August 10, 2023

While at first it might seem strange that a show about road rage would climb all the way to number one on the streaming charts, Beef is a story with many layers and universal themes that examines the human condition.

The Netflix series created by Lee Sung Jin centers around Danny Cho and Amy Lau, two Asian Americans who live in two very
different social economic realities. Danny, played by Academy Award nominee Steven Yeun, is a Southern Californian contractor trying to make ends meet while Amy, played by Ali Wong, lives the quintessential, privileged, suburban lifestyle with her wealthy husband and daughter. These two meet in a chance road rage incident that sets off a chaotic chain of events. Their lives become intertwined as they both come to grips with their deepest desires.

The 10 episode series is anchored by the editing team of Nat Fuller, Jordan Kim, Harry Yoon, ACE, and Laura Zempel, ACE. Together, they took on the challenge of intertwining this series that subverts genre and audience expectations. The secrets the characters keep from one another are central to Beef’s universal theme. “Something that was talked about through shooting and in the cutting room was this idea of the way they [Danny and Amy] come to know each other and their secrets better than anyone else in their lives,” Yoon explains. “That is the basis of their intimacy and their repulsion and their attraction to each other. It’s only when we are fully known [that we can be] fully loved or hated.

And that’s so rare for that to happen these days. We’re constantly trying out personas and code switching. We’re very afraid of being fully known. So one of the interesting things to explore was – how in this place where we’re so visible [can we] keep secrets from each other?”

Throughout the show, even though Danny and Amy don’t share many scenes together, their relationship is integral to not only the plot, but their growth as characters. This posed a unique challenge. “[In the pilot], it originally had this bold structure where we start off with the [road rage] incident and then we leave that place following Danny for a long time. Then we switch and follow Amy for a long time. And then it was a surprise at the end when Danny appears on her doorstep,” Yoon describes.

However, it became evident the desired parallels between the characters could be heightened editorially through juxtaposition. “We started playing around in editorial with more of a cross cutting structure. After we built the basics of that structure, Laura [Zempel] kept finding match-and-answer cuts that played up that parallel even more. One of the beautiful things she found was cutting Amy getting her picture taken to the eye of a camera that Danny is installing in the next scene. I think those are the elegant
things that both cinematically tie them together and show they are headed into each other’s lives in a way that is undeniable.”

As Amy and Danny’s odd revenge relationship begins to form after the road rage incident, their relationship to money is at the subtext of every scene. As Fuller notes, “I think the money thing was definitely a big important piece of the story, especiallythe  relationships Danny and Amy have relative to money. Amy has money and she is getting more of it, but it’s still not able to fulfill her. She keeps striving for it and then once she evenattains it, the money doesn’t fill that void for her. And then Danny
is chasing the money so hard the whole time.” Zempel interjects,

“They [Danny and Amy] are just such good foils for each other. It’s so easy to assume that money can get you happiness. Danny never achieves it either, but it’s inconsequential. I think as the series develops, you realize that the money is what separates them, but it’s not actually the root of either of their problems.”

For a show that could have played up the laughs and the revenge aspects, the Beef editorial team speaks about how these deep philosophical questions affected their creative choices. “I feel a lot of the vulnerability and intimacy of the characters comes out in how long we let some shots play out, and when we are watching the other characters who aren’t speaking and how they are reacting off of each other,” Kim comments.

“The shot type and these really intimate singles feel almost subjective in a way. I think you’re taken into each character’s world. It doesn’t hide any flaws in performance. So I think you really get a sense of what the actors are bringing to the performances.” The dynamic pairing of Steven Yeun and Ali Wong brings to life two powerhouse roles to the screen which are even more impressive considering that most of the series was ‘block-shot’ based on location. Most episodes were not fully complete until the end of shooting. The actors, directors and editors perfectly modulated the performances of the two characters.

Danny and Amy are emotionally wrestling with themselves and each other while their loved ones are often unaware. Says Yoon, “Our leads were amazing. Steven and Ali had to be vulnerable and bring their heart and soul to these characters.

They keep defying expectations. Who knew Ali Wong had these acting gears! This was an aspect of Ali Wong’s persona that I wasn’t sure of. And I think that preps you for the journey you’re about to go on.”

This modulation of tone extends to the music choices as well. “The music was something Jake [Schreier] and Lee Sung Jin
were very intentional about,” Zempel remarks. “They wanted the music early on to be very cringey. The directive was songs from the ‘90s and early 2000s that you like, but are ashamed to admit you like. And then it gets a little bit more serious each episode. It was a very intentional evolution of outrageous and comical to deeply touching and nostalgic and heartfelt. It’s not an accident that it flows that way.”

For the editors of Beef, it was a project that was creatively, professionally and personally rewarding. As Kim explains, he wanted to be part of this project even though he has been transitioning into more directing. The tone of Beef is the type of thing he would love to work on as a director. “I remember, in the middle of working on the show, how refreshing it was to see a show that’s featuring Korean American characters that are flawed and not having the show just be about their identity, but still be an ever present part of it in the background. I’m half Korean and Harry is full Korean so it’s just something I think we both feel
very connected to … And getting to edit a scene in Korean was a personal thrill for me.”

A celebration of Korean American culture brought the team together when they were working remotely. “We all got off our little boxes in Zoom and met for the first time [in person] in Koreatown to eat Korean barbecue and do karaoke together as a
group. I do have a video of Harry singing Hoobastank!” Zempel exclaims. “I don’t know the total impact, but there was a little alchemy being in Koreatown. Not every show starts that way.”

This editing feat couldn’t have come together without the support of their assistant editors – Ryan Rambach, Josh Stein, and Lily Wild – who enthusiastically jumped in to do some amazing work with visual effects and sound. “I was really happy to get to work with assistants that all could have been editing on the show. That is such a testament to the team that was put together,”

Kim describes. “I did a little Mocha [phone screen tracking] tutorial for Ryan and Josh to teach each of them some VFX. It was great because they were so eager to learn, and they picked up everything so quickly.”

Netflix’s Beef is very much a labor of love for its creators. The editors laughed that they talked so philosophically about a show that at face value should be a half-hour comedy. For Yoon, the show’s theme is cautionary and redemptive. “What the series does beautifully is it shows what the consequences are of not being able to show grace to one another. In Danny’s world and
Amy’s world, they each have strong justification for doing what they do. They are wronged and therefore they have permission to create all sorts of brokenness in the other person’s life. I think when we have to hold onto that justice for ourselves, it can be very self-destructive as much as it is destructive to our counterpart.

In the end, Danny and Amy get to a place where they can finally show grace to each other and it’s very healing.”



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