Jeanne Caliendo is a born and bred Chicagoan who graduated from Columbia College with a degree in film. By her own admission, she has had “one fulltime job my entire life.”
“I worked at Studio Lighting, which was absorbed by Essanay,” she explains. “I did a little bit of everything, until I found my niche as an Assistant Director.”
Her very first 1st-AD job was a pilot for Dick Wolf called the Human Factor.
“When it got picked up,” she explains, “they offered me the position.”
These days, Caliendo is the Unit Production Manager for another one of Wolf’s latest hit shows, Chicago Med.
From her office on the second floor of a building across from the main entrance Cinespace Chicago Studios, she works behind the scenes to coordinate much of the action and review the props, prosthetics, makeup and special effects featured in every episode.
Although Caliendo resides in Arizona, she relocates to the Windy City during production every year. This year, she’s got a town house in Little Italy.
“My husband and my dogs will stay until the weather is bad, which is right around Thanksgiving,” she explains. “Who wants to be here January, February, and March?”
The answer is obvious: people who love the city and have a passion for their work learn how to ignore the cold. Caliendo is among them.
“It’s like shooting in Rome,” she says. “No matter which way you point the camera, it’s Chicago, and it’s great.”
How did you get into the business? I went to Columbia College to study film production. I got my first job in the business working at Studio Lighting, (now Essanay), and then worked in various on-set positions until I realized my path was in the DGA.
What obstacles have you faced specifically because of your gender? I didn’t really encounter any obstacles until I became a First AD. It was a time when it was harder for a woman to be hired in that position.
Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are a woman? I wouldn’t say there’s just one thing in particular, but having the opportunity to work with other women has always been a pleasure.
Work you are most proud of? It’s impossible to choose just one, but I am, in fact, very proud of my work on Chicago Med. Working first as a Unit Production Manager and then also as a Co-Producer, I’ve seen the show grow from its first episode into what it is today.
How do you describe the most significant #metoo moment of your life? I have been lucky enough to not have personally had a particular #metoo moment myself, but as someone in a position of influence in the television industry, it’s important to me to be an advocate for those who do.
How have professional attitudes towards women evolved during your career? Overall, I’d say that things have greatly improved. Women have a unique professional perspective that is now being recognized as the valuable asset that it is. We’re on the horizon of real change.
Trapped on an island what essentials must you have? Do pets count? Because if so, I’d bring my cockatoo, Louie. I think he’d do well on an island. I’d also bring my fitbit — no better place to get those steps in.
If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? I’d tell myself to be confident in my decisions as I was making them. Own what you want when you’re at a fork in the road.
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