CHICAGO FIRE Post-Mortem: Derek Haas Breaks Down the Wildly Ambitious 'My Lucky Day' - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

CHICAGO FIRE Post-Mortem: Derek Haas Breaks Down the Wildly Ambitious ‘My Lucky Day’

February 3, 2021 by  

Chicago Fire My Lucky Day

Cruz (Joe Minoso) and Herrmann (David Eigenberg) in “My Lucky Day.” Credit: NBC/Screencap

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for “My Lucky Day,” the Wednesday February 3 hour of CHICAGO FIRE.]

A routine call went awry on the Wednesday, February 3 episode of CHICAGO FIRE, “My Lucky Day,” as Herrmann (David Eigenberg) and Cruz (Joe Minoso) found themselves stuck in a service elevator, with civilians, while Firehouse 51 battled a fire in the same building without them.

The gripping hour—one of CHICAGO FIRE’s best—packed emotional reveals (Cruz is going to be a father!), action, and a gorgeous homage to the show’s history into one of the show’s most ambitiously produced installments yet.

So how did they pull it off?! CHICAGO FIRE boss Derek Haas broke down the intricacies of making “My Lucky Day,” and previews where they go from here…

The origin.

“We had already broken the first half of the season, and then as we got into production, the cost of doing [each] episode had just gone up because of COVID and all the testing that we do,” Haas recalls. “In discussing how the season was going with the network and with the studio, [they suggested], ‘Oh, if you guys were planning on doing a bottle episode, you might want to move it up to the front half of the season, just so we can get a break on some of these costs.’”

While FIRE is no stranger to doing bottle episodes, as Haas points out, those hours tend to be a little bit bigger. “[The ones we’ve done in the past are] always more expensive than any other episode we do, because we ended up building a parking garage or [staging] a chemical fire or whatever,” he says with a laugh. “So then the challenge became could we do one that really focused on just a few characters, didn’t leave that area, and still told the CHICAGO FIRE story?”

Putting the pieces together.

After co-head writer Michael Gilvary suggested they set the hour in a service elevator in a storage facility, it became clear they found their location. But which characters to center the hour around was still a big, important question.

“The bottle episodes have usually been Severide or Casey or Dawson, so why don’t we do [Joe and David]?” Haas remembers the writers discussing. “They’re great actors. And then it was like, why don’t we write it more like a play than a [regular] episode. So [we scripted] long, whole acts, taking place just in the one location.”

Next was finding the hour’s two notable guest stars, Holly (Baize Buzan) and Trevor (Brian King), the civilians who get trapped on the elevator with Cruz and Herrmann. To find actors who could shoulder the storyline and go toe-to-toe with the FIRE regulars, they turned to people already within the CHICAGO family.

“[Buzan] was in season 1, one of the first episodes that I wrote, ‘Two Families,’ where she played a teacher,” Haas says. “But because we liked her from that, back when we used to do read throughs for every episode, she [would come in and] would be kind of a catch-all for parts that weren’t our lead actors. And [King] did that also. And so they were familiar faces for us in the CHICAGO FIRE world. And then just they nailed their auditions.”

Holly, in particular, was a complex role to cast, because “she has to have a turn in the middle of the episode,” he continues. “So we needed someone who could convey both the aggressiveness and the sympathy later on.”

And, of course, the writers had to figure out how much they wanted the rest of Firehouse 51 to play into the hour as Cruz and Herrmann fought to survive their experience. Rather than cut to anything outside the elevator, viewers experienced snippets of the call via their radio communications with each other.

“I used to love to listen to radio dramas,” Haas explains. “The idea of watching a play, but only through your ears was interesting to me. The fact is that our audience has seen all of these firefighters in these situations…Our audience has been watching this show for nine years; they know what happens when Severide or Casey run into a fire, or Mouch is cornered [and allows] the audience imagining what’s happening upstairs.”

Having that taste of what was going on out of their reach also added to the drama of the moment.

“If you’re a firefighter, you care way less about your own life than you do about your brothers and sisters that are in harm’s way,” he points out. “So being confined in a space and not being able to get to your brothers and sisters in need is as serious a predicament as you can be in as a firefighter. So it added to the claustrophobia and the suspense, in a good way.”

Pulling it off.

While most episodes of television film the various scenes wildly out of order and things are pieced back together in editing, the structure of “My Lucky Day” made it so all but the final scene was filmed in chronological order.

