- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
[This story contains spoilers for the Feb. 3 episode of NBC’s Chicago Fire.]
Wednesday’s Chicago Fire was a bottle episode, but not one like the NBC mainstay has ever attempted before. It also actually accomplished the usual goal of a bottle episode: saving some money on production costs.
For the hour, “My Lucky Day,” director Reza Tabrizi deployed nine cameras, including six GoPros placed around the set, and writers Michael Gilvary, Andrea Newman and Derek Haas wrote each act like a play. The actors — regulars David Eigenberg and Joe Minoso and guest stars Baize Buzan and Brian King — then performed scenes in takes stretching more than 25 minutes in some cases.
“Our bottle episodes usually end up costing more than other episodes because they end up being so action-heavy within whatever location we’re at, and we have giant set builds,” Haas, Chicago Fire‘s co-creator and showrunner, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Aside from the single set, the finished product — in which Herrmann (Eigenberg) and Cruz (Minoso) are trapped in a freight elevator with two civilians (Buzan and King) and cut off from the rest of the crew battling a fire in a storage facility — looks like a typical episode of the series. The editing and camera work will be familiar to viewers. But Haas said the method of shooting was something of a revelation: “If people respond to it and they really like it, there’s going to be a call to do more of them.”
Haas broke down the process of filming “My Lucky Day” with THR.
This doesn’t look any different from a typical episode — there aren’t any long, unbroken shots from these extended takes. How did you pull that off?
In a usual Chicago Fire episode, in one act we’ll have seven or eight different scenes. … The challenge of this episode was to do essentially five acts inside a service elevator. Because we wanted the performances to be as raw and as tight as possible, we had the actors learn the acts like it was a play. We did acts two and three together, so we’d have these takes that were 25 minutes long, where typically it’s three or four minutes.
We had three cameras going and six GoPros inside the set. And we would do multiple takes of the scene so we could push in closer and things like that. But it was a way different process than what we usually do.
What is that process usually like, in terms the number of cameras you have running?
We’ll typically have two. It’s rare that we have three. We’ll sometimes have more if we’re doing a giant stunt. We rarely use GoPros, and again only if we’re doing a big stunt. Reza Tabrizi, the director of this episode, is our producing director and has been on the show from the jump. He started as a camera operator and is excellent at knowing where to put cameras and how to move them.
What was the longest take?
It was like 28 minutes, which is crazy for us. David and Joe are both Chicago theater guys, so that’s part of why we got excited about writing this particular episode and putting these two characters in there. They’re great at playing to the small screen and to the theater.
How did the idea to shoot this way come about? Was it your intention from the time you wrote it?
It was pretty late in the process. We had a very atypical year where we started in September instead of July. We had broken the first eight episodes and started the process of production, and then we realized this season is really expensive because of COVID. We got the word — is there any way we could ameliorate the expense? We don’t do a lot of bottle episodes, and in fact our bottle episodes usually end up costing more than other episodes because they end up being so action-heavy within whatever location we’re at, and we have giant set builds, so they don’t end up saving us money.
It became a writers room challenge — how could we do a new version of a bottle episode? We’ve never really done an episode that’s almost all in one place. So Michael Gilvary, who’s one of our head writers, had the idea of doing it in a service elevator inside a self-storage facility, and we thought OK, if we can get two other actors and David Eigenberg and Joe Minoso — they’re so compelling as actors — and let’s write longer scenes. It’s lots more dialogue than what we would typically do.
Was there more rehearsal than for a regular episode?
That’s another thing that was atypical for us. We don’t usually rehearse an episode shoot. But they gathered these four actors together and did rehearsals in the couple of days before production. It became a dance with the camera crew of, “What’s going to be the movement once they’re inside the space?” And resetting all of the junk that goes flying around and how that’s going to play became part of that. So yeah, longer rehearsals involving the camera [crew] and then shooting it. And kind of just letting it happen in a lot of ways, which isn’t something we normally do either.
It was Reza’s idea to let them just go with it. If something landed in a place that wasn’t thought of beforehand or wasn’t in the script, let’s just go with it and see what happens and build off of that. There were a few stunts that required some setup, but even then, the actors would pretend as though the stunt had happened, get in that position and then just keep going. It was cool.
Could you replicate this way of shooting for other episodes? Could it help with budgets given the extra costs you have with the pandemic?
(Laughs.) It depends on the reception of the episode. I think people did enjoy the experience [of filming this way], and it did save some money. To me it has all the same sort of aspects of a typical Fire episode, just in a contained space. What I love working on this show is every episode you get to flex the muscles of action, romance, drama, suspense, comedy, and there’s no one typical skill you have to have as a writer. To do all that within this confined space was also exciting. So if people respond to it and they really like it, there’s going to be a call to do more of them.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
The Flight Attendant