Made in Frame: Editors of “The Bear” Reveal How the Sausage is Made
No matter what industry you’re in, there are some basic ingredients you need for success. You need to be organized and methodical. You need to stay calm under pressure. You need a team around you that you can rely on. And you need the right tools.
As we learn in the hit FX show The Bear, without all those ingredients, chaos ensues. But behind the scenes, the show’s editors not only found the right recipe, but helped serve up one of the summer’s biggest hits.
In this installment of Made in Frame, we were so lucky to catch up with Joanna Naugle and Adam Epstein, ACE, whose combination of talent, teamwork, and tools, created a dish that earned rave reviews.
The place setting
Set (and shot) in Chicago, where show creator Christopher Storer is originally from, The Bear tells the story of Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, a brilliant chef working at “the world’s best restaurant.” When his brother, who runs the family’s Italian Beef shop in Chicago, dies by suicide, Carmy returns home to take over. There, he finds “The Beef” deeply in debt, with his brother’s best friend trying to hold it together but making a mess out of everything he touches.
Like Carmy, the viewer is thrust into a chaotic and claustrophobic world, an environment that’s both unfamiliar and unfriendly. Storer, along with co-showrunner Joanna Calo, intentionally immerses us in it, and willingly we stay as the complex relationships unfold with plentiful portions of pathos and humor.
Editor Joanna Naugle, a partner at Senior Post in Brooklyn, had previously collaborated with Storer on the critically acclaimed series, Ramy, now in its third season on Hulu. Naugle’s business partner, Josh Senior, is one of the EPs on The Bear, and when it became clear that they would need a second editor for the series, they called Adam Epstein—an SNL veteran who is, according to Naugle, “one of our favorite people to work with.”
Storer and Naugle had already completed The Bear’s pilot episode during the summer of 2021, which meant that seven episodes were produced from February to June of 2022. Since Naugle had an ongoing relationship with Storer, she cut his episodes while Epstein worked with Calo on the ones she directed.
The team was distributed geographically, with Storer and Calo in Chicago and LA, and Epstein working from upstate NY. But key to staying organized was cutting on Adobe Premiere Pro, using Productions to stay organized and in sync.
Getting the right cut
Just as chefs have favorite knives, Naugle and Epstein both enjoy working on Premiere Pro—especially for a show like this. Naugle says, “A high majority of our projects at Senior Post are definitely Adobe based.” Epstein, for his part, has been an evangelist for Adobe since his time at SNL, generously sharing his tips and tricks with other editors.
Each editor had their own assistant, who was responsible for loading the footage onto LucidLink, which enabled them to share assets remotely through the cloud. “I assumed that for the sake of speed we’d end up going to local media at some point,” Epstein says. “But that was never the case, which is pretty amazing. We just stayed completely in the cloud. Having access to everything at all times was really helpful.”
It was the first time both editors had used Productions, however. Naugle credits assistant Josh Depew with their introduction to it. “He was great at shepherding us through the process and basically it was just one extra bin or project layer. Beyond that, it was all the same, and it was really intuitive and easy to learn,” she says. “It was great to just pop into a project if we were sharing a scene back and forth.”
“It was so seamless that I talked the feature I’m doing right now into working this way.”
Epstein agrees. “It was so seamless that I talked the feature I’m doing right now into working this way. I cut a feature in Premiere Pro back in 2013, and the difference now, as far as how lightweight things are within Productions with Projects in there, versus having one or two master projects that you’re breaking up by reel that take 15 minutes to load—it’s been great to see the evolution.”
The editors also relied heavily on the audio features in Premiere Pro. “On a show like this, especially where the offline is so audio-centric and there’s so much going on from a sound design level, I find that Premiere is way easier for doing creative audio work than other systems I use,” Epstein says. “Having the sound panel to be able to drag multiple things across multiple clips and just have it all be uniform is something I’ve found really helpful.”
“I would say we probably did more sound work on the show than we would on other shows,” Naugle says. “You can hear the sounds of the kitchen, but we also layered in different sounds for ambience. There’s a phone ringing and a train going past, so I think we definitely set a basis for the sound team to work with, and then they went in and made it a million times better. But you could feel like you were part of the bustle of the kitchen because that was important for making sure the pace was coming through and it was feeling like you’re really immersed in that world.”
