Nowhere in the job description for a 1st AD working in comedy television does it mandate making crewmembers laugh, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Just ask Shawn Shea, whose production career on shows like One Day at a Time, Home Improvement, and The War at Home, among others, has included almost as many yucks behind the camera as when the red light went on.
“I like to make up songs to quiet down the crew,” she deadpans, offering up an example that features War at Home director, Andy Cadiff, in the opening bars. “Oh, Andy, oh, oh, Andy,” she croons. “People stopped socializing and went back to work after hearing that song,” Shea laughs. “I wonder if it’s too late to get a copyright?” Shea’s gifts for corralling comedy crews are most likely genetic: her father, former DGA President Jack Shea, has a directing resume stretching back to The Bob Hope Show, with hit sitcoms along the way that include Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Growing Pains and Designing Women.
Shea is quick to dispel the conventional wisdom that comedy crews have it easy. “There are many days when those of us who have made a living on multi-camera sitcoms know we have the best deal in town,” she acknowledges. “But there are many more days when we have too much show to shove into too few hours and are working our butts off just to get it all done.”
Case in point was the time Shea and her seasoned stage crew left the comfort of their Home Improvement studio set to shoot rafting scenes on the Kern River in the Sierras. “One minute the raft holding the entire audio crew was there,” Shea explains, “and then suddenly, the next minute they capsized and went over. They were not very happy.”
Shea says everyone on the set expects ADs to have “magic heads,” meaning they can answer any question, anytime, anywhere, about anything. “I don’t have a magic head,” she laughs, “and I have the screw-ups to prove it.”
Like the time Jonathan Taylor Thomas’ character on Home Improvement was having a birthday party on the show and the producer instructed Shea not to have child extras that towered over the diminutive young actor.
“Jonathan was exactly 4-foot-8. No problem,” Shea recalls.
So she called central casting for extras and said that under no circumstances should anyone be over 48 inches. “They kept calling me back to say they were having trouble booking that call and would need to go much younger in age, and I just said, ‘Do whatever you have to do,’” she recounts. “When they all came in on the rehearsal day I realized my mistake and just started laughing — 4-foot-8, not 48 inches.”
The last laugh will most likely come from Jack Shea, whose pride in seeing Shawn take to television like a fish to water has been an ongoing delight. “All he wants me to do is direct,” Shea chuckles, “and I say, no really, Dad, it’s fine. I like being an AD.”