When the lovely people at P For Production told David Reviews that they’d added food specialist Scott Grummett to their roster of directors, we decided it was the ideal opportunity to find out more about the skills required to create appetising banquets for the small screen.
So we spoke to him about how he ended up doing what he’s doing and asked him to reveal a few tricks of the trade. We found him to be a charming interlocutor with some fascinating insights – and you can’t ask for more of an interviewee than that.
So tell me a bit about yourself – what’s your background?
I started in stills. I did a degree in Graphic Design specialising in Photography at the Norwich School of Art and Design (now Norwich University of the Arts.)
I then moved down to London in the heart of the recession with no money and no job looking for work as a photographer.
How did that go?
I had a turbulent year in which I ate a lot of spaghetti. I seemed to get more work than most in that year but it wasn’t exactly the ideal time.
Things picked up relatively quickly though, and I started shooting editorially for clients like WIRED Mag.
And did you start working with food as a stills photographer?
I did. I work with food and still life but food become more prominent as still life is falling into the world of CGI. Food is real and there always seems to be new popular movement in it so it’s always busy.
Plus I think it’s what comes more naturally to me – I’m a foodie, I love to eat; so it seemed right.
I guess it’s always going to be less complicated to shoot food for real than trying to create a facsimile on a computer.
It just won’t ever look natural… food is full of mistakes: smears, drips, burnt bits.
If you retouch food you find yourself putting bits back in as the bits that are slightly messy help it. A computer can’t provide that realness.
How much more challenging is it to work with moving pictures?
There’s less rescuing of shots. It has to be right so there is a lot more pre-production, testing and prep. Plus there’s a whole new world of kit to get my teeth into (and – luckily – a lot of people to help me through it.)
On that score… is it important to have a partnership with the food wrangler (can’t think what they’re actually called!!)?
‘Home economist’ or ‘food stylist’ – I’m not sure anyone is sure which anymore!
It is… getting a good home economist makes a massive difference. If you get someone who knows their stuff it really makes the shot.
Do you have preferred partnerships?
My favourite, Nicole Szabason, has sadly just emigrated to Australia. She is exceptional.
I worked with her on a Nandos project recently and the sneaky tricks to get the bar marks all the way across was quite special.
Which food directors do you admire?
Gus Filgate is fantastic, I know him well. He did a project about carers called Pie last year which matched great food and a sentimental edge really well.
Is that move – the one made by Gus towards performance – something that interests you?
I like the idea of a little bit of comedy across something – Jason [Underhill – at P For Production] and I have plans for something along those lines for the future. We are working out the finer details when the hectic schedule permits.
I’m really interested in graphic food, though… that’s my main pursuit – something that is delicious but shot interestingly.
All in all, it’s about making people hungry… if I come out of a meeting and the agency are arguing about where to go for lunch I’ve done my job well.
There’s a massive variation in the way food is shot. It can look terrible in commercials where food is only on screen for a few seconds – it must be annoying to see it done badly.
It depends on the product… a lot of the big household names in this country are processed foods and it’s tricky to make it look tasty when it doesn’t look great to start with.
But – sometimes – if you were to see the product as it arrives and what goes out on air, it can be quite a jump.
Are there limits on what you’re allowed to do to improve the look?
It depends on the food and the territories it’s being used in… some companies and some countries are very strict.
Ideally we try to use the actual food and style it using regular cooking to make it as tasty as possible.
Companies like McDonald’s have sometimes been accused of ‘cheating’ but they are actually more strict than anyone else.
You hear about mashed potato for ice cream – smoke instead of steam… that kind of thing or are those urban myths?
Potato isn’t a big one anymore… it’s always steam for me, but we manufacture it – a tampon in the microwave with some water can work wonders!