How ironic is it that at one point in this interview, I forgot to unmute?

It was after only the first question. In an effort to mask my dog's plaintive whines, I killed my mic, only to forget and then have to apologize to three of TV's most talented sound guys—Scott Smith, Evan Benjamin, and Steve "Major" Giammaria.

"We don't mind dog barks," Benjamin said. "That's part of the fun."

This trio makes up the incredible sound team on The Bear, acting as the production mixer, dialogue editor, and supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer, respectively. All of them, by the way, are Emmy winners for Season 1.

We had a chance to get on Zoom with them and discuss their stellar work on Season 2, which saw the world expand beyond the titular kitchen into Michelin-star establishments and homes across not only Chicago, but Europe too. In a series that plays with almost-constant chaos (and plenty of crosstalk), they are able to help form the sonic tapestry into gut-wrenchingly beautiful moments.

How are they capturing sound on set? What's their best advice for beginners? They tell us.


Sydney & Richie's Five Minutes - Scene | The Bear |

Editor's note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: I love The Bear. I'd love to know what is most exciting about working on this show.

Scott Smith: Oh boy. Well, it's an interesting challenge. Every day is different and unpredictable, to say the least. The scripts are basically kind of just a guideline. It's kind of a starting place. And what actually happens is usually very different.

So the challenge for us is just to try and figure out what really is going to happen instead of what it says on paper. And that always makes the day interesting. We might look at a scene that's five pages and all of a sudden turns into literally a half hour take. So it definitely gets interesting and you just have to try and anticipate what's going to happen as best as you can. And Major and Evan get to be the recipient of all chaos. I can guarantee you that what you see on the screen is pretty much what's going on behind the scenes, as well.

Evan Benjamin: I guess what I like about it is that you're doing, it runs the gamut of sort of human emotion and of intensity level, which provides different for what I do, which is to take the work Scott gives me and sort that into something that Major can then mix efficiently and quickly and with minimal slowdowns for technical issues or having to deal with certain things. There's a lot of stuff I try to make as just sort of smooth as possible. So I just like that runs the gamut from this level of crazy crosstalk that they're famous for, which is extremely challenging to deal with from my standpoint.

And then having some of these really beautiful quiet moments, which I think that's what the whole series depends on to some degree in my just belief that you can't have the intensity without having the quiet moments to play off of, and that you have to means they have to make those things really sound special and sort of emotional and quiet and the other way. Just those things are emotional and intense. So I love that the back and forth and also just, it's fun to work on something where everyone is operating at such a high level. I think that's really fun for me.

Major Giammaria: For me, it's the showrunners and creatives and the picture department. Everybody is working with sound in mind. You can't just wedge in creative sound-driven scenes in post after picture's locked, so they're thinking of it from the ground floor.

Chris [Storer] has such a clear vision in terms of ratcheting up the tension and what sound can do to make things stressful. But what I like, you get the most delicate things. You get somebody tweezing a leaf on a thing and a really quiet moment, and then you get cars driving through houses and all of that sort of thing. And Richie singing along to Taylor Swift and jumping his car.

There's just so many different things, especially in Season 2 when everybody goes out on their side quests. You have kind of sonically we're thinking about, "Okay, this is Marcus's story over in Copenhagen. What does that sound like? We check in on The Beef via phone and we can reset ourselves into that world and it makes it, the contrast makes it even more, even more impactful how quiet and tranquil Marcus' side is.

 Jeremy Allen White in Season Two of 'The Bear.' Jeremy Allen White in Season Two of The Bear. Chuch Hodes/FX

NFS: You touched on one thing that I was excited to ask about, which was the show changes a lot from Season 1, the world expands. How does that impact all of your work?

Major Giammaria: Well, I mean, from my standpoint, we take a look at the episode and say, "Okay, if this was a standalone thing, what would it sound like sonically?" And then also, "Okay, how do we fit that into the world of The Bear?"

So let's take "Forks" for example. Richie's in a different restaurant. So the whole point of that is how is this different from The Bear? Okay. There's an intensity to it with that expediter calling out the dishes and all of that stuff. And that intense music gives us that ticking clock. Every second counts, all of those beats.

