From the strawberry frozen yogurt scene in “Seinfeld,” to the breakfast at Tiffany’s in the (appropriately titled) “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” eating scenes in TV shows and movies are common fare. But although eating scenes might appear as organic as GMO-free produce, actors usually don’t actually eat on camera. Here’s all the info you can swallow on eating in movies and film.
“Moneyball” Courtesy Sony Pictures Releasings
When actors appear to eat or drink on camera, they often aren’t really ingesting, due to the caloric stresses of multiple takes and the need to be heard clearly.
- Multiple takes: Actors often need to shoot and reshoot a scene multiple times, meaning that if they eat food once they may need to eat it dozens of times. Between the cost for the food and the caloric intake, that would end up being more than most palates can bear.
- Clarity issues: Another reason that actors usually don’t eat on camera is because they’ll be speaking soon. The process of chewing and swallowing can take a long time, so actors often find it easier to have an empty mouth to verbalize efficiently and effectively.
“Eating acting” is when the camera cuts away quickly after an actor takes a bite on camera. As filmmaker and professional food stylist David Ma explained in a viral TikTok post, when the camera cuts away, the actor spits out their food before actually ingesting it. “It all feels real and seamless thanks to the editing,” Ma said.
@davidwma Reply to @sorencopper Today’s FilmTok Lesson: “Eat-Acting” #behindthescenes #foodstyling #film #filmtok #learnontiktok ♬ Spongebob Tomfoolery - Dante9k Remix - David Snell
When asked to fake eat on camera, actors will either use a spit bucket, pretend to nosh on large amounts of food while really only eating small amounts, or leave food and drink out of the picture entirely by using an empty vessel.
Actors will often use a spit bucket to spit out the food they’re meant to eat in a scene. “When you consume something in a scene, you learn to be very circumspect because you may end up having to consume that amount 30 times,” explains “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman. “When you’re young, you think, ‘Man, it would be really cool if I smoke in this scene.’ Then, on take 18, you’re green and vomiting because you’ve been smoking for 90 minutes. So you learn with food: If you have to take a bite of something, don’t swallow it, and get a spit bucket. Even if you’re eating one bite of cake, you may end up eating four pieces of cake by the time you add them all up. It makes sense, especially if you’re attractive. I have the good fortune of not being included in that category.”
Another way to fake eat for a scene is to imitate taking a large bite while really chewing on a small piece of food. Masticating on the small piece of food in your mouth will create a realistic appearance of chewing, as “The Office” star Jenna Fischer described in an Instagram post.
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The empty cup
When characters are supposed to drink in a scene, their cups are often empty. Carrying around a hot liquid like coffee on set can be a liability—and any change in the amount of liquid in a cup in between scenes can cause continuity issues. Still, according to media critic Myles McNutt, when actors use an empty cup to pantomime drinking, it can cause more issues with realism and continuity.
“They’re not even trying to pretend it’s real, and it shows tremendous disrespect for both the viewer and, well, science,” said the creator of the #EmptyCupAwards hashtag. “When actors carry around empty cups, it means something included in scenes to make them seem more realistic is instead doing the exact opposite. These empty cups are not just failing to immerse us in this fake world, they’re actively reminding us that this world is fake.”
“Parks and Recreation” Courtesy NBC
The following stars decided to throw culinary caution to the wind and nosh to their hearts’—and stomachs’—delight.
Pratt, who co-starred on “Parks and Recreation” with Offerman, once decided to commit to eating the food in a scene to make his colleagues laugh. “They gave us dinosaur-sized portions. And so I didn’t have anything to say in the scene. So inevitably I wanted to try to get some screen time and I decided I would eat one rack of ribs per take,” he said. “And if the camera happened to catch me, I would absolutely be inhaling ribs. I went through 12 racks of ribs, which is the equivalent of six pigs.”
While shooting “Eat, Pray, Love,” Roberts reportedly devoured up to 10 slices of pizza per day so that she would gain weight at the same rate as her foodie character. “If you look at any of the scenes of eating, by the end of the scene, I’m done eating. Like in the scene with the pizza, by the time the scene is over, I’ve eaten the entire piece,” she recalled. “When we were in Naples, we started shooting at eight in the morning, and I think by 8:45 I’d eaten eight or 10 pieces of pizza. Pizza was what I ate all day that day.”
Before the debut of James Gunn’s DC Comics series “Peacemaker,” a set photo hit the internet of star John Cena looking dejected with an empanada in hand. According to the wrestler-turned-actor, the reason was 40 takes of actually eating baked pastries.
“We had to do this one big take because the horribly beautiful corrupted mind of James Gunn operates in so many intricate pieces,” Cena said on “The Tonight Show.” “I had to do it 40 times and I nearly ate myself sick. You can tell by that picture, I was not having a good day."