<I>The Bear</I>: How the Emmy-nominated sound team keeps it clean
August 14, 2023

The Bear: How the Emmy-nominated sound team keeps it clean

In Season 2 of The Bear, which streams on Hulu, Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri) and Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) work to transform their grimy sandwich shop into a next-level spot. As the crew strips the restaurant down to its bones, they each undergo their own transformational journey and are faced with confronting their pasts.

The show received numerous Emmy nominations, including those for Directing, Writing, Picture Editing, Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. Here, members of the sound team share their insight into the show’s soundtrack.

Supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Steve "Major" Giammaria

“The Bear is a sonically dense show that relies on sound to really build up the tensions and stress in a professional kitchen. The challenge we face is weaving together all of those layers while still maintaining dialogue clarity so the viewers actually know what’s going on. Masterful dialogue editing (Evan Benjamin) of amazing production audio (Scott D. Smith, production mixer) goes a long way. Also, choosing to be a less dynamic show in favor of clarity is essential from the start.

“The sound design moments (Jon Furhrer, FX editor) were crafted during production and the picture edit. Chris Storer (showrunner) had a very clear vision of what he wanted the kitchen to sound like, as well as how some of the more stylized sections were supposed to play out. I was very impressed that the whole team was thinking about and considering the possibilities of how audio could elevate the project before we were even on board. If the visuals and the story don’t support it, great sound design can’t happen. You can’t just wedge it in after the fact. Sound design just for the sake of having cool sounds usually feels forced. The Bear has a stylistic approach that fully supports the story and emotions of a scene and we can support that through sound.”

Dialogue editor Evan Benjamin

“The challenge of a show like The Bear is in balancing the sonic density that is the hallmark of the show, along with an attention to every syllable, making sure everything is as clean and audible as possible. It’s been my experience that the most minor fixes to a word, like cleaning up lip smacks or breaths, can make the whole line more impactful. I’m continually amazed by how big a difference is made by the accumulated effect of hundreds of those small decisions. 

“I also try to make the quiet scenes, like Carmy’s speech in Episode 7, as devoid of distraction as possible. That strengthens the contrast with the chaotic kitchen scenes, and makes them sound more chaotic. In those scenes, I was always trying to remove whatever banging I could get out and move it to other tracks so it could be independently controlled. If a line had a clang on it, I’d look for an alt that was clean, so a bang could be placed elsewhere, in a way that didn’t keep the line from landing the right way. We wanted chaos, but only in the specific ways and places we wanted to have it.

“In Episode 7, we fortunately had all the actors mic’d, not just separately, but pretty cleanly, which was a fairly remarkable feat by our production sound mixer Scott D. Smith, considering what was going on in the course of that shot. By isolating those, we gave our supervising sound editor Steve the control he needed to place everyone where they needed to be, and helped establish where everyone was at any particular time.”

Production sound mixer Scott D. Smith

The Bear is a very challenging show for the production sound team. In addition to all the usual issues related to shooting on-location (extraneous noise, cramped quarters and difficult logistics), it was also a challenge to deliver relatively clean tracks within the context of scenes that frequently included overlapping dialogue, along with a huge dynamic range. Because of the director’s wish to keep scenes fresh, rehearsals were few and far between, forcing us to second guess what might actually occur when the cameras rolled. Much of the dialogue is improvised, so having every actor mic’d is essential.

“Episodes like Episode 7 had a large number of tracks (up to as many as 16 channels of dialogue). We also recorded additional stereo and surround tracks for some scenes to give the post team some options to create a dense sound environment that goes beyond the usual ‘dialogue in the center’ approach, which they made excellent use of in some scenes.

“This sort of shooting style requires a significant crew, which numbered at least four (and occasionally five) crew members. With rare exception, most scenes had at least two (and sometimes three) boom mics, in addition to having all the actors wired. For Season 2, I was fortunate to have an excellent crew, who were also on board for Season 1, so they were already well-versed in the shooting style.

“Despite all the chaos that the viewer sees onscreen, Steve and Evan delivered an absolutely stellar mix, which retains the tension and drama of a scene, without drowning out the dialogue. I’m extremely pleased that not one person I’ve spoken with has complained about not understanding what an actor said, even with pots and pans being flung around on-screen.”