CONSIDER FEEDING the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Gilda Radner, Bob Newhart, Jill Clayburgh, Donald Sutherland, Robert Wagner, Beverly Sills and Walter Matthau. Any one of them might make a grown man nervous, but for Bill Boleyn, it's just another pretty face to feed.
If he's not in his Pennsylvania Avenue deli, Upstairs Downstairs Office Caterers, Boleyn is likely to be found on location, feeding, he says, 90 percent of the movie crews that come to Washington. And if you can't find him on a movie set, then chances are he'll be backstage feeding crews at the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap Farm Park, or at NBC, CBS or ABC feeding the news teams. "They want good, hot food and lots of it," he says. Just like anybody else.
Boleyn's success with production teams has pushed his 7-year-old deli-catering business over the million-dollar mark, bringing in an extra $300,000 in 1982. His food has fueled the productions of "Reds," "First Monday in October," "First Family," "Airport '79," "Nothing Personal" and, this past November, "The Karen Silkwood Story."
Moviemaking is a big-bucks industry, and the District wants in on the action. Last year alone, producers spent $10.1 million here on food, hotels and transporting crews from memorial to memorial, says Richard Molsby, director of the mayor's one-man office of motion picture development. Two motion pictures, 37 commercials, eight documentaries, four industrial films, one made-for-television movie, one TV series and four TV specials were filmed here in 1982, he says.
It's Molsby's job to help ease the burden of moviemaking for everyone associated with the task. One of the first priorities of advance teams is finding food for the crews, he says. He provides a list of Washington caterers, and most of the time Boleyn's operation is chosen because of his reputation for versatility.
"He is the one person who specializes in this kind of thing and knows what their needs are," Molsby says. "It's a different kind of situation. He can go into an area and adapt it to his needs. They don't come in and set up with candlelight. They don't have time for a lot of niceties." The Meat of the Matter
It is an unseasonably warm winter morning in Washington. On the fourth floor of the Pennsylvania Building, just upstairs from the old Blue Mirror Restaurant, director Mike Nichols and actress Meryl Steep are at work filming "The Karen Silkwood Story." Streep stars as Silkwood, a plutonium processing plant employe in Oklahoma who died in 1974 while trying to expose alleged safety violations at the plant where she worked. The movie is scheduled for release in the fall.
"Everybody out of the hallway. They'll be shooting right down the hall," a young stagehand yells to the caterers. "If you haven't been paid to be in the picture, don't be in it."
Crouching next to an elevator, location manager Carol Cuddy tells Boleyn the film crew won't need his services for lunch the next day. Instead, they will break from their morning shooting at Clyde's restaurant and eat at area restaurants of their choice. In a last-ditch effort to get the job, Boleyn tells her he knows of a nearby church he can secure to serve one of his hot lunches; but it doesn't work.
On this day, though, Boleyn's got work to do. One floor below, in four dark, tiny, glamorless rooms, his crew of four begins unpacking insulated carriers full of freshly baked meat-filled and meatless lasagna, baked chicken, tossed salad and freshly baked pies and cakes. Baked food, Boleyn says, holds up best over long periods of time. "Besides, fried foods are terrible for you and movie people don't want it. They're chic and into light, healthy, quick-energy foods, and a lot of fruit juice."
Two long folding tables are covered with brown paper and set up against paint-chipped walls. Coffee pots are plugged in; chilled soft drinks and juices are piled high. The food, which had been prepared earlier that morning at Boleyn's deli, is spooned into chafing dishes. All that's missing are the stars. On Time, Anytime
Movie people aren't interested in the tuxedos and black-tie waiters that many of the big catering houses around town offer, Boleyn says. "They're not interested in china, silverware and all the trappings. They want quick, easy, flexible." His service is all paper--$4,000 of it a month. "We can move floors to make space. We can move from one side of the Lincoln Memorial to the other if we set up in the wrong area. It's just something we do as a matter of course. I don't ever fight with them or raise my voice or get upset. We just do it."
In addition, timing is crucial, considering it takes an average $12,000 a minute to make a movie, he says. "So if they say, 'We'll be feeding at 10:30' and you don't start serving until 10:32, you don't work the next day." Service is strictly paper plates, plastic forks and fast-moving lines filled with stagehands, producers and movie stars who eat and hurry back to the set within the hour.
"We've established a reputation over the last six and a half years as being excellent location caterers," Boleyn continues. "We're flexible, punctual to the second. A lot of caterers are not there to set up at midnight or 4 in the morning."
Punctuality carries a lot of weight with the continental breakfasts his chefs fix for the local television news teams, who start their days long before the sun does.
In the theater, it's those in "the back of the house" who eat his food. At the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap, the audio and video technicians, carpenters, electricians and stage hands eat at all hours. It's at 2 or 3 a.m. "when the opera goes out and the ABT comes in, or 'Annie' goes out and '42nd Street' comes in," Boleyn says.