And how does that compare to something from Season 1 or earlier in Season 2, where it's the ticket printer and screaming, rather than just a measured precision and playing those things off of each other, whether it's in the same episode or across the season? It really is great that we can sculpt something that way.

Evan Benjamin: Yeah, I think the same thing. I think especially the last scene of "Forks." I just think that's one of those beautiful scenes in the whole season. To me, the two of them talking—Richie, talking with ...

Major Giammaria: Olivia Coleman. Oh, I can watch them peel mushrooms all day.

Evan Benjamin: Yes. I mean, that's just a beautiful thing to watch, but that's also like this very, the attitude that Chef has is different from anyone else in The Bear. That's a different vibe. That's what changes Richie's life. That's a pivotal episode in this guy's life. So that's an amazing thing to work on. And then trying to make that sort of work so that every single thing that is audible coming out of those actors is something that contributes to the story.

A lot of noise in a scene that is unfortunate, unintended breaths or whatnot, you try to look at it—or I try to look at it. Every single thing has emotional balance to it. Every sound. And the more quiet the scene gets, the more you're getting into ... "When the guy opens their mouth, should there be a little sound of breath exhaling or shouldn't there be?"

And I think that the accumulation of those tiny, tiny details actually really has a crazy impact on the emotion. And the audience never doesn't know that, "Oh, I heard a breath." I mean, they just feel something, right? So everything is all about ... you're telling a story. So every little thing you do, every trivial thing in the moment really actually contributes to this story and the emotion that these actors are trying to convey.

Major Giammaria: We work in the background on their emotions for sure.

Scott Smith: Yeah, it's interesting. For example, the last episode of Season 1, that ticket printer really becomes almost a character in the episode. It's interesting how those things play out.

Lionel Boyce and Jeremy Allen White in Season Two of The Bear.
Chuch Hodes/FX

NFS: I was going to ask about production sound, what your typical setup was on set.

Scott Smith: It varies all over the place. Season 2, typically we had a multichannel recorder. We can record 16 channels. We started with a 12-input console that sometimes morphed into more inputs depending on what was going on.

We have a portable cart that I built a couple of years ago for another show that allows us to go up into places like second and third floors of the apartments, places like that without having to resort to a bag rig or something along those lines.

We have an unbelievable amount of wireless going on, usually two, sometimes three booms. We have stereo mics. Sometimes we'll do some of the effects work and stereo just to give a bed for Major to work with, to lay other things over depending on the scene. I mean, the equipment is pretty basic. The configurations change depending on what it is that we're doing exactly, and where we have to work, and more than anything else.

NFS: In your loudest scenes, how many tracks is it?

Scott Smith: Typically? Well, it really varies from one day to the next. Three days ago, we had probably 12 channels going. Yesterday, we had probably only four or five.

Evan Benjamin: Well, like the dinner party for “Fishes," how many? Because that was a million people.

Scott Smith: That was 16 in addition to six channels of surround mic, which covered the piece where the car drives into the dining room. So we ultimately had at least what 22 channels going I think for that scene. Yeah, there was a lot going on there.

And part of it also is that we might be, I never go by what the script says in terms of dialogue. If somebody is in the room, we mic them because we never know at what moment they're all of a sudden going to start saying something. So our rule of thumb has become, now if they're even close to the camera, we mic them.

Evan Benjamin: And so when I get something like that, I'm looking at a million, those are 16 tracks, but every single time there's a shot change, that's a new batch of 16 mics. So it's 16, 16, 16, 16, 16—every time there's a shot change.

And that means that there's a lot of stuff to go through and to sort out and to turn to something cohesive. But also it means, luckily, that if somebody says something that nobody planned on them saying—there's a little moment where you catch a guy and he happens to say something—I'm going to find it on one of those tracks.

And the boom might not have picked it up because the guy's on the front, nobody thought he was going to say that. And it's just like a one-off, and they say it once you have everything,

Scott Smith: And there's typically not a lot of coverage. Sometimes we'll shoot maybe two takes of a scene, and that's it. So there's frequently no other coverage to go to grab something, which makes life even more interesting. We shot a scene the other day that was two takes of cross coverage on two actors, and that's all there is. You're going to love that one.

