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‘Holy Shit, Have They Not Cut Yet?’

How The Bear captured 18 frantic minutes at The Beef in one take.

Photo: FX
Photo: FX
Photo: FX

Lin Brehmer, the chirpy voice of 93.1 FM WXRT, introduces Sufjan Stevens’s “Chicago” over stark white-on-black opening credits. Without a cold open, the seventh episode of The Bear’s first season feels different. The musical montage that follows — the staff of Original Beef of Chicagoland making their way to work against a backdrop of Windy City iconography, complete with contemporaneous and historical footage of the El and a statue of the goddess of agriculture, Ceres, atop the Board of Trade building — underlines this atmospheric departure.

It’s a portrait of Chicago that is the calm before the storm unleashed in “Review.” A nearly 18-minute uninterrupted take, or “oner,” comprises the majority of the second-to-last episode of season one, as a mostly positive newspaper review of the Beef amplifies existing frustrations for its staff just as a mistake with its online preorder system brings in more business than they can manage. Arguments, bruised egos, an accidental stabbing, and two walkouts ensue.

“Having a penultimate episode where things fall apart is very Structure 101,” says co-showrunner and episode writer Joanna Calo, but the series’s established immersion in combative kitchen dynamics meeting a pivotal story moment provided an opportunity for The Bear to experiment: “Our dialogue is so stripped back, you find the need to let your camera do more work.”

“It would maybe just feel good to stab him.”

“When Jo wrote episode seven, I was standing up in my kitchen reading it like, This is so sick. It is so fast,” says series creator, co-showrunner, and episode director Christopher Storer. He grew up “working in kitchens, in takeout, in catering, all that stuff” and had been developing The Bear as a feature for five years before pivoting it to television. Calo joined in sharing showrunning, writing, and directing responsibilities in late 2020, and FX commissioned a pilot in March 2021; once the full-season order came through in October, the pair firmed up the season’s overall arc to focus on Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy working through the grief of his brother Mikey’s suicide while bonding with Ayo Edebiri’s Sydney over their shared ambition and butting heads with his (not really) “cousin” Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach).

Since The Bear’s four-week writers’ room, Calo had been turning over an idea born out of her time as an executive producer and writer on BoJack Horseman: Can a man responsible for so many devastating mistakes ever make amends? Calo applied that question to The Bear’s Richie, a trigger-tempered bully as loyal as he is grating and who particularly picks on Sydney. What if, Calo wondered, Sydney fought back?

“What do you do with these men who are good people, maybe, but also do these small microaggressions, or sometimes macroaggressions? How do you move forward with white men in this day and age?” Calo wondered. “I had this idea: Maybe the only way for women, and especially women of color, to feel right in the world is to just stab the white men. He can’t make up for all the pain in the world, but it would maybe just feel good to stab him.”

“Review” also needed Carmy to reach his breaking point, and so the series’s resident foodies — Storer’s sister Courtney, a decorated restaurant chef, served as culinary producer, while chef and restaurateur Matty Matheson produced and played the Beef’s handyman, Neil Fak — provided various nightmarish real-life details. The mechanical buzz of endless printing receipts, or “chits,” bombard the Beef with orders they won’t be able fulfill. (“That’s a common nightmare sound for chefs and cooks,” White says. “Matty was saying the sound was in his dreams while we were shooting the show.”) Pastry chef Marcus (Lionel Boyce), obsessed with perfecting the doughnut, ignores his assigned cake duties, putting the restaurant further behind. (From Storer: “I can’t tell you how many chefs would tell us, ‘I would look at my sous or my pastry chef like, What in the fuck are you doing right now?, and it was because he had worked on something for years and figured out how to do it at the worst possible time.”) This rapidly escalating tension and frenzied pace inspired Storer to present the episode in a visually sustained way. After mentioning the idea of a oner twice, Calo essentially called his bluff: “I was like, ‘Yeah, you should do that.’”

The challenge lay in making the sequence appear effortless. “We didn’t want to take attention away from what was going on in the show,” Storer says. “It’s less, Let’s do something that’s going to be impressive! and more, Holy shit, have they not cut yet? Fifteen minutes later?

“There was no backup.”

