Cooking for Hollywood, a documentary about Tony Kerum at Kino Croatia, Los Angeles

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This Sunday, in the picturesque loft of Doma Restaurant, overlooking the charming streets of Beverly Hills, Kino Croatia – Croatian Film series at American Cinematheque – will have a Kick-off party for its 2013 year edition, which is taking place June 21-23 at the Egyptian and Aero Theatres.

The central part of this event is Los Angeles premier of 30 minutes documentary “Cooking for Hollywood” featuring John Woo, Adam Beach, John Travolta, Christian Slater, Peter Stormare and many other big names – and starring Tony Kerum.

Who is Tony Kerum? – We asked that question Matko B. Malinger, the creator of Cooking for Hollywood.

M. B. Malinger: At the end of every movie we can see a long list of credits… We read some at the top, than people around us start getting up – we struggle to reed more, than we usually quit and follow the crowd on the way out of the theater. But if we stayed a little longer, just about the time the rest of the crowed is getting to their cars, we can read on the screen that food on the set was provided by Tony’s Food service. And this will be the case for many of your favorite films made within last 35 years in Hollywood. We went behind the scenes, on a couple of movie sets, to check why some of the biggest stars and the most influential filmmakers will never sign a film contract without first making sure that Tony’s name is on it. As soon as we told them that we would like to make a story about Tony, all the doors were open; everybody wanted to tell us – who was Tony Kerum.

That’s why you shouldn’t ask me about this film, you should talk to Tony, and if you want a little extra you should talk to Babak Mansouri, my cinematographer, he is a special character, too.

Bijan Tehrani: Tony, you are on a movie set right now. We were told, that’s the best place to find you.
Tony Kerum: Company that I own is involved in several projects right now. I am working on Spiderman, in New York, Captain America with Marvel Pictures. And I am spending a lot of time on a movie called Need for Speed: it’s a film that requires a lot of attention because it is moving all over the country – San Francisco, Mendocino, Atlanta and different cities in Georgia, we are going to go to Detroit and Chicago and end up in Utah. It’s a DreamWorks picture, produced by Steven Spielberg, similar to Fast and Furious, with lots of expensive cars like Lamborghinis. They do car chases through the cities, there is also a scene in Northern California through the redwoods. It’s a very exciting movie to work on with a lot of famous stunts. And moving from one city to the next, you really have to be on top of it.

BT: I know your job must be very challenging. Being a chef is challenging already but running a company like that, feeding so many people and keeping the quality, moving so much… How challenging is your job?
TK: I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s a bit easier for me than it would be for someone just starting out. Being a chef started in Europe right after high school, I went to chef school and worked in different parts of Europe and came to the United States, worked in different hotels and restaurants then started in the movie business. I learned a lot and then I started my own company with a very little money. It was pretty challenging. When I started in 77, I developed relationships with major actors and producers, for example with Clint Eastwood on a picture called Firefox, and I am really fortunate that I am still working for Clint Eastwood, for his loyalty. We are going to start a picture probably in the summer called Jersey Boys, that he is star-directing. My second film with my own company was either Flashdance or Young Doctors in Love, with Jerry Bruckheimer as the producer and I am still working with him. We’re getting ready to do another Pirates of the Caribbean in Puerto Rico. And then we started working with John Travolta on a picture called Perfect in 1985, with Jamie Lee Curtis, and we are still working with John Travolta. We also work with Kevin Costner… I try to keep everyone happy, it’s pretty challenging, especially being in places in the middle of nowhere. We just did a picture in Costa Rica, and we were in jungles, three hours away from the big city. Getting the supplies wasn’t easy. As you know, all those actors are used to having quality food. Doing it after a while, you get experience, and what helps also is that it is a family business. Each job is held by a member of the family. For example, my niece Mara, works with some people all the time, with John Travolta for example. My nephew, my kids have also started working. I think it really helps to have a family business keeping all the clients together.

BT: Nobody knows about Croatian cuisine and I think you brought some elements of Croatian cuisine to the menus that you serve.
TK: Definitely. Croatian cuisine is definitely very popular amongst actors because it’s very healthy. We use olive oil instead of butter, we grill fresh fish with garlic, we used spinach and swiss chard, leafy vegetables. Originally when I came to this country, the cuisine in America was not that great – it was frozen vegetables and steak on the grill, French fries and potatoes. It was all frozen stuff. At that time I came up with healthy stuff, and that’s how it all started. Definitely, Mediterranean and Croatian food are very appealing to people in the movie industry.

