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One Chicago is the place to be in primetime when it comes to a solid block of shared universe action, with Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, and Chicago P.D. on NBC Wednesdays. The 2019-2020 TV season welcomed new directors to the sets of Chicago Fire and Chicago Med, with NBC's Female Forward program bringing in Brenna Malloy and SJ Main Muñoz to step behind the camera.
Brenna Malloy and SJ Main Muñoz recently spoke with CinemaBlend about their experiences on Fire and Med, including the opportunities for women in television, making crossover history with the "Infection" event in fall 2019, stepping into the One Chicago universe, and more. First, what brought them into One Chicago!
Joining NBC's One Chicago As Female Directors
Although the 2019-2020 TV season for One Chicago has been cut short, both Brenna Malloy and SJ Main Muñoz directed episodes that made it to air in the second half of Chicago Fire and Chicago Med's current seasons. They were able to join One Chicago as a result of NBC's Female Forward program, which gives female directors the opportunity to helm episodes of hit shows as part of an initiative to achieve gender parity in the field.
Brenna Malloy directed the March 18 episode of Chicago Fire, called "Protect A Child," while SJ Main Muñoz directed the upcoming March 25 episode of Chicago Med, called "In the Name of Love," as the first following the milestone 100th installment. Both directors shared how they became involved with the Female Forward program that brought them to One Chicago:
SJ Main Muñoz: Lots of jobs, but always trying to figure out how to work as a professional director because they can teach you your craft and they can help give you a place and outlet for your passion of directing, but they can't teach you how to get a job. It's not something that's taught, so fortunately we have these programs that make that path a bit smoother, if you can get in them. Female Forward is one of them, it's a breakthrough program that gives female directors an opportunity to learn first through shadowing and then to put that learning to test directing a hit show. So I applied to Female Forward last year and then got in through a series of interviews and here I am.
Brenna Malloy: I applied to Female Forward the first year that it opened and I was actually a finalist and got very close to getting in but not there yet, and I just thought, 'All I can do is just better myself, better myself.' And I applied the next year, and I will say, in that year I became a much better director and I knew I was ready. And I got in. A series of interviews, and pitching yourself to those that hire and it's been a real gift to have had this experience.
Following an application process and a series of conversations that led Brenna Malloy and SJ Main Muñoz to being selected by NBC's Female Forward project and then paired with Chicago Fire and Chicago Med, respectively, they were able to make their debuts as TV directors in One Chicago. Considering One Chicago regularly scores some of the most consistently impressive ratings on the small screen, these shows definitely qualify as hits.
Preparation For One Chicago Before Directing Debuts
Of course, joining a shared universe comprised of three long-running shows is no small task, with many connections between Fire, Med, and P.D., not to mention the complex histories and personalities of the many characters. What happens with one show often impacts the others. Brenna Malloy and SJ Main Muñoz explained how they prepared for their directing debuts on Chicago Fire and Chicago Med:
Brenna Malloy: What helped definitely for me and I imagine for SJ as well is we're both fans of the shows. Having seen all of the episodes of Chicago Fire and having seen every crossover episode of the three shows and I had watched the pilots of P.D. and Med and the season finales of P.D. and Med, and then all the episodes of Chicago Fire. That is a fun task as a director. 'Oh, I get to direct an episode of Chicago Fire that's one part of this vast world of storytelling! And for my job, I get to watch all of it!' So it was really just diving in to the stories and the characters. Obviously Chicago Fire has been on the longest and Derek Haas created the show and he actually wrote my episode. So I got to spend a lot of time learning from him about the world and sort of immersed myself as much as I could.
SJ Main Muñoz: I love it when I'm with my family and there are kids to take care of and errands to run and I have to say, 'Sorry, I have to watch TV!' [laughs] That's the brilliant thing. It's so hard to imagine that we get paid to do this job. Of course it's challenging but it's pure enjoyment, if it's your passion. I know it's my passion to direct and I know it's Brenna's. So in terms of preparation, absolutely it entails watching every episode often several times, really getting to know all of the characters and their arcs and their quirks and their personalities and their behaviors. Even though I knew I was paired with Chicago Med I still watched all the shows, because of course there are crossovers.
By Brenna Malloy watching the full run of Chicago Fire and SJ Main Muñoz watching the full run of Chicago Med, not to mention the major crossovers between the three shows, they were able to jump right into a massive shared universe already familiar with the series. Interestingly, Main Muñoz went on to share that one of the two episodes she was able to shadow as part of Female Forward was the Med hour of the huge three-part "Infection" crossover, and Malloy shadowed the Fire hour.
