Single camera comedy is unlike anything,” explains the always upbeat 2nd AD, Jennifer “Jennie” O’Keefe, who has specialized in the fast-pace world of episodic TV for 13 years. “You’re juggling many locations and many scenes in one day, without always having a finished script.”
O’Keefe is currently steering the behind-the-scenes ship on Happy Endings, a re-teaming with 1st AD Ross Novie from one of her favorite single-camera comedy shows, Arrested Development.
“I’m like the ‘mom’ to the 1st AD’s ‘dad,’” she laughs, describing roles that transcend gender. “They hand me the schedule and say, ‘make this happen.’ One of her craziest days was overseeing three different units [on Arrested Development] that stretched from Marina Del Rey to Chatsworth to a photo shoot at [FOX] Studios in West L.A.
O’Keefe says the art of staging TV comedies has changed since she first came into the industry, in the late ’90s, when the DGA training program told recruits they would need pagers.
“Texting has revolutionized the key 2nd position,” she says. “I had 20 actors to give call times to on The Office every day, and having to call each one would have taken so much time. Texting also supplies written proof that you’ve done exactly what you’ve been asked to throughout the day.”
Sometimes that “day” includes being in the middle of a stand-up routine from Ricky Gervais. In one of his final shows, “Steve Carell runs into Ricky in an elevator,” recalls O’Keefe. “When the elevator gets stuck between floors, Ricky was cracking jokes the whole time. I was tucked into the corner on top of a light box. I thought I was going to ruin the take. I could not stop laughing.”
O’Keefe, a former dancer who teaches yoga in her off time, says calmness at the center of the storm is her best attribute. “Setting backgrounds is the most creatively fulfilling part of a 2nd AD’s job because you are keeping the frame alive for the director,” she says. “One spring break episode [of Arrested Development], shot at Mother’s Beach in Marina Del Rey, had this sweeping crane shot [moving] through a huge crowd of extras watching a performance on-stage. If you watch the episode in slow motion, you can see this swish of red in the frame. That’s me, body slamming extras into position as the crane is coming through.”