The sound of a busy kitchen is distinctly unique. From the click of the gas and the whoosh of a flame coming to life to the sound of pots, plates, and pans to the voices keeping track of what is or is not happening, there is a lot to listen to in a kitchen.
Hulu's The Bear captured this tense yet beautiful cacophony of sounds that erupt from the kitchen of the fictional Chicago restaurant, The Beef. In fact, it is the sound design that creates the level of tension and confusion that grips many viewers to the show's meandering plot of saving the Berzatto family restaurant.
It can be a challenge to balance the sound of a kitchen with dialogue, music, and other sound effects that bring the fictional world to life. However, the sound team behind Season 1 of The Bear, which includes Supervising Sound Editor & Re-Recording Mixer Steve "Major" Giammaria, Dialogue Editor Evan Benjamin, and Production Sound Mixer Scott D. Smith, came together to bring audiences a visceral sonic experience. Their work ended up landing them two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series and Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series at the 75th Emmys.
Major, Benjamin, and Smith chatted with No Film School via email about joining the first season of The Bear, their goals behind each of their choices, and how to create a boiling pot of sound that grips and pulls the audience in for the wild ride.
The Bear Season 1 Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes TV
No Film School: How did you get started in sound?
Steve "Major" Giammaria: After attending SUNY Fredonia for Sound Recording, I was able to get an opportunity, through a friend, to be an assistant at Sound Lounge in NYC. This was my first introduction to Audio Post, and I never looked back. I’ve stayed at Sound Lounge going on 17 years, and they supported my career from the start by developing talent from within at a great artist-owned post house.
Evan Benjamin: I went to Berklee College of Music and played in bands for years. But I loved when we were in studios and recording songs. I found the gear and the process fascinating. So I moved back to New York and started working in studios, and got involved in audio post. At some point, the place I worked at had a fledgling film department. The work seemed a lot more interesting than what I was working on at the time, so I started off as an assistant to a mixer and gradually moved up to editing and mixing over the next 10 years. I moved to Sound Lounge in 2018 via an invitation from Major and the other owners, and I’ve been here ever since.
Scott D. Smith: I had an interest in electronics and music from an early age. I began my career working in a TV repair shop part-time, which was run by two very bright guys who were really more engineers than service technicians. They patiently taught me the basics of circuit theory and troubleshooting. From there, I landed a job as a recording engineer part-time with a small location music recording studio in Detroit, which did all sorts of live recordings. In a couple of years, I parlayed that into a job with a small company that was building a 16-track remote recording truck, which gave me the first opportunity at doing live multitrack work. The gentleman who ran the company also did film sound, which interested me as well, and I eventually segued into film sound as a career, including running a small studio operation and working as a re-recording mixer. Things grew from there, beginning with documentaries, industrial films, commercials, and, eventually, the opportunity to do feature work.
NFS: How you were hired for The Bear?
Major: I had worked with [Executive Producer] Josh Senior on a few projects (Ramy, How To) and tangentially [Showrunner] Chris Storer on Ramy. I enjoyed working with both of them, and we've been able to do great work together. They approached us once the show got picked up to series.
Evan: I was asked by Major to come on for Ramy, and I think all the editors and Senior Post thought that was a successful experience. It was obvious we all worked effectively together with each other and with the showrunners. So from there we all just moved to The Bear.
Scott: I was contacted by the Unit Manager, Carrie Holt de Lama, who was familiar with my work on other shows in Chicago.
NFS: How did you capture the stressful environment of The Bear through sound?
Major: Chris had a very clear vision of the structure of the sound and the feeling of the kitchen. He was very specific about how overwhelming it should sound. We went through a few iterations of what the default kitchen sound should be, but once we hit total chaos, it was all about pushing it further and further. Often there’s a song playing as score, multiple people yelling, and production sound that includes pots and pans and working stoves tied to the dialogue as well as added foley and sound FX. The trick then becomes what to focus on at each moment. You have to make sure the dialogue is heard, but also that intensity is maintained. We focused a lot on the overall arch of a scene in terms of tension and release, then carved out smaller beats for the push-pull of stress and cacophony.
