The Bear

August 10, 2023

From Ratatouille to Boiling Point and The Menu, professional kitchens have been portrayed on screen as pressure cooker environments but none surely more stressful than The Original Beef of Chicagoland, the traditional diner at the heart of The Bear. The audience is pitched into the maelstrom of words and bodies and knives from the get-go of FX/Hulu’s comedy drama in a deliberate attempt to overload the viewer to the point of switching it off.

Created by Christopher Storer (Ramy, Eighth Grade), who also serves as director and executive producer alongside director and showrunner Joanna Calo (BoJack Horseman, Undone), The Bear centers on Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) whose reputation precedes him as a young, award-winning chef in New York. He returns home to Chicago to run the family sandwich joint after his brother Michael’s suicide but his attempt to drill a more regimented operation rubs against Michael’s best friend Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), the suspicious-of-change cooks, and new hire Sydney (Ayo Edebiri).

“Right away the audience should feel like they are drowning,” says editor Joanna Naugle, ACE, who cut the pilot, which won an ACE Eddie Award in March. “It’s an assault on the senses. Chris told me people should feel like switching off their televisions to catch their breath which, to me, was so exciting because when do you ever hear the instruction ‘make it unwatchable’?”

A planned 10-minute opening sequence introducing Carmy was condensed to three minutes. “Chris wanted a shot of adrenaline at the beginning. We built this introductory House of Cards style montage where everything happens at once and makes you feel like you are right there with Carmy in the kitchen.

The starting point is chaos, hell and insanity so that throughout the season we can show how everyone grows together towards each other, communicates better, and how Carmy becomes a more experienced leader and gains the team’s respect.” While submarine classic Das Boot was used by directors and the camera team as a reference, Naugle drew on Martin Scorsese movies such as Bringing Out the Dead for inspiration.

“It was the gritty nature of that film about an ambulance driver losing track of reality that gripped me,” she says. “From the first dailies we knew The Bear was filmed with the intention of being a loud show, one you might have to watch multiple times to catch every line of. The camera work was supposed to reflect how chaotic and messy it was in the kitchen. We intentionally chose a lot of footage that had a bit of a jostle or movement.

It should feel dense and disorganized but as we progress through the season everything from the pacing of scenes to the color grade and sound design gets a little cleaner and more measured.”If the first episode pushed the limits of watchability, in later  episodes the moments of chaos are paired with moments of contemplation, even silence.

“If you are always going full tilt you will lose the impact, so we were also looking for moments of contrast where you could sit with the characters and have a moment of stillness,” she says. Naugle’s connection to the project was EP Josh Senior, one of the founders of the Brooklyn-based post house Senior Post, which she had joined straight out of film school over a decade ago.

She and Senior had previously collaborated with Storer on the Hulu comedy drama Ramy and several other comedy specials. “The Bear is an editor’s dream project because the editing is so flashy. A lot of times – if we’re doing our jobs right – you don’t notice the editing, but on this show we get to use every trick in the book – fast montages, speed ramps, needle drops, cross dissolves – not in a way that values style over substance, but to use all the editing tools in our arsenal to tell the characters’ stories in the most effective and compelling way.”

Editor Adam Epstein, ACE, joined Naugle to cut the rest of the eight-episode inaugural season, which debuted in June 2022. He says, “Across the series, the editorial rhythm and pace ideally mirrored the internal situation of the main characters. As Carmy got a little more calm and centered, the pace of the show reflected that. The difference between where the characters are emotionally in Episode 6 vs. Episode 1 is vast and we wanted the editorial style to support that.”

While the performance scenes were shot with a standard amount of two camera coverage, the editors had reams of B-roll material as ‘mortar’ to build scenes. These included Chicago cityscape ‘textures’ shot at various times of day and lots of close-ups of the cooking process. “We rarely use an establishing wide to begin a scene but we often had more esoteric footage to create with,” Epstein says. “Flames being lit, knives chopping vegetables, close-ups of hands or of the ticking clock on the wall.”

The duo credit assistant editors Josh Depew and Megan Mancini for “making everything as idiot-proof as possible,” says Epstein. “They took a vast amount of B-roll and organized it in a way that anyone could walk in and understand what was going on.”

