The Bear: How Episode 7’s Stunning 18-Minute Single Take Was Made

·7 min read

The post The Bear: How Episode 7’s Stunning 18-Minute Single Take Was Made appeared first on Consequence.

Over the past few years, single continuous takes have become a commonplace device in film and TV, an objectively impressive if somewhat overused gimmick that allows storytellers an opportunity to flex their ambitions and maximize the high-wire tension of an emotionally significant scene.

“One-ers” can sometimes carry an effect of showboating the longer their runtime, but when executed with near-perfect precision, like in FX’s thrillingly chaotic cooking drama The Bear, the result can be a remarkable thing to watch, to see so many moving parts come together seamlessly.

Created by Christopher Storer, The Bear is the perfect show to apply such a technique. The series focuses on the volatile and brilliant chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) as he struggles to run his brother’s Chicago sandwich shop in the aftermath of his brother’s suicide. Inheriting both financial woes and a ragtag team of equally talented and hardened cooks, Carmy faces a constant, suffocating amount of pressure to keep the restaurant afloat.

During the show’s seventh episode, written by executive producer Joanna Calo and directed by Storer, Carmy’s anxiety gets deliciously escalated in a stunning 18-minute take. As they prepare for an unexpectedly ultra-busy lunch rush, Carmy and his staff descend into expletive-laden madness, the onslaught of pre-order tickets setting off a firestorm of bitter attitudes, miscommunications, and even an accidental stabbing.

Without cutting away from the action, aside from its Chicago-themed opening sequence, The Bear’s dramatically flavorful one-er effectively captures the cooker-pressure claustrophobia of its setting, while further heightening the stakes of Carmy’s latent guilt and grief over his brother’s death.

Storer’s background in directing elaborately staged live works (Bo Burnham’s specials what. and Make Happy) as well as minimalist, character-driven comedy (Ramy) also seems to inform the episode’s narrative and aesthetic power. In an interview with Consequence, Storer and cinematographer Andrew Wehde lay out their approach toward conceptualizing the one-er, coordinating the choreography of the actors and crew, and how many takes it took to get the right shot.

How did the process of shaping the episode this way begin?

Christopher Storer: Joanna’s script was really phenomenal. It had these long scenes with all of our characters popping in and out that kept turning the heat up and turning the screws. It felt really propulsive and alive.

The more and more I read it, I kept thinking how much a cut could kill the momentum, so the idea of doing it as a one-er was really the best way to not undercut the tension. Joanna, [cinematographer] Drew [Wehde] and I wanted to make sure it was absolutely 100 percent in service of the story and not us showing off.

The Bear Single Take Explained
The Bear Single Take Explained

The Bear (FX)

How were you able to map out what the choreography of the episode would look like before shooting? What changed or stayed the same from the initial idea of how it would look once production was underway? 

Storer: We walked the stage and made a map of where the scenes would play, how they would time out and put a route together. If this story beat happened here, then we could follow this actor here and slowly laid out a map. Drew and [camera operator] Gary [Malouf] walked through that plan and shot it on an iPhone. The finished product is pretty damn close to that run-through, actually.

What was your collaboration with Andrew Wehde and camera operator Gary Malouf like on this episode?

Storer: I’ve worked with them for so long that we have a really nice shorthand. It really became about how to just get out of the actors’ way. We were moving walls and turning counters around as they were performing, so it really did feel more like a play.

I can only imagine the difficulty in getting the timing of every bit of action and every line of dialogue right. What were some of the complications that arose from rehearsing and filming a one-er? How many rehearsals and takes did it ultimately take to get this one shot?

Storer: Once we had updated the script based on the map we made — and by update, I mean really just shrank the timeline, I think the original draft took place over several hours, so we brought it into real time — we all sat for an afternoon and talked about the script and just read the words. The next day, we put it up on its feet and walked through it.

Our cast is amazing and honestly, they picked it up pretty quickly. They really took ownership of their characters and really helped with the blocking and making sure everything felt right. They’re all so phenomenal — I think knowing how gifted our entire cast was made this entire idea plausible.

There’s a lot of drama, both big and small, going on in this episode and I figure it was just as stressful trying to capture it all. Amid all the chaos, however, what was a particularly exciting or fun moment to shoot or were you just mostly focused on trying to get all the footage? 

Storer: The entire thing was just a blast. I know it was a lot of pressure on the actors, but I love them all so, so much. I truly just kept thinking how grateful I was to just be there and watch them do this. Each time somebody would bring something new or something really funny or really sad. We shot it five times and the one that is on television is the fourth take, but honestly, we could have used the first one.

One-ers have typically used some sort of splicing/editing to create the final product, which it seems like The Bear didn’t do for this episode. Did you and your team ever consider combining takes? What made you decide to not do that and try to do things clean?

Andrew Wehde: When we began the conversation about shooting an entire episode in one take, there certainly were initial questions of “Do we need to do this in a few sections and build in transitions?” But once we began walking the space and playing around with the blocking and how each scene within the episode pushed us through the space, we knew that doing it in one take would work.

This episode also begins with an opening credits sequence, the only time that occurs in the season. What was the impetus behind starting the episode this way when none of the others were?

Storer: At the end of Episode 6, we see the crew working really beautifully together. We see that Sydney and Carmy are starting to build a real team in the kitchen, while Richie is learning he’s about 10 years behind the times. It felt like we arrived at this new starting point, almost like we had been watching a prologue and were now moving into the actual show.

It led to thinking about what an opening credit sequence for The Bear would look like, if we combined iconic Chicago with memories and rides to work under a completely on-the-nose, up-tempo song — only to completely obliterate that over the next 19 minutes. I also grew up listening and loving 93.1, so to get [radio personality] Lin [Brehmer] in there was very cool.

You also use a one-er for the season finale, where Carmy delivers an emotional 7-minute monologue during an Al-Anon meeting. What was the approach for that scene like? Did you think from the start to use an one-er for it as well?

Wehde: We knew for this speech that is was an emotional monologue and started talking about how we, as the viewers at home, should get that same feeling of sitting in that room and hearing Jeremy speak for the first time. Cutting away from him felt wrong, and we knew that the only way to truly respect what Jeremy was giving us as an actor was by never cutting away.

FX’s The Bear is streaming now on Hulu.

The Bear: How Episode 7’s Stunning 18-Minute Single Take Was Made
Sam Rosenberg

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