But sometimes Boleyn has the audience to worry about, too--like the time his crew grilled 450 steaks on an electric grill in the elevator shaft of the Kennedy Center an hour before showtime. The elevator shaft, they reasoned, was the only vented area around that would force the aromas up and out of the building instead of allowing them to waft out to the audience. It was also one of the few times they had cooked on-site.
But it's catering movie crews that gets Boleyn most excited. "It's the crowds, and because the people are bigger than life." There's a standing rule that his staff does not ask for autographs. "But if they sneak a look, that's okay," he says.
Despite the fact that making a movie is a multimillion dollar investment, producers try to cut costs where possible, Boleyn says. "They come in and try to shop around. I tell them about the jobs we've done in the past and what we'll be doing. I don't advertise. There's just no way to do it. It's strictly word of mouth and repeat customers."
Directors like the fact that his kitchen is a few blocks from most memorials, Capitol Hill and the White House--which is what brings movie companies to Washington in the first place, he says. And, while he likes to know in advance where his crew of 17 will be serving meals, they are able to change orders or locations on a moment's notice.
During the filming of "Reds," he explains, a major camera had broken down. Boleyn had fed the crew a continental breakfast and was ready to serve them lunch in the back of his deli. But the crew never showed up. "They kept calling us saying, 'Keep the food hot, we'll be there in an hour.' This is standard," he explains, "you get it all the time." So when they called at 4 p.m. and asked him to forget the hot lunch and bring snack food to Capitol Hill, he wasn't at all surprised. Unfortunately, "when we got there, they were loading cameras back on the trucks. They said, 'Just put the food back.' "
Boleyn says he used to be impatient about sudden changes, delays and cancellations, but says he has gotten used to them and bills the producer anyway. "I billed them $1,300 on "Reds" and all they had was a breakfast of danish and coffee. They never ate." "Silkwood" brought him $3,000 for the two lunches he served. Coffee & Cravings
It's a quiet Saturday morning at the Lincoln Memorial. Nine men spend 2 1/2 hours rigging a camera to the front of a canary-yellow taxicab, and then the entire cab to the back of a flatbed truck. Meanwhile, almost 100 members of the crew and cast spend their time watching the rigging action, and on occasion, saunter over to the back of a white station wagon turned deli counter.
Bright spotlights illuminate the taxi window. Inside, Meryl Streep and actor Ron Silver go over their lines. Passersby maneuver to get a closer look at Streep, who is holding a cup of Carol Flaisher's freshly brewed coffee.
Flaisher, a Rockville resident, says she has never gotten over her teen-age fascination with Hollywood and will do whatever it takes to be around movie productions. To ensure a career in the business, she began C*M Associates, a two-person production services company, four years ago. While she's usually hired as a location manager, on this film she has landed a job as caterer of the continental breakfasts--for $3 a person. She starts her day at 3:30 a.m. and drives around town picking up fresh bagels, croissants, bread, danish pastries and fresh fruit to go with the butter, jellies, juices and hard-cooked eggs that she also provides. She arrives on the set for a 7:30 a.m. call and begins brewing coffee.
In addition, she carries around jars of peanut butter and at least 6 cans of tuna in her car: "You never know when someone doesn't like the food . . . I always carry gum and mints in my purse. I've worked so much with the local guys," Flaisher jokes, "that now everybody knows me in terms of 'Carol's got goodies in her bag.' "
As location manager, Flaisher caters to the cravings of the producers, actors and actresses--for example, keeping Oreo cookies and Evian spring water on hand for Milton Berle during the filming of "Family Business." And she is thorough--she has been known to chase bees away from a set during an outdoor dinner break on a hot summer afternoon.
Since Flaisher usually finds herself in the position of recommending local caterers, she is fully aware that producers are interested in feeding their crews a good meal. "They are sensitive to the fact that the hours are long and a lot of time is spent waiting. They also know a big, heavy-duty man does not want to eat an egg salad sandwich," she said.
Boleyn has a corner on the market, she continues. "It's not a party, it's a feed. He's got a good-quality product and is savvy to the system. He's familar with how to operate and what people are in the market for.
"Sometimes the serving conditions are just awful"--as when chocolate pie melts in the hot sun on a 95-degree day. "But you have to hang in there and keep re-upping reviving and replacing the food," Flaisher says, adding that she'll gain an average of five pounds on each production she manages in Washington. "You can't walk anyplace on the set without passing food," she jokes.
There will be a long break between "Silkwood's" departure and the arrival of Washington's next scheduled feature film--an expose' of the Georgetown bar scene. Flaisher hasn't discovered the new crew's cravings yet. But one thing is sure. She and Boleyn will make it their business to find out.