Chicago Fire and Chicago Med’s awesome new Female Forward directors

Chicago Fire’s Brenna Malloy and Chicago Med’s SJ Main Munoz spoke to One Chicago Center about joining the One Chicago universe through Female Forward.

The One Chicago universe has added two incredible directors this season. Brenna Malloy directed last week’s compelling Chicago Fire episode “Protect A Child.”

Meanwhile, SJ Main Munoz will make her debut with this week’s Chicago Med installment, “In the Name of Love.”

Both Brenna and SJ are participants in NBC’s Female Forward program, which helps support and promote women behind the camera. They spoke to One Chicago Center about their experiences working on Chicago Med and Chicago Fire, and what being part of the Chicago franchise meant to them.

Make sure you tune into SJ’s episode of Chicago Med tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on NBC, and if you missed Brenna’s episode of Chicago Fire you can watch it on demand here.

One Chicago Center: What was your reaction to finding out you would be directing episodes in the One Chicago franchise?

Brenna Malloy: Pure joy. I could not have been happier to find out I was going to direct an episode of Chicago Fire. I had been a fan of the show for a long time, and of all the Chicago shows, so just to be able to direct one episode of one of the Chicago shows—especially Fire, because I had been watching it at that point for seven years—I was just very excited and honored.

SJ Main Munoz: When I had my interview with Michael Pressman, the producing director [of Chicago Med], I instantly knew in my soul that I belonged on
Chicago Med. There was a chemistry there with him in a working relationship where I knew that this man was going to help open the door for me. And being based in a hospital wasn’t a new thing for me. I come from a family with a bunch of doctors and people from the medical field. So I felt like everything came full circle for me.

It was of course monumental being assigned to a [Dick] Wolf show because the company is best-in-class. Thirty years of filmmaking and tons of hit shows…I was honored to work with this team. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation for directing my first episode of television.

OCC: Each of you have different things that stand out about your episodes. Brenna, can you talk about what Rachel Miner brought to Chicago Fire in her guest appearance?

BM: I’m so proud of her for the hard work she put into it, and how effortless it felt as an audience member, watching her bring the character of Jenni to life. Rachel is one of those people who, when you work with her, you become a better storyteller because of her commitment to the craft. She’s one of those actors who doesn’t need to ramp up to get in just her character. It’s all there bubbling on the surface ready to go, and I was so grateful for our collaboration.

And the way that Derek Haas wrote the character of Jenni so beautifully just gave us both so much to play with, and Rachel knocked it out of the park.

OCC: SJ, what did following Chicago Med‘s 100th episode mean for you as a director? Did it add more pressure to directing your episode?

SMM: I was grateful for the opportunity. What better episode to get but 101, and to follow Michael Waxman’s 100th episode? It was awesome to be there. It’s such a family on Chicago Med; the cast and the crew, everyone works together so brilliantly. To have the opportunity to come in right after a celebration of all of their work—and also with the three-year renewal, which is super-exciting for them—I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to have a starting point for my career than working on such a hit show like Chicago Med.

Chicago Med

CHICAGO MED — “In The Name Of Love” Episode 518 — Pictured: (l-r) — (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC)

OCC: Do you have particular favorite moments or memories that stand out from your episodes?

BM: I think what really stands out is it [was] eight months since I found out I would direct an episode of Chicago Fire, before I actually got to direct on Chicago Fire. So it’s eight months of buildup, and thinking about it, and preparing for it, and learning as much as you can. And then you show up at five, six in the morning on day one and you’re the director and it’s your turn to call action.

My day one was mostly working with Miranda [Rae Mayo], who plays Stella Kidd, and I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator on that first day. She was so kind to me and so wonderful at taking direction and talking with me, and making me feel like it wasn’t my first day ever as a TV director. So even though there are so many great moments in the script that Derek put in that I got to direct, it’s that first day with Miranda that I’m so grateful for as a first time TV director, and also the first scene in the episode we shot. So that really stands out to me.