“You didn’t want this to be one of those situations where you’re showing a cut to a producer and you’re explaining, ‘Okay, well, eventually it’s going to sound much more manic. And we’ll hear all this over here, and it’s going to sound like chaos. And there’ll be things dropping, and we’ll hear the train,” Epstein says. “It’s much better, to help sell a vibe and sell an idea, to get that in there as soon as possible. And because a lot of times that can lead to new thoughts, new ideas in the offline so that when you get to your final sound, they have a great jumping-off point to pull from to elevate what’s already there.”
The audio mix is also where Frame.io came into their workflow. “When we were doing the mix with our friends at Sound Lounge, they would post a cut and you could post your notes, and it was really great because everyone could comment,” Naugle says. “We could start conversations where I could say, ‘Oh, when Chris and I were in the edit, we talked about this sounding more like it should ring out here,’ and then tag Chris. And he could reply right there and say, ‘Actually I was thinking about it and it should be more like this.’”
“It was great to have one conversation that we could all build on and specifically point to.”
“Instead of everyone sending their separate emails and not seeing each other’s notes or things getting lost in the shuffle, it was great to have one conversation that we could all build on and specifically point to. The sound team had a very quick turn around throughout the entire show and it was so helpful in making sure everything was streamlined and everybody was seeing each other’s notes so we could be sure that everybody was aligned instead of things being conflicting.”
The brigade de cuisine
Naugle describes the style of the pilot as “an assault on the senses” that sets up the fast pacing for the rest of the season. But although things at The Beef often go off the rails, with tempers running as hot as the kitchen itself, there was no such atmosphere in the editing process, despite the brisk production schedule.
In the show, Carmy decides to restructure the crew to work as a brigade, an established French kitchen hierarchy that ensures order by assigning each person a specific role—not unlike that of a post-production team.
Epstein explains that the episodes were shot in blocks rather than in a linear fashion, with scenes from different episodes on the call sheet for the same day. “On average, if you broke it down, they were probably doing five-six days of shooting per episode. Then, we wanted to ideally give the directors an editor’s cut that was a little more finished than the straight assembly about two or three days after wrapping.”
“Once we got further down the road and we had multiple episodes in play, we might have an editor’s cut for one while we were on a director’s cut for another, and they might still be shooting,” he says.
The show’s team included Depew (Epstein’s assistant) and Naugle’s assistant, Megan Mancini, whom both editors credit with “knowing the episodes inside and out.”
“They were great at being such a resource and well of knowledge if we needed footage from each other’s episodes,” Epstein says.
The rest of the core team included post-production supervisor Andrew Rowley, along with post coordinators Steve Alexandre and Ben Craig, and post PA Devin Peluso.“It was pretty lean and mean,” Epstein adds.
A full plate
In the food industry the term mise en place refers to setting ingredients in the right place prior to beginning the actual cooking so that everything is close at hand.
In editorial terms, Naugle and Epstein had to have easy access to the assets they needed for their particular episodes, and also to the bounty of B-roll the production had captured.
“We were blessed-slash-cursed with an absolutely massive amount of B-roll,” Epstein says. “It wasn’t necessarily tied to specific scenes or even episodes, but the producers made sure we had plenty to pull from. We had six hours of them doing the full beef process. Or four hours of Chicago at dusk, and at night. We had shots of the kitchen when it was messy, and when it was clean. It was really purposeful and specific, and that enabled us to bring some interesting ideas and transitions into the episodes.”
Storer’s sister, Courtney acted as the show’s culinary producer, which helped them render every detail with absolute authenticity. From how the actors held their knives to the process of prepping stock to Carmy’s flashbacks to his time as a haute cuisine chef, plating a dish that requires tweezers to place the microgreens just so, the viewer feels as though they are getting a peek into a real working kitchen.
The Bear is unique in that much of its action takes place in a space that seems too small to contain all of the action going on within it. Famously, chef Matty Matheson, who plays fix-it guy Fak, has likened professional kitchens to submarines, where people are forced to work closely in a confined space (Storer has gone on record saying that Das Boot was a reference).
In further service of authenticity, Storer actually shot the first episode on location at the legendary Mr. Beef in Chicago, which they then very faithfully recreated in a studio in Chicago that allowed them to have movable walls and set pieces to enable coverage.
The show was basically shot with two cameras, with one acting as the main camera and the second one capturing what Epstein describes as happy accidents, rather than both being completely choreographed. Their ability to capture so many of them was due, in no small part, to the quality of the actors and their instincts.
In fact, much of what seems like spontaneous banter and crosstalk was mostly scripted, with the actors salting in character-appropriate nuances.“The great thing about having actors who are as good at their craft is that they would take the a line as it was written and tweak it in a very subtle way that instead of making it a wholly new line made it feel very natural and much more realistic,” Epstein says.
