If season one of The Bear taught viewers anything, it’s that authenticity and relatability are the cornerstones of the trust between creator and audience. What The Bear presents as a final product is an in-depth analysis of culinary culture and those tied together by passion and a shared goal to bring a smile to the customer. In 2022, the Los Angeles Times published a feature article on the creation of The Bear and wrote, “The balance between television magic and culinary authenticity extends to the set as well.” Between co-showrunners Chris Storer and Joanna Calo, and crew members like Laura Roeper, the prop master on the series, research became second nature throughout the pre-production phase of each season to properly film the authenticity audiences have come to applaud.
Laura Roeper is a Chicago-based prop master who was tasked with the mission of making everything the actors touched something that a person in the hospitality industry would identify with. For example, the knives in the show were particularly selected to enrich a character’s personality, back story, and actions. Take Carmy’s knife for example – the knife is a prop meant to highlight Carmy’s past as a world-renowned chef and serves as a contrast to his time in Chicago. “We wanted him to have one thing that wasn’t pedestrian because he had already gone to New York, he had already gotten that James Beard Award… It’s from the Japanese Knives of Beverly Hills. They’re super famous, people know them,” Roeper tells Variety. Finding those knives and understanding what would best serve each character was discovered through research and speaking with those in the craft such as executive producer Matty Matheson and culinary producer Coco Storer.
In an interview, Roeper explains how the entire art department always starts each season with research. “With this show being set in Chicago, as opposed to Empire,” one of Roeper’s past credits, “which was filmed [in Chicago] but set in New York – having Chicago brands was key. It is so amazing to shop local stores, showcase local artists, and network through this city. We have an amazing amount of chefs and restaurants here that are so generous with their time.” Roeper herself was hired onto the show because she worked with the unit production manager on a previous project that helped position her as the right person for the role. Ultimately, not only did the Chicago culinary community help Roeper and her team but fellow prop masters and entertainment marketers did as well when it came to sourcing props.
Chicago is a city of community and that community supports each other across productions. “Chicago has the smallest big-city vibe and it spills into our production community,” says Roeper as she detailed how energetic Cinespace, a film studio in Chicago, is when multiple shows are filming. When an urgent prop request is called for, which is a common occurrence for prop masters, Roeper can rely on her prop community to borrow unique, show-specific items from other prop masters’ prop kits. “Special shout out to Blake Paine, Jereme Green, and Chris Shader!” says Roeper as each of those prop masters has helped her in a pinch more than once. Beyond the prop community, Roeper also has a community of entertainment marketers she can rely on, such as BENlabs, an entertainment marketing group that specializes in product placement and has invested in connecting brands with the Chicago prop community dating back to the production of Home Alone (1990).
In the instance of The Bear, Roeper sourced props that were authentic to the show, and sometimes product placement agencies have clients that fit a production’s themes or genre. The Reptile line from Samura Knives, a client of BENlabs, was seen with the character Tina in the season 2 finale, which was made possible by the agency reaching out to the client, who then connected with Roeper directly to send product. With BENlabs serving as a bridge between Roeper and the knife brand, the connection and trust between entertainment marketer and prop master are crucial for brands to be authentically placed into a production. After the props were sourced and the research was fundamentally completed, filming the show continued the thread of invoking culinary authenticity.
With cooking scenes, productions may employ what is called “silent plates” to not pick up natural kitchen sounds and generate those in later sound mixing. With The Bear, the clanging of plates and the metal sounds of utensils were second nature. “We did not use silent anything for props, everything we do is real, and the kitchen noise is part of it!” exclaims Roeper. It’s this sense of realness that boosted The Bear’s popularity into an Emmy-nominated show.
From season one to season two, The Bear maintained its smaller, indie production aspirations while seeing a massive increase in viewership. According to Variety, the sophomore season of The Bear saw a 70% increase in total hours streamed upon release, making it the most-watched premiere of any FX series on Hulu. Roeper explained that while filming the pilot, she felt that the show was going to get picked up despite the general uncertainty around pilots. Overall, the episode was a “run-and-gun, bare-bones production.”
“I personally thrive in those environments. For me as a prop master, smaller projects are by far my favorite. I like figuring things out that may not be conventional to get the job done. We started immediately through our showrunner and director Chris Storer’s lead showcasing Chicago. For the pilot, it was the whole concept – showcasing the beef sandwich, Chicago dogs, and the history of Mr. Beef as a world unto itself.”
As the show expanded in season two, Roeper talks about how season one’s intimate and indie spirit remained, which helped maintain and advance the show’s authenticity and relatability. For Storer, Calo, Roeper, production designer Merje Veski, and set decorator Eric Frankel, the mission was to continue to showcase Chicago as a character in its own right, a feat that has been lauded with compliments.
“The success of The Bear is a cultural phenomenon at this point. It is amazing to get congratulations from all over. The environment that the show’s creators and producers, directors, and the cast have created and insisted on is one of teamwork and camaraderie,“ Roeper concludes.
This article was originally published on BENlabs and was written by Nick Hanson.