SMM: The script that writer Meridith Friedman gave me is full of emotional moments, shall we say. And so there were so many opportunities to work with that brilliant cast, every single one of them—to really dive in and explore all these sensitive moments, these emotional beats, and then sit back and watch these amazing actors work their magic.

There’s a moment when I was working with S. Epatha Merkerson; all of her scenes are brilliant, but she had this moment when we were working together, and it’s a very emotional scene. I just remember walking back, sitting behind the monitor and just almost being in tears. She’s so nuanced in her moments and she brings everything to life. So working with her was a pretty epic experience.

Also, I have to say there was a guest star that should be mentioned. His name’s Sean Patrick Fawcett, and you’ll have tune in Wednesday to see, but he plays the fiancé of a patient, and Dr. Choi has a real situation he has to deal with that comes to a head.

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OCC: You’ve mentioned some of the great people behind the scenes that you’ve gotten to work with. Can you talk about the crew members on Chicago Fire and/or Chicago Med who helped make your episodes a success?

BM: The crew of Chicago Fire is not, they don’t just say that they’re a family, they’re an actual family and they’re there for each other every day. I’ve honestly never seen a production like it. It’s really incredible.

Starting from Derek Haas, the showrunner, to Reza Tabrizi, who was the first person to interview me for Chicago Fire, to Lisa Wiegand, the [director of photography], and Chris Cleek, the production designer, and everyone in Chicago. It’s really a dream come true—not just to show up for your first episode ever, but to show up and know that everyone there wants you to succeed and is going to give you the tools you need to do a great job and to deliver a wonderful episode of their show.

One person who sticks out to me is the A-cam operator, Will Eichler, who’s also the steadicam operator. This guy is a genius, and he puts so much heart into the show that when you work with him, you just feel like you’re being given the biggest gift. I’m super-grateful for everyone.

SMM: I definitely have to go to Michael Pressman. Michael Pressman, as the producing director, gave me the chance to work professionally, which I’ve been working towards for 20 years. This has always been my goal, to direct professionally.

Having this opportunity through Female Forward, which gets more women behind the camera, it gives you the chance to really test your craft and everything that you’ve been working for. We get the chance to go out there and put it all to work with these successful directors or successful cast members and this amazing crew.

And then sometimes you’ll find things that you need to work on, and that’s when you have this amazing supportive circle around you. Especially for me, the producing director, Michael Pressman, who was there and gave me tips, gave me advice, was always there to say, “You can do this,” and I couldn’t be more indebted to that man.

Also [the] crew—sometimes the viewers will watch an episode and they think these locations just come like that. Stephanie Gilliam, she’s our production designer, and our art director Joe Lissuzzo, and their teams, they really nailed it. You’ll see we have an exterior of a hospital in the episode, and it’s all in these details that may just skip by your eyes, but it brings everything to life and that’s the magic.

The makeup team, Suzi Ostos, and costumes, Susan Kaufmann, all those details that they bring layer onto the narrative and really enhance the story. Prop master Chris Shader is brilliant. He is such a joy to work with and an excellent collaborator.  Also, working with Marisa Ross out of Chicago on casting was so much fun. I love working with actors in casting sessions; I could do that for hours!

I would say also Lex duPont, our cinematographer, was there for me every moment, hands on [and] always willing to discuss how I saw a scene. We worked together and collaborated to make everything as good as it could be and as right for the script. I learned so much from Lex, and also just enjoyed being with him. He’s this amazingly funny guy who is such a leader on that set and makes every moment enjoyable. Michelle Gonsiorek is the first assistant director, and she too really elevated the whole process for me. She laid it all out for me before we got going and really gave me the tools to have an easier time. She gave me all the intel I needed to really be able to just focus on the directing work.

And I’m so grateful to work with each of these individuals. They’re just an awesome crew. When a viewer sits down to watch the show, they may not know all the work and effort that goes into each of these episodes.

Next: Chicago Fire's Olivia Newman directing FBI

For the latest Chicago Med season 5 spoilers and news, plus more on the entire series, follow the Chicago Med category at One Chicago Center.

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