“If there was improv, it was very set up,” Naugle says. “There was a bit of improv coming from the character of Tina when she’s talking about not trusting Sydney. Sort of, ‘Okay, we want you to talk about this for three minutes and you know the character well.’”
Which meant that once again the editors had an abundance of on-set dialogue to work with. “Trying to get the dialogue to sound as good as it could with the overlapping was the result of the sound mixer recording a lot of long takes of the full scene so it felt very natural and lived in. So we didn’t have to fabricate people yelling over each,” she adds.
A one-course wonder
If you’ve watched the series, you know about episode seven. If you haven’t (no spoilers), it’s a frenetic episode in which all the characters reach their boiling points. And much of the episode is done in a single take. Really.
“They spent a whole day rehearsing beforehand and didn’t shoot anything, and then on the actual day they did five complete takes,” Naugle, who edited that episode, says. “We used take two, so they just nailed it pretty much right out of the gate. And every take was usable, too, which is a testament to how they could position everybody in that kitchen so seamlessly that a lot of people say they don’t realize it’s a oner until five or ten minutes in.”
But that’s not to say that even with that amazing sequence there wasn’t plenty of work to be done editorially. “I spent most of my time on the Chicago montage at the beginning, which was tough, with all the archival footage and trying to nail that down and then building out the temp sound design. That was the episode I definitely did the most sound work on preliminarily, because Chris wanted to make sure that it felt as intense as he imagined it in his head,” she says.
“So many of these episodes have really fast cutting patterns that make it exciting and put you on the edge of your seat because everything’s going by so quickly. Chris wanted to make sure we could achieve the same effect without having any cuts at all, which was a fun challenge to figure out. I was layering in lots of ambience and different things going on in the kitchen to make sure it felt alive and intense. And then we added in some ADR lines of people yelling out things like, ‘Ten minutes to open, or eight minutes to open’ because it really should just feel like this ticking time bomb.”
The finishing touches
The show’s distinctive look was achieved at Senior Post, with colorist Christian Rush and senior colorist Mishel Hassidim handling the final grading. Naugle says that Storer was inspired by the look of films of the 1970s, and wanted the series to have “some texture and grit.”
Widening the contrast between the scenes that take place at The Beef and at the fancy restaurant took some extra time to achieve, Naugle recalls. “He wanted it to be blindingly bright, like it should feel almost heavenly,” she says. “Nothing is out of place. The walls are perfectly clean, unlike at The Beef where everything feels dirty and run down. So as the season went on they tried to make The Beef feel a little brighter as a sign that they’re getting their act together.”
There were some VFX added, as well. They embellished the kitchen scenes with fire or steam, added blood to a cut finger or a stab wound, and composited exterior elements into the windows of the studio kitchen—but by today’s standards, it was a comparatively small number of shots.
In the end, what’s clear is that the quality of The Bear leans far more toward “best restaurant in the world.”
“Today, there’s not much of a difference between what goes into making a feature and a high-end TV show,” Epstein says. “You’re dealing with cinema-quality, feature-level expectations, which is incredible.”But those kinds of expectations also raise the level of difficulty for the entire team, given that timelines remain much the same as they used to be. Still, the editors felt that this show went remarkably smoothly.
“It’s just a testament to the fact that everyone was really on the same page and enjoyed working with each other,” Epstein says. “There was no ego. It was about talking to each other and pitching ideas and getting to the best solution together. It made something that could have been complete madness into an enjoyable experience.”
Both editors are beyond gratified at the show’s success and the audience response. “I’ve never worked on something that’s really blown up this way,” Naugle says. “It’s not just all style, it’s that there’s a lot of substance because the performances are so good. We wanted to let those shine so that people felt emotionally connected. People are connecting with it in a way that’s really cool. My friends who went to film school really like it, but then also, my aunt, who’s in her sixties, really loves it. So does my little cousin.”
“It’s been affirming to see that people still like original content with good stories and good actors, that don’t need a lot of bells and whistles,” Epstein adds. “It’s kind of a throwback, in a way, and it’s nice to have a reminder that a compelling story with great performances can be successful.”
If you look at the trajectory of The Beef throughout the season, you can almost say the same thing. A meal made with great ingredients, prepared thoughtfully, can be as successful as those served in much fancier restaurants. In fact, season one was so well received that The Bear has been renewed for a second season.
And we can’t wait to see what they’ll cook up next.