Evan Benjamin: And then sometimes when they have these big shouting matches, when they change the shot in the middle of those shouting matches, you'll get a situation where there's overlap because the actors, they don't shout in the same way on every take, obviously. So then you'll get a repetition of somebody else's word on the next shot, and it takes a lot of trickery, but luckily there is enough coverage that I can grab. Sometimes somebody's lav will have less of that other person's mic, and I will literally draw out the other word with a program that we all use. And so you have to use a lot of things. Some of those things are not really, there's a DR, but these guys don't like a DR. I don't think we like a DR that much. I think the goal is to try to use as little bit as possible, but sometimes that involves some real manipulation of what you're getting.

Scott Smith: As Evan can attest, probably there are frequently times that the dialogue on another actor in the scene will be picked up by somebody else's mic better than the mic that actor might be wearing. I don't know how many times you've resorted to somebody else's mic in the scene, but it happens fairly frequently if it's really intimate.

Evan Benjamin: If the two guys are talking to each other and one guy, definitely, they'll pick it up better if that happens sometimes. For sure. Yeah.

Major Giammaria: Because Scott does such a good job and Evan does such a good job when it gets to me, it's not as much a mess as you would think. They do a great job giving me really good tracks to work with, and it's such a busy show.

I run 20 or 30 dialogue tracks at a time, and my entire session is probably 400 or 500 tracks. They're not all in use at the same time, but it gets pretty big. It's a busy show, even when they're all shouting, there's layers of frying pans and foley and all of the things. So yeah, it gets to be a pretty busy session, but not unwieldy for sure.

Garrett Confronts Richie While Polishing Forks - Scene | The Bear |

NFS: What was everyone's favorite sequence to work on?

Major Giammaria: For me, it was "Forks" for sure, because it was, again, there's that sequence from just both emotionally and from a sound perspective. There's that sequence where he's talking to his ex-wife on the phone—and Scott, you can enlighten me a little bit.

I talked to Adam about it, this sequence where he's on the phone train goes by, right as he says, "I love you," and it gets kind of swallowed up. That's actual production sound. Did they wait for that train, or was that a happy accident?

Scott Smith: No, that just was the luck of the draw that time.

Major Giammaria: Brilliant. … See, we actually ADR’d it to see if we wanted to play with the levels, we goosed up the train a little bit, but we were like, “How much do we want to?” We went back and forth on that. We ended up using production [sound], which is just like he's getting swallowed up by that train, and it's just devastating.

I mean, that's his, I think, lowest moment. And then he just goes back and then we get that intense sequence with the pizza and all of that … it's just a great sequence the editor, Adam Epstein, put together, and it's just got all the great stuff you love about The Bear. It's got yelling, it's got intensity, it's got a ticking clock. That's the most intense pizza run you've ever seen. And yeah, and it's got delicate things too, because in there they're like putting micro bazel on there or whatever, and it's just, yeah, the whole sequence, just the middle of that episode is just chef's kiss.

Evan Benjamin: Yeah, I think I love that episode the most from the second season as well. I mean, everybody would think that the loud sort of Christmas thing is great, but it's really great to watch a guy have this incredible epiphany, have that thing happen to him, and it's just a beautiful episode.

And I was talking about that last scene, that's probably my favorite sequence is that scene with between he and Olivia Coleman at the end, just brilliant. The whole thing is kind of summed up in there, but with such grace and understatement that I just think that's a really rare thing to watch. So I love that. I love that whole show episode. But that last scene in particular.

Scott Smith: Boy? I'd have to say in terms of the emotional gamut that you're put through, certainly "Forks" kind of stands out in that regard. It might not necessarily be the most interesting term in terms of the sound work we did, but it's just a very compelling episode emotionally. Yeah. So it certainly stands out to me.

 Lionel Boyce, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Matty Matheson in The Bear. Lionel Boyce, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, and Matty Matheson in The Bear. Chuck Hodes/FX

NFS: I love to ask professionals like you—what are mistakes that you see beginners make, especially in sound, and how they can avoid them?

