They say too many cooks spoil the broth, but not when it came to shooting The Bear, the restaurant dramedy currently streaming via FX on Hulu. With the help of his stalwart team and the support of creator Chris Storer, with whom he’s been working for 13 years, DP Andrew Wehde (Night Sky, Eighth Grade, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things) managed to shoot an entire 20-minute episode, “Review,” in one sweeping take, which was a feat he’d never before attempted let alone accomplished.
Wehde proved to be worth his salt when it came to understanding the dynamics of kitchen and food photography, drawing upon a decade’s worth of experience delivering mouth-watering shots for commercial shoots such as “K-Mart’s Father’s Day Laughing Commercial.” Wehde was also born and raised in Chicago, which gave him some familiarity with locations used in The Bear. In fact, the kitchen where the action takes place in “Review” was recreated to mirror that of Grace, a popular business-casual restaurant in Chicago that is now closed.
Wehde had very little room to maneuver in the kitchen, which made it even more challenging to shoot the ambitious episode. To achieve this one-take wonder, he utilized the expertise of his dolly grip David “Perky” Perkhart, who was able to get in and out of tight spots without disturbing the actors.
Below the Line spoke with Andrew Wehde about the technical aspects that went into the acclaimed seventh episode of The Bear and shooting on a budget in a hot working kitchen. Wehde also praised his team, from the dolly grip and A operator to his lighting design team, before revealing what happens to all of the food seen in the show.
Below the Line: When did you actually join the production and what was your initial contribution?
Andrew Wehde: I couldn’t do the pilot because I was shooting Night Sky for Amazon last summer. Chris [Storer] is a long-time friend of mine and was doing The Bear. When they shot the pilot they were at Mr. Beef on location (in Chicago), and shot in another kitchen so they could never actually merge them together on set. There was that conversation when the show got picked up and the desire was to put that kitchen in the back of Mr. Beef on stage and allow us to flow throughout the entire location freely and completely changed the way we could photograph that show.
BTL: What went into constructing the set for the kitchen?
Wehde: We built it entirely on stage and everything works. The kitchen is small. With all-set creation, we always tend to lean towards making things a little bit more production-friendly in spaces like allowing the dolly to get through in certain spaces. I think we expanded the kitchen maybe by a foot and a half and just inches throughout parts of it.
BTL: What were the advantages of creating the set for the kitchen?
Wehde: In the real kitchen, we couldn’t allow the actors to work in their respective spaces whether they were working at the grill or working at the counter where they did all their prep because we couldn’t get the dolly in between them. So we expanded it just enough inches so we could slide between where they worked so it really opened the way for us to make some pretty dynamic-looking scenes.
BTL: I would imagine that the dolly grip was your best friend, no?
Wehde: We were very lucky. There’s a guy who’s been doing this for quite some time in Chicago, David Perkhart, who is arguably one of the best dolly grips in the country and by far the best in Chicago. I sent a message to him, ‘please, we’d love to have you.’ He luckily did Night Sky with me last summer so we had a little bit of rapport. We designed that entire stage, everything from the front of [the] house to the back of [the] house to the dining room to allow us to move the dolly with zero track. It was a completely ground-up design to allow us to move the camera with no track, no dance floor. It was 100 percent freeform, and he could probably say this was his favorite experience. If you watch, that camera does not stop moving.
BTL: Is this a little bit revolutionary on your part?
Wehde: Maybe, there’s always a business side to it. I sold it to the producers as a way for us to work quicker. I really had conversations with Chris and (executive producer/writer/showrunner) Joanna [Calo] about their episodes and how much movement the kitchen should have and how we wanted to offset the kitchen being fast and moving and hectic to the outside world being slow and composed. I just needed to make sure that I set up every single shot in that kitchen whether it was front, back or dining room to have that ability to always move freely or instinctually through Perky and our A operator Gary [Malouf].
BTL: How was your background as a food commercial DP helpful for this series?
Wehde: Chicago is a very big advertising city; from 2005 to 2015 it was a huge commercial ad space for regional and national work. During that time, I found myself on set weekly doing McDonald’s or KFC. I spent a lot of time doing commercial food work but in a live motion. Chris and I for the last 13 years have done these commissioned or pro-bono documentaries on really nice restaurants like the French Laundry and worked at Thomas Keller, considered three-star Michelin restaurants. We spent so much time in these very high-end kitchens that we became very comfortable with understanding angles and how the food should be photographed. We know what the chefs are doing and that brought so much because we kind of already knew how the world worked. My A operator Gary spent a lot of time with us doing that as well over the years.
