Over the past few years, single continuous takes have become a commonplace device in film and TV, an objectively impressive if somewhat overused gimmick that allows storytellers an opportunity to flex their ambitions and maximize the high-wire tension of an emotionally significant scene.
“One-ers” can sometimes carry an effect of showboating the longer their runtime, but when executed with near-perfect precision, like in FX’s thrillingly chaotic cooking drama The Bear, the result can be a remarkable thing to watch, to see so many moving parts come together seamlessly.
Created by Christopher Storer, The Bear is the perfect show to apply such a technique. The series focuses on the volatile and brilliant chef Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) as he struggles to run his brother’s Chicago sandwich shop in the aftermath of his brother’s suicide. Inheriting both financial woes and a ragtag team of equally talented and hardened cooks, Carmy faces a constant, suffocating amount of pressure to keep the restaurant afloat.
During the show’s seventh episode, written by executive producer Joanna Calo and directed by Storer, Carmy’s anxiety gets deliciously escalated in a stunning 18-minute take. As they prepare for an unexpectedly ultra-busy lunch rush, Carmy and his staff descend into expletive-laden madness, the onslaught of pre-order tickets setting off a firestorm of bitter attitudes, miscommunications, and even an accidental stabbing.
Without cutting away from the action, aside from its Chicago-themed opening sequence, The Bear’s dramatically flavorful one-er effectively captures the cooker-pressure claustrophobia of its setting, while further heightening the stakes of Carmy’s latent guilt and grief over his brother’s death.
Storer’s background in directing elaborately staged live works (Bo Burnham’s specials what. and Make Happy) as well as minimalist, character-driven comedy (Ramy) also seems to inform the episode’s narrative and aesthetic power. In an interview with Consequence, Storer and cinematographer Andrew Wehde lay out their approach toward conceptualizing the one-er, coordinating the choreography of the actors and crew, and how many takes it took to get the right shot.
How did the process of shaping the episode this way begin?
Christopher Storer: Joanna’s script was really phenomenal. It had these long scenes with all of our characters popping in and out that kept turning the heat up and turning the screws. It felt really propulsive and alive.
The more and more I read it, I kept thinking how much a cut could kill the momentum, so the idea of doing it as a one-er was really the best way to not undercut the tension. Joanna, [cinematographer] Drew [Wehde] and I wanted to make sure it was absolutely 100 percent in service of the story and not us showing off.