Now they had to get their cinematographer on board. Andrew Wehde, Storer’s longtime collaborator, had been unavailable to shoot The Bear’s pilot in August 2021 because of his work on Prime Video’s Night Sky, but he took over for episodes two through eight when they filmed the following spring. Wehde’s goal on The Bear was “servicing the story in a way that I become invisible,” an approach that involved Panavision lenses from the 1950s and ’60s to add “a little bit of character” to the digital cameras, high-highlight lighting to create “really contrasty shadows,” and longer takes that encouraged the actors to dig into the material and play off one another. Capturing the chaos of a workplace regularly on the verge of collapse was key: “You look at old Scorsese films, even modern Scorsese films, and his dollies are shaky. The moment you stop worrying about making moves perfect, that’s where the aesthetics started matching,” Wehde says. “We were hustling this dolly through the kitchen with no concern about, Is this the most perfect version? No. But is it the most intense and immersive? Yes.”

Wehde’s “of course” enthusiasm for the oner kicked the process into high gear. Two weeks from when the team would devote four and a half days to shooting “Review,” Storer and Calo rewrote the script to accommodate the new shooting style, compressing the narrative time from three hours to 20ish minutes and losing some extra bits with Tina’s (Liza Colón-Zayas) wayward teenage son, Louie (Pedro Henrique). (“We just wanted to be with our main people,” Calo explains.) Matheson took a look at the new script and suggested Carmy institute an expediting system from his time in fine dining that would add an additional layer of resentment as he takes over the kitchen from Sydney. “Joanna and Chris were rewriting until we shot it, really,” White remembers.

On the first day of “Review” week, Calo worked with the cast on the latest version of the script, which had been arranged into a series of mini-scenes that would allow Wehde, A-camera operator Gary Malouf, and focus puller Matt Rozek to move throughout the set. That night, Calo, Wehde, Malouf, Storer, and writer Rene Gube walked through the kitchen with the script, charting the path the characters would follow. Although the episode is one tracking shot, it comprises numerous mini-scene story beats that seamlessly flow as the characters move throughout the space. Figuring out the actors’ circuit so that Wehde, Malouf, and Rozek could maintain the oner without having to double-back in a way that revealed the set design or required an edit meant that one of the set’s movable “wild walls” would have to be silently rolled into place after the oner began to enclose the cast and Malouf within the space. “It wasn’t like, a beat here, and then we had to crisscross the kitchen for a beat, and then come back to a beat. We were trying to horseshoe the beats,” says Wehde, who was filming the path on his iPhone. “It was 100 percent, 360 degrees, the whole set is used.”

The next day, as the cast rehearsed their blocking and routes, Wehde and Malouf realized the tightness of the kitchen space and the length of the oner meant the sequence would have to be shot handheld rather than “Steadicam or something like that,” Wehde says. It was a sizable physical ask for Malouf, but one Storer was confident he could pull off. “Chris trusts Gary more than he probably trusts anyone at this point,” Wehde says. “He’s just like, ‘Great job, Gary!’ And that’s it.”

The stakes were high. “If this didn’t work out, we didn’t have anymore days to shoot the scenes,” Wehde adds. “I think when shows or movies do the seven- or eight-minute oners, it’s one day of work that they normally would spend anyway. There’s less risk. This was very high risk. There was no backup.”

“It was either going to work or collapse on itself,” says Storer. “There was no middle ground.”

“I wish we could’ve shot the whole show like that.”

All that experience, rehearsal, and confidence converged on a day of filming in the second-to-last week of production in late March 2022. “I think if we shot this first, we would have been fucked,” Storer says, but the preceding five weeks of togetherness paid off. Wehde, Storer, and Calo took their places near a bank of monitors. Rozek hid in a corner of the set where no one could see him, ready to pull focus on the actors during each mini-scene. The grip department prepared to move the “wild wall,” and the lighting team readied the high number of lighting cues — approximately 150 — for the episode’s 21 total minutes. Once a dolly pushed Malouf in toward Marcus’s bakery corner, where Ebraheim (Edwin Lee Gibson) is reading the titular review that would cause so much friction, they were off.

