This may sound odd, or dumb to you, but it works. Not all of the time, but quite a bit, to the point you’d be pleasantly surprised. Especially if you’re a local filmmaker. Locals tend to pluck some patriotic heartstrings, with mom and pop shops, and sometimes they just flat out like supporting the arts.
Now if you approach a big chain restaurant, you may get bogged down in the red tape that can sometimes accompany such requests. Big chains get hit up all of the time and they tend to have certain rules for donating which they have to adhere to. It doesn’t mean they won’t, you may just have to be patient and jump through the hoops, but if it goes through, it can be well worth it. Or you may get lucky and they’ll have a nice thick stack of free food coupons sitting around that they don’t mind handing over.
Big chains are of course not going to be interested in trading food for promotional considerations in your small production. Those things usually happen with big films and take lawyers, contracts, and a studio backing your film. But if you had all that, you wouldn’t need donations anyway, so it’s a moot point.
This goes for drinks as well. Now, while I had zero luck getting cases of soda donated, Pepsi did give me a heck of a discount on cases of their products. I had a stack of soda cases as tall as my ceiling for very little out of pocket.
By the time I finished my pre-production, I had food donated for every production day. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner from different places every day (except for the donuts) so people didn’t get bored with the same food. Some days it was pizza, and burritos, but there were other days when we had expensive food that would have cost hundreds of dollars. And it was all free. Not discounted drastically, but free. And none of them asked for anything, including promotional consideration… (except for the donuts.)
But food isn’t the only thing you can ask for. Sam’s Club donated gift cards to the production with no strings, hoops, or red tape attached. I then used those gift cards to purchase food for our craft services. You can also try to negotiate better rates on rental equipment, props, locations, everything. It’s worth trying, as long as you do it right.
This all may sound easy but it’s not and if you want to succeed, you need to do your homework, which means not only having the pertinent information, but dressing and acting the part. First off, make sure the place has what you need, or can accommodate your needs. Don’t ask a lowly taco cart business owner to finance tacos for a crew of 15 people. When you approach a business, always ask for the owner, or manager and do it in person if you can. It’s easy to say no over the phone, it’s hard to look a dedicated, hardworking filmmaker in the puppy dog eyes and say no. And don’t go in wearing shorts and flip-flops, represent your position and profession. Be respectful, even if they say no. Especially if they say no. And if they say yes, you better deliver on any promise you make.
As in anything one can pursue in life, the difference between success and failure is hard work. If your film is important to you and your dad’s last name isn’t Gates or Jobs, then be prepared to work. But when it all comes together and you and your cast and crew are watching the final cut of your film on the big screen, it will all have been worth it. Just make sure the guys who donated the (donuts) have free tickets to the screening.