Jack Shea, a versatile television director who has helmed hundreds of episodes of sitcoms and drama series, was elected president of the Directors Guild of America Saturday.
Shea was chosen by acclamation at the guild’s biennial national convention, where he said he would try to make inroads in protecting creative rights and to increase the presence of women and minority filmmakers in the DGA and in the work force.
Shea takes the post after 36 years in various guild posts, including three terms as vice president. He succeeds Gene Reynolds, who chose not to run for another term.
A new slate
A new slate of officers and board members were elected to two-year terms. They include Ed Sherin as national vice president; Gilbert Cates, a former DGA president, as secretary-treasurer; and John Frankenheimer as third vice president.
Re-elected as officers were Marilyn Jacobs-Furey as assistant secretary-treasurer; Martha Coolidge as first vice president; Max A. Schindler as second vice president; and Robert Butler as fifth vice president. Fourth VP Larry Auerbach and sixth VP Nancy Littlefield also were re-elected, but they have swapped titles from the previous term.
Coolidge, who had considered running for president but decided not to because of professional and personal commitments, nominated Shea.
Contract expires 1999
The DGA’s new contract with studios doesn’t expire until 1999. But Shea and the new board will keep abreast of creative rights issues when the Writers Guild of America negotiates a new contract, which expires next May.
The WGA in its 1995 negotiations butted heads with helmers as they tried to make new inroads on limiting the use of the possessory credit, the “A film by … ” titles given to directors, as well as a so-called “viewing period” where they can comment on a director’s cut of a film.
“We seem to have difficulty getting together on common ground,” Shea said. “We do in a lot of other ways … but we get down to some nitty-gritty issues and don’t make much headway.”
‘Auteur theory’ discussed
The issues were highlighted at a recent Writers Guild Foundation conference, an event held in part to increase the profile of scribes in the industry. Many discussions were over the “auteur theory” and whether a pic is the director’s vision.
“I believe very strongly that a writer’s position in a film is a very important one,” Frankenheimer said. “I think anyone who has tried to make a movie with a weak script will support that. However, the final creative controls, in our opinion, have to rest with the director, and that is our bone of contention and that is what we have to fight for.”
Said Coolidge: “With rushed prep and rushed post it is becoming more and more difficult to do your job as a director. The last thing we need are more problems in just being able to finish your work.”
Frankenheimer and Coolidge chair the DGA’s creative rights committee, which meets on a regular basis with producers.
“We just think that there have been too many irresponsible remarks in the press about rights and the importance of this person and that person,” Frankenheimer said. “We would kind of like to get it straightened out.”
Shea also is seeking to improve hiring of women and minorities.
“There has been a slow growth, but the growth has been slower than what we want,” he said. “We are going to try and do as much as we can. What we are really trying to do is educate the people who are hiring.”
He also plans to expand the DGA’s speakers programs at colleges and universities, and its presence at film festivals, among other efforts.
Career of diversity
Shea, the 21st president of the guild, has a career marked by a diversity of television work, from Jerry Lewis, Glen Campbell and Bob Hope variety shows to sitcoms such as “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons” and “Goode Behavior” and dramas like “Hawaii 5-0” and “The Waltons.” And he also has a handful of longforms and features, such as “Dayton’s Devils” and “The Monitors,” to his credit. He was nominated for Emmys for directing an episode of “Designing Women” and, earlier, for helming one of many Hope overseas Christmas specials.
Shea’s first big directing break came at age 27, when he was asked to fill in for an ailing director of “Truth or Consequences.” At the time, he already had carved out a career as a stage manager and associate director. And it was during the 1950s that he became active in guild activities, having helped organize the Radio Television Directors Guild. He served as the president of its Hollywood local when the RTDG merged with the Screen Directors Guild in 1960. Shea found himself planning the merger with then-feature guild president Frank Capra.
It was one of the many early brushes that Shea has had with fellow guild luminaries and colleagues. He and Frankenheimer both were motion picture officers during the Korean War. And as a stage manager in New York, Shea worked on such shows as “Philco Playhouse,” directed by another DGA president, Delbert Mann, who advised him to run for the post.
Shea’s wife, Patt, is a screenwriter. They have five children, three of whom are DGA members.
Shea leaves for a vacation in Ireland this week. But he will feel at home in his office: Reynolds left a blarney poster waiting for him on the wall.
Elected as board members were Yudi Bennett, Burt Bluestein, Anita Cooper-Avrick, Cheryl Downey, Victoria Hochberg, Jeremy Kagan, Arthur Penn, Donald Petrie, John Rich, Jane Schimel and Elliot Silverstein.
Elected as associate board members were Milt Felsen, Cleve Landsberg, Candy Martinez, Sean Mulcahy and Liz Ryan.
Alternate board members are Bob Balaban, Paris Barclay, Bob Braverman, Andy Costikyan, Nancy Malone, Paul Mazursky, Daniel Petrie and Chuck Workman. Terry Benson, Alex Hapsas, Bob Jeffords and Barbara Roche were elected as second alternate board members.