty. Narrator: She had to
get even more creative for what would be the toughest challenge of the entire movie, that
dish with the egg yolk in the center, called the Sun’s Eye. Both the specificity of the ingredients and the sheer amount made this dish a huge
challenge to bring to life. Zoe: It’s supposed to have
pickled herring in it, but we didn’t put it because it wouldn’t really change
the look of the dish, but it would have been
impossible to use herring on that day with the heat
and, like, the smell. Narrator: That intense heat
not only dried out the yolks, but it caused some of them to burst out on the first go-around. That meant Zoe and her team had to change the dishes out every 15 minutes. On top of that, some of the cast was allergic to eggs, so Zoe had to completely rethink the center of the dish. Instead of using yolks, she made those mango and orange edible spheres. She put the frozen mixture into a sodium alginate solution, where a thin membrane formed to give it the right texture. Put it next to a real egg, and you can barely spot the difference. One challenge for any
movie is keeping food that’s been sitting out looking fresh. So Zoe relied on some
tried-and-true tricks of the trade. She sprayed potatoes with cooking spray to make them look like they
were fresh out of the oven. She mixed water and oil
to top the egg yolk dish, which not only made it look fresher and tastier for longer but also added some weight to the chives, which kept getting swept away in the wind. But there’s a risk of going too overboard. Cooking spray looks perfect on potatoes, but if she used corn syrup instead, it would’ve looked too shiny. In addition, she sprayed the apples with only a couple spritzes of water. Any more and they might
start looking fake. Zoe: It’s like, just because
you see some water drops on something, you can feel that freshness. Narrator: And speaking of apples, there are a ton of them lingering in the background of “Midsommar.” You might have noticed them in the kitchen as Dani baked pies. Even this background
item had to be vetted, and it wasn’t as easy as picking apples up from a store. They had to look like they
were grown in the commune. Zoe: So, it was important
to see that the apples are grown really close,
because it’s important to show that they have it in the community where they live and it wasn’t just bought somewhere in the supermarket. Narrator: The perfect
apples for this scene actually needed to look imperfect, like they were just
plucked right off a tree. So half of them are from
a nearby farmer’s market, and the other half were
literally plucked off trees. Zoe: You can see it’s smaller. You see some, like, ugly dots on it also. Narrator: The most elaborate project Zoe and her team worked on
was the May Queen feast. They had some freedom
in designing the display but still had to follow
some important rules. Everything needed to look rustic, it needed to be traditionally Swedish, and it needed to feel
like it was grown locally, so there was a lot of trial and error. One cake Zoe made was rejected because it looked too modern, but this Hårga man pie, shaped like a man lying in apples, met the specifications and made the cut. So did this dish made with a goat carcass, which likely would have
come from their farm. The team also did a lot
of background research, like reading Nordic cookbooks to make sure everything they used was part of Scandinavian cuisine. Their findings showed up on the table. They found that asparagus was used for special occasions in Sweden, so they built this asparagus tower, which took them up to
five hours to construct. In the movie version, the
base is made up of meatballs, which helped it pass the rustic test. Crayfish-centered parties
are a Swedish tradition, and the crustacean would
likely be something the commune would find around them, so the food-styling team
spent around six hours building this elaborate crayfish tower. Since these displays
weren’t meant to be consumed by the actors, freshness
was less of an issue. However, as with the Sun’s Eye plates, the vegetables would dry out in the sun, so Zoe changed pieces out
as frequently as possible. Something most chefs
don’t have to think about is how their food will be filmed. Zoe knew there would be a
lot of shots from high above, so she made sure every single display was really big and really colorful. But what happens when
there is a piece of food you need and it isn’t even available in the country you’re filming in? The movie needed a fresh
herring for this scene, where Dani attempts to eat one whole. This moment was specifically
built into the script. Server: It’s tradition, for good luck. Sten: Yeah. Dani: What? Narrator: Herring is
incredibly abundant in Sweden, but the movie was filmed in Hungary. Zoe: In Sweden, you
can go to every market, and you just find the herring. But, like, in Hungary, I went, like, all the
markets, all the shops, and I found, like, smoked
ones, like, pickled ones, but without head, or it was too small, or it was too big, or it was just not good for the movie. So at the end, the herring
had to be shipped from France. Narrator: They got 20
pieces shipped to them. They were shipped at the last minute, and the team had little room for failure. The most important thing for the scene was that actress Florence
Pugh was comfortable. So Zoe took 10 herrings and cut and prepared the fish in multiple styles to give Florence and
the filmmakers options. In the end, they landed on a fish that was boneless but still
had its head and tail. They were able to get the perfect take after seven or eight tries. So, why didn’t Zoe make her life easier and get a fish she found in Hungary or just have the art
department make a fake fish that met the scene’s needs? Because without that real fish, you wouldn’t have gotten that authentically horrified look
on Florence Pugh’s face, and that’s when going the extra mile for your food in a movie
makes it all worth it.