9:58 p.m. — Rich Lederer, “Empire”

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It’s ten o’clock at night, and Empire unit production manager / co-producer Rich Lederer is about to wrap a shoot that began roughly thirteen hours ago.

“They started at 7 a.m.,” he says. “But there’s an hour for lunch.”

Production ran all day at a loading dock in the underground streets of Chicago, but to the non-Windy City resident, it will look like New York City on TV.

Lederer speaks from his Cinespace production office as he prepares to visit the set, which is pretty much in the heart of downtown, roughly five miles to the east and north of the studio. He acknowledges that coordinating with the loading dock’s day-to-day operation was a challenge, but considers the result a win-win situation.

“We kind of pushed out the regular business,” he says. “But we’re also bringing commerce and paying them, so I don’t feel that bad.”

Rich Lederer
Rich Lederer

His tone is friendly and matter-of-fact — he didn’t pursue a career in the film industry to get rich, but hard work and smart choices have helped him achieve something of a dream.

A native of suburban Highland Park, Lederer headed to LA after graduating from Boston University in 1987 and “started doing everything possible” to gain a foothold. Like many before and after him, he started at the bottom and took whatever route became available.

“There is no one path to working in the film industry,” he explains. “There’s like 150 different things you can do: gaffer, set photographer, DP.”

His biggest break came with a reduction in pay.

“Right before getting an assistant director gig, I was an electrician,” he recalls. “I was making decent money, then I took a job making much less money to do what I wanted to do.”

With Empire riding a huge wave of popularity into its fourth season, Lederer’s job has gone from being pretty cool to being unbelievably cool. His enthusiasm for the work and the show itself is obvious.

Empire is a hot property,” he explains. “So we’ve got a lot of big names interested in being connected to the show.”

The next season will include a crossover with Star, an up-and-coming music Fox drama set in Atlanta, and a “tribute sort of episode” that honors Prince.

In 1995, shortly after becoming an assistant director, Lederer was accepted into the Directors Guild. It was a goal that he had hoped to achieve ever since he realized what, exactly, First Assistant Directors do for a living.

Then he left LA and relocated to Chicago. At the time, there was “much less opportunity” in the film industry, but he had more important things on his mind.

“I left for a girl,” he says.

The girl is now his wife and the mother of their two children. They’ve been married, happily, for 22 years.

To read more “Day in the Life of Cinespace,” click here.

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