The editors did a lot of offline audio work and sound design to crank up the ambience of a busy Chicago restaurant before the team at Sound Lounge amped it up further in the final mix. “We had a folder of every possible kitchen sound and tool – chopping, whisking, a blender running, a sizzling grill pan – and a lot we could use geographically,” Naugle says.

“For example, when in the front of house you’ll hear the ‘L’ train and in the back alley we hear garbage trucks and construction of the building next door, while when in the walk-in we hear the buzz of the freezer.”

Even ADR from the Ballbreaker video arcade game machines was added to the background “commenting on the scene,” says Epstein. “Even if no-one notices, it’s those little details that help ramp up the intensity and make it feel loud and chaotic.” The only time we see a restaurant outside ‘The Beef’ is in Episode 2 when Carmy is working in flashback at a three Michelin Star restaurant. “It’s silent. The sonic difference between that and The Beef is a world away.”

In Episode 7, everything boils over narratively. Storey chose to film most of it as a single 15-minute-long take, without hidden transitions. They shot five takes on one day, using the second version although by all accounts any could have been used. Naugle’s job here was to layer in audio effects to create intensity
and ensure the music peaked in the right place.

She says, “I was getting notes like ‘put in more audio’ and we had so many different sonic elements that we could achieve that feeling of extreme chaos without changing the pace or the angles.” The beginning of this episode presents a montage of Chicago iconography and city atmospheres. Naugle says, “Chris is from the city and he had specific ideas of the archival moments he wanted. Our job was to figure out what the balance would be between archive and present day B-roll.”

The montage was originally envisioned as an introduction to Episode 1 but as Storer told Naugle, “People know Chicago – but no one has any idea who Carmen Berzatto is so we should on focus on him at the beginning.” The opening to Episode 1 contains old family photos of Carmy to establish the character while Episode 7, she says, “felt like a good point to have a love letter to Chicago, before we go on this epic journey with the one take.”

The intensity continues at the beginning of the series finale where Carmy is shown having ‘the mother of all anxiety attacks.’ This was a tricky scene for Naugle to pull off since it required showing Carmy having an anxiety attack on a surreal daytime cookery show and then showing him waking up from that bad dream in his apartment – only for the nightmare of flashbacks to continue.

She says, “We struggled with the exact pacing and what the most visceral images would be that we are flashing back to. We see flashes of lots of things in this sequence – his brother, his uncle, meat being sliced, stovetop flames, the ticket machine at the restaurant, the bear he encounters in the first episode, his abusive boss from Episode 2 – anything that might spike his anxiety.”

To counter balance this intensity, the next scene is a six minute shot in which the camera stays focused on Carmy in a monologue about his brother Michael. “This moment gives us a peek into his trauma in a way that we’ve not heard him say explicitly before,” says Naugle. “One of my first cuts of the scene had one or two angle changes, then I recut it with one angle change, until we realized it was more powerful without a cut. Jeremy can totally carry the performance. He has sadness in his eyes that makes you just wanna give him a hug.”

The shoot for the pilot took place in July 2021. Photography on the series was a month between February and March 2022, with all phases of editorial entirely remote. They cut on Adobe Premiere Pro with dailies loaded onto LucidLink hosted in the cloud and asset managed with Adobe’s Productions tool.

“Productions is the closest thing I’ve used to a traditional, Avid-style, multi-user environment where everyone has access to everything,” says Epstein. “We were constantly grabbing stuff from each other’s projects, everyone could access B-roll at all times, and we could ask our assistants for a quick assembly that we could then easily access.”

A second season of The Bear began airing in June (before this issue of CinemaEditor went to press). With COVID rules relaxed, the team had far more  Post in New York although mostly they preferred to cut from home while filming was happening in Chicago. Editors may recognize the pace in the kitchen of The Bear as analogous to the deadline pressures they may have experiencedin the cutting room. On this show it appears the editorial atmosphere was at 180 degrees from the headache-inducing environment on screen.

“While our deadlines were tight, counterintuitively, the collaborative nature and overall vibe of production has been so smooth and seamless and pleasurable.” Epstein says. “In this case, life did not imitate art.

Explore Your Favorite Topics








Editors On Editing


All Videos