Union Notables

Ilene S. Landress    class of 1983

Producer Judd Apatow (L) and Producer Ilene Landress arrive to the screening of "Girls" during the 2012 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Paramount Theater on March 12, 2012 in Austin Texas (March 11, 2012 - Source: Michael Buckner/Getty Images North America)

Ilene S. Landress reflects on the irony of what she does for a living by stating that “….my whole life my mother said, ‘Get off the phone and stop watching TV!’ Guess what? Now they pay me to talk on the phone and watch TV.” She has managed to convert the typical parental complaint about teenage behavior into a successful career producing movies and TV series, such as HBO’s highly acclaimed The Sopranos. Landress entered Union in 1979 with the goal of becoming a physician and made all the right moves to do so. She majored in biology and psychology, became the first female president of Union’s student body, won the Bailey Cup in 1983, obtained a master’s degree in nutrition from Columbia University and was accepted to Albany Medical College. And then, a funny thing happened: she chose a career in the movies instead of attending medical school!

With an inherent interest in show business, despite not even taking a film course at Union, she chose to defer her medical school admission for one year to pursue her dream of a career in the entertainment business. Serendipity and Ilene’s initiative soon landed her an opportunity when she volunteered to work for free for a company that she saw filming on the street. Within a few days, she was hired as a production assistant to watch parking spots and run errands for the film Crocodile Dundee.

In the mid 90s, she was a producer for DreamWorks Television for ABC, working on Dear Diary, which won an Academy Award as a short film, and the TV show Spin City. Her other film credits include: Co-Producer, Drunks (Showtime), Production Supervisor/UPM, The Perez Family (Goldwyn), Naked in New York (Fine Line), Up Close & Personal (Disney), while her Production Accountant credits include: Robert Redford's Quiz Show, Sidney Lumet's A Stranger Among Us and Q&A and Ron Howard's Far and Away. Additional production credits include work on many studio films including Universal's Sea of Love, The Hard Way, Tri-Star/Columbia's Mortal Thoughts, The Freshman, and Family Business.

Her big break came in 1997 when filmmaker David Chase hired her as a producer on a new series that was passed on by major networks but picked up by HBO: The Sopranos. The rest is history: The Sopranos ran on HBO for 86 episodes from 1999 to 2007, becoming, arguably, the most successful series (financially and critically) on a cable TV network. During the run, Ilene shared two production Emmys for “Outstanding Drama Series” (the show was nominated five other times), a Golden Globe and two Producers Guild Awards. She even got to fulfill her earlier goal to become a physician—or, at least to play one on TV—with a cameo role as Dr. Lynn Laurens in a 2001 episode of The Sopranos. She has continued her work with HBO as co-executive producer on the mini series Mildred Pierce in 2010-2011, for which she received another Emmy nomination, and, most recently, as co-executive producer on five episodes of Girls in 2012. She has been named executive producer for the second season of this series.

Her distinguished undergraduate career at Union also included the Alan Lake Chidsey Citizenship Award, which underscored her commitment to the Union community, a commitment she has carried on since graduation as a participant in a number of career panels at the college.