Tabletop Directing

It takes a lot of effort (and a lot of people) to make food look appetizing on film. Chain restaurant advertising on TV is overseen by tabletop directors, specialists you rarely hear about. There are only about a half-dozen accomplished tabletop directors in the industry, but they earn their pay by wrestling a winning performance out of a difficult actor: food. One of those directors is Michael Schrom.
Mr. Schrom has the eyeglasses of an architect and the relaxed, contented air of a man highly entertained by his job. On this day, he is filming for a national chain — one that also requested anonymity — capturing what he calls “flavor cues.” In one shot, a stagehand pours chocolate syrup over a sheet of caramel. (You can almost hear a voiceover purring, “Chocolate.”) In another, cream bubbles up in a cup of coffee. In real time, these moments barely register. In slow-motion playbacks, with a digital camera that shoots up to 1,600 frames a second, the images are almost erotic. Which is no accident.

“You’re using the same part of your brain — porn, food,” Mr. Schrom says during a break. “It’s going in the same section; it’s that visual cortex that connects to your most basic senses. What we’re trying to do is be the modern-day Pavlovs and ring your bell with these images.”

He has several food stylists who work in a huge kitchen next to his set. They start with the very same food and recipes used in the restaurants and stores.

In part, this is a truth-in-advertising issue. Everyone knows that in 1970, the Federal Trade Commission settled a complaint against the Campbell Soup Company after its ad agency slipped marbles into a bowl in ads featuring its vegetable soup, apparently to force more veggies to the surface. That put a scare into the industry that endures to this day.

Anything that flatters the food, of course, is fair game, and that includes gimmicks you’re unlikely to find in a fridge. Glue is used to keep spaghetti on forks and pizzas in place. The ice in a beverage might be made of acrylic and cost $500 a cube. The frost coming off a beer could be a silicone gel, mixed with powder and water.

The New York Times look at some of those techniques, and the people who make a living using them. Link -via Metafilter

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