“We did, like, 28-minute takes,” Haas recalls. “As you know, usually we have eight or nine scenes within an act, so the longest take we’ll [normally] have is five minutes. And these, [we would] just roll the camera.”

With the extended takes, they allowed for things to fall into place, naturally—literally and figuratively. “Sometimes where the props would fall would then dictate where we were going from there,” he says. “It was cool. I give a lot of credit to Reza Tabrizi, our longtime producing director, who has been on the show since the beginning [when] he was a camera operator. He had the idea to just do these long takes, put GoPro cameras up, get three cameras into that elevator, and let the actors do their thing.”

Haas observed the production from his home—watching a live feed of the cameras from the set and communicating with Tabrizi via text and calls to give notes—and admits there was a special thrill about observing the team pull off “My Lucky Day.”

“I got to say, it was just so fun to watch,” he gushes. “We’re just not used to that level of commitment [from everyone]. This was the first time in six years we did a read through and rehearsed before the production of that episode began. So all of those things made it for more compelling viewing, watching the takes, and the other things that they would do.”

To help with the continuous feel of the hour, the team opted to film the second and third acts as a single block, with the actors, safely, mimicking where the stunts would be done and moving on to the rest of the scene. “After the first time they did [the acts] together, it was awesome, because I’m watching it [at home], but I can hear the microphones through the monitor, and the crew started applauding,” Haas recalls with a laugh. “Which is a good sign that it’s working.”

Paying homage to the show’s history.

Outside of the immediate physical danger Cruz and Herrmann found themselves in, the hour also saw the duo opening up to each other.

Cruz, who appeared to be lost in his own world prior to getting on the elevator, admitted his wife had just told him she was pregnant—and he was terrified. Herrmann shared his own harrowing experience while his wife was pregnant with their first child, and an accident led him to worry she was about to lose the baby. (Thankfully, she and the baby recovered.)

“Joe, you have seen enough of this world to know that sucker punches can come from every which way,” Herrmann told his friend. “But there is more good than bad out there. I promise you that.”

The real world influenced that heart-to-heart, Haas admits. “With Gilvary, [co-headwriter] Andrea Newman, and I writing this episode, there’s just so much going on in the world right now that has been on our minds all season,” he acknowledges. “So to get a chance to convey that from a firefighter’s perspective of bringing a newborn into this crazy world, as we were writing this episode, I felt like we were even at a higher pitch [of unknown]—because this was right before Christmas—than any other time. So that found its way into these characters mouths.”

Of course, that wasn’t the only tearjerker moment in the hour, as Cruz also recalled his fallen best friend Otis (Yuri Sardarov), who died in season 8. “Otis is named after the Otis elevator, that was always his role from the beginning,” Haas says. “So it was a natural reference to make [and] for it to be on Cruz’s mind as he was in there. Anytime we get to reference our history as a show, we always leap at the chance, because we do have this nine-year history and viewers who have been watching the whole time.”

The aftermath.

Though the duo made it out of the call safely, the impact from their time trapped will continue to play out onscreen.

“Cruz has a story coming up very soon that reflects off of this episode,” Haas teases of episode 7. “That is another one of these reminders that this job is super dangerous, and that plans that you make can turn in an instant. As a show, we have never been afraid to let a character go, or walk off, at any point in the season, because I think the danger is real. That way, anytime the bells go off when you’re watching our show, you as an audience member have to worry, ‘Oh, man, they do that on this show—this might be a time we have to pay attention to.’”

But there is some light ahead, as the show will dive into Cruz’s impending fatherhood. “We’ll be seeing a lot more,” Haas previews. “We have Chloe coming in an episode. We’ll be paying attention to that story throughout the season.”

The MVPs.

As ambitious as the writing and directing for “My Lucky Day” was, Haas is quick to praise what Eigenberg and Minoso brought with their performances.

“I knew they both had a second gear that is a great tool to have in your toolbox as a writer,” he says. “Because you know both those guys can just crush it on comedy, drama, suspense, action, romance—you know that they do it so well. And when you have that as a writer, you’re fearless in terms of what you’re going to give them.”

“These two guys are theater guys, so they can do these long, extended takes and stay perfectly in character and build off of what they’re doing,” he continues. “And as the minutes go by, obviously, it’s more draining and so it plays into what’s happening with them. And both those guys can melt my heart, at any given moment.”

CHICAGO FIRE, Wednesdays, 9/8c, NBC


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