Experiencing The "Infection" Crossover And One Chicago History
One Chicago fans undoubtedly remember the "Infection" crossover that brought the teams from Fire, Med, and P.D. together to fight flesh-eating bacteria released in the Windy City. It was a cinematic event with a lot of moving parts, almost feeling like three hours of one show rather than three separate episodes of three shows. SJ Main Muñoz, who specifically praised the quarantine tents used to set the tone at the hospital on Chicago Med during the crossover, shared how shadowing "Infection" set them up for success as directors:
And it was wonderful for both of us because now we're both assigned to a show. You're in training to direct all of the shows. That's the way that I've thought about it and I know Brenna has too. This is the opportunity to learn as much as we can and train as much as we can to be the best directors for this show but also the sister shows, other shows. The 'Infection' crossover gave us both an opportunity to be on each other's sets or stages and meet each other's cast members. That was awesome. Otherwise, the producing director and the producer and everybody in the cast and crew was so supportive and gave me a place to thrive by giving me all the information I needed to succeed. So an all-around good experience.
Although the "Infection" crossover was certainly not the first time that the various shows of One Chicago crossed over with each other, and they actually share characters on a semi-regular basis, it was arguably the most cohesive event involving Fire, Med, and P.D. to date. When I noted that shadowing the "Infection" crossover was jumping right into the deep end of One Chicago, Brenna Malloy revealed that the crossover actually resulted in Fire and Med making One Chicago history with P.D.
The 'Infection' crossover, that was a fun one to shadow. The Fire hour started obviously at Soldier Field with 500 extras and cast from all three shows. And even though I was shadowing that episode, it was very exciting to be there and watch Reza Tabrizi direct it because the energy was so wonderful. They had never had so many extras working in one scene. It was a really wonderful experience to see that happen.
The "Infection" crossover of course opened with the heroes of Fire, Med, and P.D. trying to take a break from the Chicago crises and enjoy some Bears football before the flesh-eating bacteria brought the fun to a halt. To pull this off, One Chicago brought in a record number of extras to play the tailgaters, making One Chicago history and getting the "Infection" three-parter off to a start of grand scale.
Potentially Returning To One Chicago And Directing Chicago P.D.
Now that both Brenna Malloy and SJ Main Muñoz have experience shadowing a crossover event involving all three shows and have directed an episode of Fire and Med solo, I had to ask if they'd be interested in potentially returning to One Chicago once production resumes. Even though the current seasons will end earlier than expected, all three One Chicago series have already been renewed for three more seasons! On possibly directing Chicago shows again:
Brenna Malloy: I will come back any time I am asked.
SJ Main Muñoz: I know! I was going to say, I think Brenna and I would get on right now. We'd be like, 'Okay, we'll be in plastic, we'll be there now.'
Brenna Malloy: And just to expand on that, even though the three Chicago shows, they all exist within the same world but each production is very different, but the one thing they have in common in each production really is a family. Having been welcomed into the Chicago Fire family, there's nothing that would stop me from coming back if I'm invited to. Everyone there, from the producers, writers, actors, the crew, everyone wanted me to succeed and empowered me to succeed. There's nothing better as a director than having that sort of welcome. This has been truly a gift from top to bottom, and to do it again would be incredible.
SJ Main Muñoz: I couldn't have asked for a more perfect first episode of television. The circumstances were totally ideal. The cast and crew were so welcoming through the shadowing I was able to do before I directed.
As Brenna Malloy noted, the three Chicago shows are very different despite sharing a universe and often sharing characters. Malloy and SJ Main Muñoz have proven they can helm episodes of Fire and Med, but would they be game to tackle an episode of One Chicago's darkest series in future seasons? Malloy and Main Muñoz didn't even hesitate when asked if they'd be interested in directing Chicago P.D.:
SJ Main Muñoz: Yes!
Brenna Malloy: Absolutely! P.D. is a wonderful show. Because we both shadowed the crossovers, actually I shadowed two crossovers before I directed my episode because the second episode I shadowed was the crossover with P.D. where Roman comes back, so I've spent a lot of time watching the P.D. actors work and I've met Eriq La Salle, who's the producing director, and it would be a great honor to be asked there as well. But for now I'm just celebrating the fact that I got to direct an episode of Chicago Fire.
SJ Main Muñoz: Through a program that I'm in called We For She, it's a wonderful program that helps emerging female directors get an episodic opportunity, I was matched up through a mentor named David Rodriguez, an amazing man who's been so supportive of me on this path, and he introduced me to Eriq La Salle. So now I've developed a relationship with Eriq, who's such a wonderful man. I made sure to go visit him any chance I could while I was there in Chicago. In summer, and then when I was back to direct. And of course the opportunity to direct Chicago P.D. would be brilliant.
Only time will tell what's in store next for Brenna Malloy, SJ Main Muñoz, and One Chicago as a whole. With all three shows renewed for three more seasons, there's no danger of One Chicago coming to an end any time soon, and the Med showrunners already have ideas for next season. Malloy's episode of Chicago Fire interestingly showcased a plot for Stella Kidd that should promote women within the universe, while fans can still look forward to Main Muñoz's episode of Med, airing on March 25.
For the latest in One Chicago action, be sure to tune in to NBC Wednesday for Med starting at 8 p.m. ET, Fire at 9 p.m. ET, and P.D. at 10 p.m. ET.