Evan Benjamin: Oh my God.

Scott Smith: Got a couple of days?

Evan Benjamin: This is a multi-part interview.

Major Giammaria: The advice I give people is if you don't have enough money to hire a proper production sound mixer, you don't have enough money to make a film.

I mean, if you're going to go out and just shoot something with your friends, fine. But if you're like, "Okay, this is my short film that I'm getting financing for." Please, please, please. Sound can make or break it. And that starts at the source. Don't have your producers, dog trainers, kid hold the boom, get a real production sound mixer. You will save money in the end.

Trust me, please.

Evan Benjamin: It's funny how nobody would ever think about having the production, whatever—producers, college kids really interested in movies—they would never have him hold the camera. "Oh yeah, you can do that." But they always figure, well, [the] boom, how hard is that?

But you really see how hard that is because they can't do it. It's just really, really hard. And it's one of those things that maybe somebody thinks it looks easy. I'm just going to hold a microphone over the actors.

I live in a neighborhood with a train running overhead me in New York. And one time I remember watching someone shooting under the Manhattan Bridge, and the train was going by, and they were having some kind of scene. And I remember thinking, someone like me is going to be telling this person in a year or two, whenever they get to the end of that: "The train? No, I can't."

So the other thing I was going to say is ... think about where you're shooting, not just for visuals, but also what's going on around you. Don't be like, "Oh, this gorgeous scene here. I love this visual for you to talk against," but there's a lot of birds there.

And so then don't come to one of us two years later and go, "Can you get the birds?" "No, I can't." "Can you get—" "No, I can't." "Can you get rid of the fire engine?" "No."

I mean, you can, but it's very hard, and you waste a lot of time, and you're never going to be satisfied with the results. So think about your places you're going to shoot sonically as well as visually. I think very often they forget that part.

Scott Smith: Every once in a while, you get—it's rare—but you get a happy coincidence where something going on around you actually plays within a scene. I've had thunderstorms, some animal doing something in the background, trains, all kinds of things that normally would be a problem. Maybe 1% of the time they actually play within the scene in a happy coincidence, but it's pretty rare.

One thing I wanted to bring up too, Evan mentioned boom operators. On this show, I really rely on our boom operators, and not only do they have to stand there and hold the mic, they have to figure out what the camera is doing, which is never the same. If we shoot three takes on the scene, I can guarantee you those cameras will not be shooting the same thing take to take. So they're having to keep an eye out. Hopefully they have a monitor within peripheral vision that they can kind of see what's going on. So they have to guess what the camera's doing, it's zoom lenses, mostly. And they have to guess what the actors are going to do.

And I can sit there and move a fader up and down pretty easily, but trying to second-guess what the actor's going to do—that can be difficult. Actually, one of the best boom operators I had had been an actor went on to do as a director of many episodes of Law & Order later on, and he was great because he could look at an actor and sense that they were going to go up on their line, change something around and was invaluable. That's a skill you can't teach easily.

Evan Benjamin: There's another thing I just thought about, which is if you want interesting sound, I think that the mistake a lot of new people make is you have to leave room for sound too. You have to leave that in your script, and you have to leave that in the way you edited it and shot it.

And very often, I get things where they want, "Oh, we want great sound." But when you listen to it, it's just straight talking, and they're going to have score nonstop underneath it, and that's not really a lot of room. Then they want to have, like, "I want your magic." Well, I can't do anything. You've crammed the available bandwidth, you've filled everything up.

So I would say that people need to leave room for sound to tell the story as well as words.

Major Giammaria: That's a great thing. To bring it back to The Bear, [one thing] that the editors on The Bear do is that it's temped in pretty well, so they know. They build a nice scaffolding for us to just play in, they give us time and moments for us with stylized visuals and whatever. So they do that very well. They're thinking about it the whole time.

Scott Smith: Yeah, you can't be at a hundred percent all the time. If you don't have those moments as counterpoints, you've got no emotional bandwidth to play in a scene. It's just talking all the time. Isn't the most interesting thing in the world.