Kantú Lentz has a lot to say about the art of filmmaking. That’s partly because she knows a lot about the subject — and about what she wants to create – and partly because she’s so passionate about the product that she’s putting out. And as we sat down with her to discuss her experience directing Chicago Fire’s thirteen episode of season 10, titled “Fire Cop,” it became clear pretty quickly the show was in perfectly good hands with her.
In fact, let us be the first ones to advocate for her to get many other chances to bring to direct a show she knows very, very well. How well, you ask? Well, she shared with us that “for television directing, you have to absorb the show.” Which is something she took to heart.
“You are a guest, you’re entering someone else’s home, and you are going to tell people what to do in that home. So that’s a dynamic that you have to make sure that you handle very elegantly. So, first thing is educating yourself on the show. I watched all seasons of Chicago Fire probably two times. And while I was prepping, while I was directing, it was the only thing I had on.”
Right off the bat, we’re fans of that level of commitment.
She went on about what that implied, explaining that the most important part of prep, for her, was to “know the show in and out. Know the stories, the characters, the visual language,” something that is “very important, because you are sort of morphing into that language.” This is essential because “A TV show is its own world, and you have to respect that. You have to live within that world because that’s what makes the world special.”
In the end, a director’s job is essentially “steering things,” but also “making sure that you know how everyone works so that you are creating an environment in which everyone can do their best work.” And this episode truly felt like everyone was brining their A+ game.
But just because this show is blessed with tremendous writers, crew and cast, all of which Lentz praised at different points during our chat, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of work that goes into making the episode look the way it does. Lentz shared with us that, for her, it’s not just about making a shot list of what she wants in the frame but cutting it in her head. Understanding what will lead to this, and what look will cut to something or someone else.
And that is how we get scenes like the beautiful Severide/Stella scene after Severide figures out how the fire started, or even the Hawkami scene from the beginning of the hour.
Which, we had to talk about that Hawkami moment, not just because it was the first scene of Lentz’s episode, but because it truly felt like the beginning of something. And though, as a guest director, Lentz doesn’t have any insight into what’s going to happen for these two, she did share with us that “they are incredible together,” something we wholeheartedly agree with. “They have great fun chemistry together. And for her the scene had to be directed without focusing on the maybes, on whether this is a love triangle, or even on where this storyline might be going.
Instead, it was about the moment. And, about Violet. “It’s important to always figure out whose point of view you’re telling the story from, right? We are still telling the story through Violet. Right now, she is crazy about Hawkins. Whether that changes or not, who knows? But right now, she really likes him. He gives her butterflies. And she’s conflicted (during that opening scene): Because obviously it’s scary, right? To do something that she feels could affect her stability. I mean, there’s nothing scarier than that nowadays.”
Violet does end up taking that leap of faith, and Lentz, and us, will be waiting to see where that goes. But there’s a certain magic that the actors give us, in that scene, in the later scene, and there’s a magic to this entire episode that has a lot to do with the woman behind the camera. And for her, as fun as it was to direct the romantic scenes, and the specific framing of the Severide/Stella moment near the end, there was also something special about the Stella/Sylvie/Violet scene.
“The show is so much about family,” she started her explanation, which – she understands the show, she really does. “I love that scene because it is such seen them be in their element. This firehouse is a family. And having three women not be catty, not be sort of like punching each other down or (interacting) in jealousy, that’s realistic.”
Chicago Fire has, consistently, been the best of the One Chicago shows at showing female friendship, and Lentz clearly exemplifies the thinking that has gotten the show here. “Actually, this idea that women are like catty and horrible to each other is… I don’t have anyone that is like that in my life, to be fully honest. Are people mean and manipulative? Sometimes, yes. But that’s all people. That’s not women. That happens with men. We just decided that it’s cool when men do it.”
And in the end, this scene perfectly exemplifies what makes Chicago Fire work. “It goes back to the family element that the show does so well. These three coworkers are there for each other, in saving lives and going through incredibly rough physical and mental work but are also there for each other’s big highlight moments. Like finding the ring. Like talking about liking a guy.”
Can I just add that they now have a wedding to plan? Can I?
“I think that’s such a sweet juxtaposition, which I think the show does so well, both in the directing of all episodes as well as in the writing of them. And I think it grounds it also so well.”
Family at the center. Balance. Female characters who uplift each other. That’s what Chicago Fire is all about, and that Kantú Lentz understands that so probably contributed to the fact that her episode ended up being one of my favorites of the season.
Sometimes the show can be heavy. It often puts its characters in danger and being a first responder is not easy. But the show remembers that there’s light, and hope and love. “I think life is like that sometimes, (particularly) when you are on a job that is 24/7 really rough things. I think that’s your day-to-day, and you are going to find little pockets of light here and there. It’s not always going to be so heavy. And I think that’s the great thing about Chicago Fire is that it balances all those human elements really well.”
We agree, and we feel incredibly fortunate that this great director, someone who, once upon a time, learned to speak English watching Dick Wolf shows, has now gotten the chance to shape an episode of Chicago Fire. May it not be her last.
Chicago Fire airs Wednesdays on NBC.