BTL: Would you say this idea for the series was simmering for quite some time, pun intended?
Wehde: It has been. It’s people who have worked together a lot and finally getting back together to do really great work. It wasn’t easy by any means but the process was easy. We knew what we were doing and it just clicked.
BTL: How did you construct Episode 7, “Review,” which has received such wonderful kudos?
Wehde: It fell together extremely well in a way that I don’t know how. Trying to do that one-take situation in most shows are just not written to be allowed to do that. You usually don’t have the space that allows you to continue the path and use actors to bring us back to anchor points that we can use in situations, really comes down to Chris whispering in my ear at about episode 2 or 3 that he really “thinks 7’s a oner.” I really didn’t grab it right away. I wanted him to make sure he knew it was that. I’d been pushing these more extended takes on projects that I do for a while now and Chris and I had always talked about it.
I did The Map of Tiny Perfect Things and we did five or six of them (owners) in there, the longest was like four minutes. I don’t do it to show off, but the scene itself allows the opportunity for your audience to experience a moment in time with the actors. These are things we wanted to show without cuts. The script was never written for it so he and Jo had to go back and she really started rewriting the script when we were on episode 4 or 5. A handful of us knew that this was coming, and then we started letting certain people in like Gary and my focus puller Matt and my gaffer Jeremy Long, who we call JLo. The important people were given a week or two ahead of time to start getting ready for what it meant.
BTL: How did the technical aspect jive with the actors?
Wehde: We pulled off something technically hard but it wasn’t until the actors got in that space. Chris broke it up into like 10 mini-scenes so the actors could work in each space and understanding how or who would connect them to the next space and the next space. We recorded take one when we started and we were happy with it which was amazing. I’ve never seen a crew so bright-eyed and almost crying because after every take it was like watching a play. Everyone would stand up and applaud and give everyone hugs (well not in a Covid world), but there was this incredible team spirit through the whole process. My B camera, Chris Dame, is not only an incredible photographer but a great person and excelled beyond belief. For four days he took notes for Gary and storytelling notes and where you should be. He was Gary’s QB coach during this thing. Gary as A camera was this moving master who was just following and tracing and Chris would live on a very long zoom lens and was constantly finding the action. It created a lot of the chaos you see in the edits which was a nice yin and yang to the way that we shot. Everyone found a way to help make it better. Jeremy Allen White was fully on board with the execution we were trying to do so he never felt like the camera was in his space. We wanted to make sure that the audience knew that Jeremy was actually cutting or cooking. Even after seven hours, we needed to shoot food stuff, Jeremy would stay and do the cooking.
BTL: What was the lighting design?
Wehde: You can’t tell but the entire stage was full of LED lighting. We ran everything through an iPad and I was able to change [the] time of day, colors, and looks within seconds. He was able to paint the lighting and adjust it on the fly. We ran 20ks from the front of the house where the front windows are, along the side of the house where the dining room is which only got ambient light in the back so that we had overheads and trying to make contrast of color between a blue overhead meeting the floor with a neon light with these really warm Tungsten rich foot bulbs that were scattered around eye level. Our lighting director, Jeremy Long, constantly was taking banks of lights and changing the levels to adjust when we’d get into the space. It is a technical achievement where I just kind of sat there and watched it happen.
BTL: What was the most challenging to pull this off?
Wehde: The thing that’s really scary about the whole thing is we only had four and a half days to do every episode. We shot episodes 2 through 8 in less than 28 days. So not only are we running at full speed, [but] we are also doing average eight-hour days at full maximum efficiency. It just shows that this show had a cast that was out of sight doing incredible work. You had showrunners and directors and writers who were just so sharp on what they were doing and a crew that acknowledged that immediately. The benefit was they didn’t have to do long hours. The crew came up to myself or the producers and said this was one of the best experiences they ever had.
BTL: And most importantly, what happens to all the food after you wrap?
Wehde: We ate it! The thing that Chris really pushed and everyone involved on the food side and the prop side. They brought in high-quality meat for every single thing and it wasn’t just because we would eat it, but because it was being photographed and they wanted to have high-quality stuff just like a restaurant. We were bringing in hundreds of pounds of food every single day. That kitchen was entirely a working kitchen, every stove, every oven, [and] even every refrigerator was working and stocked. The risotto was unbelievable.
BTL: What are you most proud of with regard to this show?
Wehde: It really was all about watching these actors do something absolutely incredible that I don’t ever remember seeing before. This is something pretty special. It’s really special writing and really special acting and we are just there to capture it.
Season 1 of The Bear is now available on FX and streaming via FX on Hulu.