BT: How do you update your self? I am sure you challenge yourself to bring new ideas to your work. Do you create new items or new ideas?
TK: The food is almost like a medicine. You need to come up with different ideas, different herbs, different styles for different people and their different styles. I have not only my family members but also international chefs working with me. I have chefs from Japan, Sri Lanka, India, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Germany and they all add something new. It’s very important when you are woking for 100 days in New York on Spiderman where they have some of the top restaurants in Manhattan. So you’d better come up with different ideas because people get bored from eating breakfast and two meals a day for 100 days straight. So we do update our ideas all the time, like curries and lentils, and vegetarian and vegan options, we have a sushi chef, we have a German pastry chef who’s been with me for 15 or 16 years. Those are the keys. You have to keep it interesting. Otherwise, they will not hire you anymore, they’re not going to keep us like Clint Eastwood who has been our client for about 28 years, Jerry Bruckheimer for about 30years. These are clients with high demands so you have to keep up with it. We have many organic products now, vegan and vegetarian options, which wasn’t the case years ago.
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Bijan Tehrani:  Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what you are doing right now. 
Babak Mansouri:  My parents were both filmmakers.  My mother wrote and directed television programs for the National Television Station back home in Tehran in the 1970s.  She was extremely passionate about her career and worked fourteen and fifteen hour days, six and frequently seven days a week.  She was pushing boundaries as a working woman in Iran at that time, but she also didn’t want to compromise her responsibilities as a mother.  This is why she decided to create a fun but educational children’s TV show starring my younger brother and myself.  That way, she could raise us while also raising many other children through her work as a filmmaker.  By focusing her concerns for all children of Iran, she was actually planting seeds of compassion, and empowering others to stand up against social injustices and poverty.  First Halghe Jado, and later Vajhe O Bazi, declared us famous child actors, since most of Iran began tuning in to our program on Thursday nights.  I was a naturally inquisitive kid and spent much of my time at the TV station running around, climbing on top of the studio’s camera cranes, and pushing buttons and sliding faders on the state-of-the-art live studio switchers – which were very similar to those used on George Lucas’ “THX 1138”.  I remember early on, when I was only nine or ten years old, that I decided to become a filmmaker, and quickly identified documentary filmmaking as a way to affect the world beyond entertainment.    My family moved to the United States in 1977 when I was only eleven.  I quickly found myself in a summer program for kids at the Barnsdall Park Junior Arts Center in Hollywood, enrolled in a super 8 filmmaking class run by a young man named Mike Sherlock.  He became my first mentor, and taught me a lot about films and how to look at them.  Like my mother, he also believed in me and several years later actually gave me one of my first jobs as a cinematographer.  My high school years were mostly spent in Florida, where I had access only to photography and art classes – my only outlets for venting the filmmaker within.  After that, I was pretty much self-taught.  I threw myself into real-world situations and work environments, all the while guided by my mother’s lessons on social change and my own passion for the art of cinema.     For the past six years, I’ve been working with my brother, who is also in the film industry.   His company, Radiant Images, provides cutting-edge digital cinema camera gear to the film industry.  A few years ago, we provided cameras and support for the official 2006 Winter Olympics TV spots for AT&T.  My work as the “P.O.V. Camera Specialist” on that job caught the attention of Danny Boyle and Anthony Dod Mantel, who chose us to be on their team providing cameras and support for Boyle’s “127 Hours” starring James Franco.  I actually ended up inventing custom camera solutions tailored to the specific needs of both of the project’s DP’s.  In the course of this work, I realized that I have a knack for coming up with innovations that can fulfill the exacting requirements of cinematographers and film directors alike.  I then reconceived and redesigned the SI 2K camera into a palm sized 2K Uncompressed RAW camera system for use in David Ayer’s film “End of Watch” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena.  My creation of the SI 2K Nano made it possible for David Ayer to shoot his film in a time-efficient manner, allowing him to make the film he wanted with the cast he wanted.  My work on these two films, and countless commercials, has paved the way to more major film and television work, establishing Radiant Images as go-to source for solutions for filmmakers by filmmakers.  More recently, we’ve taken the Go Pro camera and re-imagined it as a high-end cinema camera.  Equipped with interchangeable professional C-mount lens, cinematographers can now use this customized camera to pull focus and control iris manually.  We call it the “NOVO” – which in Latin means to refresh, revive, alter, or invent. 

BT:  Tell me about your involvement in the documentary made about Tony. 
BM:  When the Director Matko Brljevic came to me with a film project about Tony and his craft of making food for major film productions, I was very intrigued.  I had long admired filmmakers – like François Truffaut, Francis Coppola, Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen – whose professional partnerships became like families.  By creating close-knit relationships, where crew members care about one another, they made better films with smaller crews.  This resonated with my mother’s notion that kinship between the crew affects the outcome of the project.   But I had no idea how much Tony and his staff were revered in the film community until we interviewed John Travolta during the filming of “Swordfish”.  Mr. Travolta gave an eloquent explanation of why he chooses only Tony to cater all his films – as did many other A-list movie stars and directors we interviewed for the documentary.  Working on this project was very educational for me, and it was gratifying to see how something as simple as the act of providing good food on the set can affect the entire production and the outcome of the film.  In Tony’s case, this “simple” act becomes something lavish and lovely, which truly needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  

BT:  Did you travel to Croatia for this? 
BM:  Unfortunately, I was not able to travel to Croatia at that time.  I’ve worked on a few other projects within the American/Croatian Community here in Los Angeles, and in San Pedro and Alaska, and I find Croatian people to be very hospitable and kind.  I also find their country beautiful, and cannot wait for the opportunity to visit and see it with my own eyes – preferably through the viewfinder of my camera. 

BT:  How did you find the character of Tony?
BM:  He’s a generous man with a strong passion for his work.  I had been on some film sets where the food was provided by Tony’s catering, but I hadn’t met him personally until this project.  Since then, I’ve run into him on various movie sets.  The one big difference you see on those sets is the overall energy of the crew.  This is because Tony and his people are so kind and accommodating, and their love in providing the perfect service is recognized by the crew.  Everybody feels special as they enjoy the same high-quality food as the top stars on the project.   You can’t help but to get this sense of family around lunch time.  Any stressful issues from the set get left behind as soon as the crew sits down at Tony’s tables.  

BT:  What are your plans for the future? 
BM:  I’m in the process of wrapping up two documentaries, including one on Burning Man which I’ve been shooting for three years, and plan to premiere at next year’s Sundance.  My Brother and I are also in pre-production on a documentary spanning forty years of the history of the Rubik’s Cube, and the Hungarian genius behind it, Erno Rubik.  More immediately, we will be showing off all our new cameras and other digital cinema solutions at this year’s Cinegear held on the back lot of Paramount studios this upcoming weekend.

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Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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