Evan: I think my role for a show like this, with its high intensity, is to make sure I have everything as clean as possible and that whatever sounds we’re going to use from production are separated out so they’re easy to manipulate around the dialogue. I think of it as clearing a path for all that design so the dialogue stays audible. We want it to be dense sounding, but only in the places we decide should be dense. The quiet scenes are necessary so that the stressful scenes stand out and are actually stressful. Without contrast, nothing really makes an impact on the viewer.
Scott: The production sound crew functions as the “hunters and gatherers” of the sound team. Our role is to get as much good raw material as we can during shooting, which will later be parsed through by the dialogue editors. For a show such as The Bear, there are a lot of unpredictable scenes to deal with, many shots with no rehearsals. This requires us to do a lot of second-guessing to try and anticipate what *might* happen when the cameras roll. So the stress the viewer sees on screen is real! This was very much by design on the part of the director, who intentionally did not want the actors to get too comfortable with a scene.
NFS: How is intricate sound design essential to making long takes, especially long take episodes like Season 1, Episode 7, work perfectly?
Major: “Review” was a great opportunity for some very unique sound design. The camera weaves throughout the kitchen as characters move about as the day goes more and more off the rails. The overall arc of this show is just a giant crescendo (with a few dips for more impactful moments). The three elements at play are really the ticket printer, the score, and the dialogue. Everything else plays around those as they weave in and out. Also since it was one long take we were able to do some more extreme and continuous dialogue panning to track characters around the kitchen and front of the house. Since there are no picture edits, the pace cannot actually be changed, but sound allows us to push and pull the feelings and momentum of the scene, maybe without the viewer even noticing what we’re doing to them.
Evan Benjamin is an Emmy-Nominated Dialogue Editor and Re-Recording Mixer with over 27 years of industry experience. Most recently, Evan edited the dialogue of FX’s hit dramedy series The Bear, for which he earned his first Emmy nomination and an MPSE Golden Reel Award for
Outstanding Sound Editing. Evan was also the Dialogue Editor for Searchlight’s Theater Camp, starring Ben Platt and Molly Gordon. The film premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival where it won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.
Other notable credits of Evan’s include editing the dialogue of the Hulu dramedy series Ramy, as well as serving as both Dialogue Editor and Re-Recording Mixer of the upcoming Hulu comedy series Miguel Wants to Fight. Evan also served as the Supervising Sound Editor and Re-Recording Mixer of Netflix’s Survival of the Thickest.
As an experienced sound professional, Evan has built a reputation for himself as being a fast and dependable dialogue editor who enjoys collaborating with others and bringing the creative visions of his colleagues to life. His experience in both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing has given him a thorough understanding of film/TV sound, as his mixing work has helped strengthen and inform his work as a Dialogue Editor.
Scott D. Smith is a two-time Oscar-nominated, two-time Emmy-Nominated and BAFTA-Winning Production Mixer with over 50 years of industry experience. Most recently, Scott served as the Production Mixer of the hit FX Series The Bear, for which he received his second Emmy nomination.
Over the course of his long career, Scott has mixed the sound on several acclaimed films and TV shows. One of the most notable projects among these is his work as the Production Mixer on the classic Warner Bros. action movie, The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Scott’s work on the film, which is re-releasing in theaters and on home video in Fall 2023 in celebration of its 30-year anniversary, earned him a BAFTA Award and Oscar Nomination for Best Sound. Other notable credits of Scott’s include Steve McQueen’s Widows, starring Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, and Colin Farrell; Source Code, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan; and Season Two - Season Six of the NBC series, Chicago P.D.
As someone who has been a Production Sound Mixer for half a century, Scott is respected among his colleagues for being a talented and tireless worker who goes the extra mile to ensure that no important detail is overlooked when capturing sound on set. His wide range of experience in sound mixing, including work as a music mixer and re-recording mixer, makes him a valuable asset to any production he is on.