There is one saying that defines the film industry: “Time is money”. On set, the cost of each minute ranges from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. This includes time spent setting up a shot, rolling the camera, and of course, having lunch.
Feeding a film crew may not seem like such a big deal, but the bigger the project the more complex things get. Rules in the entertainment industry are countless, but they exist for a reason - mainly to protect logistical and financial concerns.
If you are reading this article, you most likely have heard someone call “Last Man” on set. You may be wondering if this another case of crazy, over the top film lingo (does a clothespin have to be called a ‘C-47’?) or something truly important.
Wonder no more! Together, we’ll break down everything you need to know about “Last Man”, and empower you to make the right call in every situation.
When a half-hour lunch is announced by the First Assistant Director, the crew is asked to line up for lunch. “Last Man” refers to the last crew member who has sat down with their plate.
When this happens, a production assistant must call out the time on the radio and state that the crew will be “back in” 30 minutes from the announced time. It usually sounds something like this:
“Last Man 1:12 (pm), back in at 1:42”
This information is acknowledged by the 2nd Assistant Director and written down in the Production Report.
The end time will then be used to mark the start of the new 6-hour period before the next meal break.
You may be wondering why everyone has to adhere to the same schedule. Although there are some exceptions where individual crew members are asked to resume work early (we’ll address this further below), generally speaking, a film crew can’t work very well if its various members are on a different schedule. Each department relies on the others, so if half of the crew is still eating, very little can happen.
In addition, while some crew members hold positions that allow them to take breaks or snack during the day, others, like the camera department, tend to work around the clock. Lunch becomes their only real “off-time”, which can explain why guaranteeing that everyone gets the same amount of rest is very important.
Note: most production assistants will call “last man” when the last crew member has reached the end of the buffet. It’s worth noting that although this works in most cases, it is preferable to call it when the “last man” crew member sits down at a table. There are some rare cases where finding a place to sit could take more time than just a few seconds.
In order to fully understand “Last Man”, we must first talk about the two types of lunch breaks: the half-hour lunch and the one-hour lunch.
This is the most straightforward break. It lasts one hour from the time it is called by the First Assistant Director to the time work resumes on set. It is most often used on large productions.
Half-hour lunch breaks are called when production needs to resume as soon as possible. As with the one-hour lunch, the First Assistant Director will announce a half-hour lunch to the entire crew. But if it was that simple, we wouldn’t be writing an article on the subject!
The half-hour lunch mandates that every single crew member must be given 30 minutes to eat. The words we chose here are important.
On smaller projects, the “Last Man” rule has a very small impact. However, the bigger the project, the more interesting things become due to one simple fact: the lunch line grows. Where it only takes about 5 minutes to get food from the catering line with a 20 people crew, it very often will take upwards of 15 minutes with a crew of 35+ people.
The rules regarding a half-hour lunch break regulate that every crew member must be given “30 minutes to eat”. “Eating” here is defined as ‘shoving food into your face’, not as ‘waiting in line to get food’. By this logic, each crew member’s 30 minutes start when he/she is sitting down at a table with a plate.
If you’ve been following, it should make sense now that the 30 minutes allotted to eat are different from the 30 minutes in a “half-hour” lunch. Depending on the length of the catering line, a half-hour lunch could be anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes. Therefore, “Last Man” becomes a sort of race for time (as if production needed more rushing!) and also means that the first crew member to sit down with food benefits from a longer lunch break than the designated “Last Man”.
We’ve mentioned earlier that the last person to sit down with food is the “Last Man”, but unfortunately it’s not that simple, and there are a few exceptions:
Thus, the “Last Man” is the last crew member who:
To better understand what all the fuss around “Last Man” is about, let’s compare what could potentially happen on two different projects with a half-hour lunch:
Lunch is called at 1:12 pm
As soon as this is announced, the Production Assistants lead the crew to the lunch line.
Out of the 70 crew members, 8 are with the production team (Director, 2nd 2nd AD, Additional 2nd AD, and 5 PAs). This leaves 62 people who count towards “Last Man”.
Even with two lunch lines, by the time the 62nd crew member has sat down, it is 1:30 pm.
“Last Man” is called and work will resume at 2 pm, 48 minutes after breaking for lunch was called.
If the schedule can accommodate for a one-hour lunch, is it better for Project B to call a half-hour or a one-hour lunch? The right answer is, as with many other cases in the film industry, whatever makes the most financial sense.
Because a half-hour lunch only deducts 30 minutes from a crew member’s “worked hours” (what they get paid for), a First Assistant Director who is facing Project B’s situation will always call for the one-hour lunch. Otherwise, some of the crew members are essentially receiving extra time for free.
If the schedule can’t accommodate for a one-hour lunch (this could be because the crew needs daylight, or because filming takes place at a location that will charge for overtime), the First AD will always call a half-hour lunch and push for the process to take as little time as possible.
There are many tasks that can be automated and made easier with technology. Unfortunately, “Last Man” will continue to be a manual process until our food becomes digital! Castifi’s mission will always be to provide a helping hand, especially when dealing with complex and time-consuming administrative problems in the entertainment industry. If you found this post helpful, please share it with others and subscribe to our newsletter for more content like this, as well as upcoming events, product updates, and new product features.