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Controlled Chaos in the Kitchen

19/09/2022

Cinematographer Andrew Wehde spent more than a decade shooting commercials for Michelin-star restaurants before he ventured into the frenetic kitchen of The Original Beef sandwich shop seen in FX series The Bear. Wehde joined the production for the second episode and went on to shoot the rest of the first season, building on the hard-hitting, fly-on-the-wall style that cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra established in the pilot.

Wehde worked with Panavision Chicago to assemble his camera and lens package for the season. The cinematographer recently spoke with Panavision about how he and his collaborators achieved the series' dynamism while retaining its focus on the cast's performances.

Panavision: How did you become involved in The Bear?

Andrew Wehde: The Bear is a very special project that a longtime friend of mine, [creator and executive producer] Chris Strorer, once wrote as a movie. I read the movie script probably nine years ago, obviously much earlier in my career and his as well. A few years ago, he pitched it as a TV show, and thats when FX picked it up. I was on the show Night Sky for Amazon as one of the two alternating DPs the summer he shot the pilot for The Bear with Adam Newport-Berra as DP. FX loved what they put together and greenlit an eight-episode first season, and Chris came back to me since I was free.

We ended up shooting Episodes 2 through 8 in about 27 days between February and March 2022. We built the entire Original Beef on stage in Chicago and did about 18 days in that primary set, and then we were out at the original Mr. Beef and elsewhere around the city for the remaining eight or nine days. We were scheduled for 29 days, and we came out two days ahead of schedule, which is phenomenal.

How were you able to manage such a quick turnaround?

Wehde: A lot of it was due to designing the stage to be as efficient as possible. We did an entire interactive lighting setup on the stage so that every single light in the restaurant whether it was back of the kitchen, front of the kitchen, or the dining room was a full RGB LED, controlled by our dimmer-board operator. We never brought any lights onto the set, so we never had to wait for things, and there were no C-stands or movie lights in the way. It was all practical-based lighting. And outside of the stage, we had about 10 old-school 18K tungsten lights to give us the rich, warm light coming into the restaurant.

We also built the entire stage so the dolly could run without track or dance floor. We made it into a playground for us. It was always ready; we never had to set things up. We were finishing days at eight hours and then spending the last two hours on the stage shooting food. The actors would stay with us and do the cooking and chopping for the camera. And because we just kept shooting inserts and giving all that information to editorial, it created a lot of that kinetic energy in the show.

Was the kitchen that was built on stage fully working?

Wehde: It was. Every stove, every oven, every refrigerator they call them low boys, which are the fridges underneath the counters the bakery, even the soda machines worked. Chris designed it in that way so that he could always lean on reality versus what a lot of us have done in the food-commercial world, which is bring in the precooked food and make it look good on camera. Our approach on The Bear was that everything was made fresh on set and done by the actors, even down to the point that Jeremy Allen White, whos our lead, would cut celery and carrots and onions, and prep the bins for the scene, while we spent 10 or 15 minutes setting up a scene. If he needed to cook something in the scene, he would start precooking. He was in that character, cooking, while we would set the shots.

How did the look of the show evolve from when you took the reins for Episode 2?

Wehde: I feel like the pilot was a bit more raw and almost more documentary in style. When we came in on episode two, the lighting became more refined, but we still kept the energy. Chris knew the direction he wanted the show to go, and he was able to help me understand what the best parts of the pilot were, and we brought those elements forward. We wanted it to feel like an extended movie, and we started pushing it more toward the world of Michael Mann or Martin Scorsese, which Chris loves.

The pilot was shot on a regular Mini and I went to Mini LF, which I think helped create more of a cinematic feel. I used a LUT based on the pilot, so the color and contrast provided some connecting tissue. We introduced more movement starting in Episode 2 the camera never stopped moving, and we used the second camera in a way that kept that energy.

I never would have gotten the show to the level where it is without Adam starting it. He got us there, and I was able to push the envelope even further. I owe him a lot for that.

What drew you to Panavision's H Series spherical lenses for your episodes?

Wehde: I went out to Panavision in Woodland Hills and met with Brian Mills [lens manager in Panavision's Special Optics division]. Brian and I got along really well. He specializes in vintage lenses, and we did a whole projection session. He had the H Series because those were the ones I was interested in, but then he brought out things like the Primo Artistes and the new Panaspeeds. He asked me, Do you know the difference?' I was able to tell him, and at that point we really clicked. He was like, Youre right, H Series is where you should be in terms the mood youre talking about and what youre asking for.'

What attracts you to the H Series?

Wehde: They remind me of shooting on film or seeing old movies shot on film where things dont look optically too sharp. The skin looks dreamy and creamy, but the eyes have a pin sharpness, and you can see the eye light really well. I love how smooth
LINK: https://www.panavision.com/highlights/highlights-detail/controlled-cha...
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