Malouf steps off the dolly (which is quickly removed) toward Marcus filling doughnuts with jam (the wild wall slides into place behind the camera), pans right to Ebraheim reading and Sydney checking the restaurant’s online-ordering tablet, moves closer to Ebraheim and his newspaper, swings to Carmy on the prep line arranging his knives, moves left to peek through the pass-through window as Sydney, standing behind Carmy, gestures to Ebraheim to stop reading the review, and whips to Tina and Louie walking into the kitchen. Actors moved on their horseshoe path with Malouf’s camera following behind, and Rozek made focus-pulling choices on the fly during each scene, like keeping Richie’s anguished face in focus while a furious Sydney insults his parenting. Each transition needed to reflect a character’s movement onscreen. “That was the principal motive to ensure the 20 minutes felt like a handful of cuts,” Wehde says. “We were always trying to find a way to come off an action every time the camera would move, pan left or right, or change direction.”

Thanks to this fluidity, the audience remains thrillingly, almost claustrophobically, enmeshed in the Beef’s tight quarters alongside its simmering staff: as the chits start printing; as Sydney gives into the toxicity around her, taunts Richie, then accidentally stabs him; as Marcus’s doughnut triumph is slapped out of his hand onto the floor; as Carmy tumbles into the worst version of himself. At the end of the episode, the Beef is a literal and figurative mess — and the first take capturing that disintegration was “completely airable,” Storer says.

“We get into minute eight or nine and Chris is now standing up, and we’re all standing, and then we get to minute 18 or 19, and we’re like, ‘Get there, get there, get there!’” Wehde says. “It was literally, like, cheering. Absolute pandemonium.”

The group ran through six takes, with two of them cut short for technical issues. Over the four full oners, the cast experimented: Moss-Bachrach played Richie slightly more resigned each time, while Edebiri made Sydney more furious. (“Everyone’s a little wrong, everyone’s a little right,” Storer says of the sparring characters.) White, meanwhile, had a specific arc in mind for Carmy.

“There was a lot of time I put into deciding, Had Carmy read the review on the way? Was this the first time he was hearing it, in that room? And I decided he had heard about it. He had gotten a text or something about it,” White says. “I wanted Carmy to start almost from a place of shame, that he’s been one-upped.”

White wound Carmy tighter with each take, culminating in the character pacing back and forth in response to Sydney’s “You are an excellent chef. You are also a piece of shit,” eating Marcus’s doughnut off the floor, and, in the final take, smacking the ticket machine in a closing moment that “just explodes,” Wehde says. The fourth oner is what we see in “Review,” complete with happy accidents: spilled relish on the floor next to Carmy (Wehde: “I think Gary’s camera ran into the giardiniera. We left it, obviously”), Marcus’s doughnut landing right side up, and an extra beat Edebiri took before walking out of the Beef, which Storer says “really pushed it over.” All in all, the six takes didn’t take the cast and crew past noon — and after lunch, it was back to normal with cooking and chopping inserts for episode eight, “Braciole.”

In talking about “Review,” the episode’s creators use adjectives like “gnarly” and “rad” and “proud.” Storer describes it as “summer camp”; Calo compares it with “making a movie with your friends, when you’re a kid and you have your mom’s camera”; and Wehde calls it a “team sport kind of situation.” If White had his way, they’d do it all again next season.

“It felt like theater. For an actor, that’s all you really want to do: Stay in something the whole time. When you’re filming things, you’re often doing coverage, doing different sizes, getting other people’s coverage, waiting a lot in between. Sometimes it’s hard to stay in the story because there’s a lot of moving parts,” White says. “When you get to shoot something like episode seven, it feels like acting in its purest form. You’re in it the whole time, performing the piece in its entirety and staying with the other characters the whole time. I told Chris I wish we could have shot the whole show like that. It was incredible.”

In a flashback in the preceding episode, Mikey (Jon Bernthal) discuses the time he and Richie ran into Bill Murray at the bar inside the building. Storer and Calo initially planned for 10 episodes and are hoping to integrate some of the first season’s cut storylines into season two. Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra shot The Bear pilot, “System” using Sense of Urgency, a short film Storer and Wehde had worked on about chef Thomas Keller and his French Laundry restaurant, as a reference point. The Bear’s crew built a fully functional kitchen to scale at Cinespace Studios in Chicago’s West Side for when the series wasn’t filming on location at Mr. Beef in River North.
‘Holy Shit, Have They Not Cut Yet?’