Soap Opera Refresher
The award for the longest-running TV drama genre undoubtedly goes to soap operas, also known as "daytime dramas." While these shows may not boast the same high production values as other serialized productions, they have nonetheless captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences for decades with their emotional storytelling and sensational plot twists presented on an ongoing, daily basis.
Longevity of Soap Operas
Soap operas have come a long way since their early days as radio programs targeted at homemakers in the 1930s. These shows have expanded to include televised formats that continue to reign supreme today. Much of its popularity can be accredited to relatable storylines that reflect the experiences and lives of their audience. So it's unsurprising to see how and why they've stayed relevant throughout decades and have even inspired similar content in other countries outside the U.S.
The popularity of Soap Operas and Telenovelas
In the same spectrum of televised daytime dramas emerged a similar genre in the late 50s in Latin America - telenovelas. Much like its American counterpart, they often involve sensational plotlines, dramatic twists, and love triangles, but with a clear resolution to the story.
While soap operas tend to have ongoing storylines, telenovelas have a defining beginning, middle, and end - making them less demanding in terms of shooting, as episodes air once or twice a week.
Despite their differences, both soap operas and telenovelas belong to a unique realm of serialized storytelling that presents its own set of production challenges. This differing approach to storytelling is the main factor that sets them apart from regular TV series.
How the production of soap operas differ from that of regular TV series
The dynamic nature of producing a long-running daytime drama, such as a soap opera, is no easy feat. Unlike regular television series that typically have seasonal breaks, a clear storyline, and a predetermined number of episodes or seasons, soap operas are a daily affair. And this presents unique challenges across various areas of production, including:
- Script development
Soap operas are not typically known for having great on-screen production value. Instead, they tend to operate on a much smaller scale than regular TV series, which can impact how funds are distributed throughout production, affecting areas such as:
- Costumes and props
- The number of cast members and hired extras
- Special effects (SFX) and visual effects (VFX)
Budgeting constraints on soap operas can often lead to production resources getting recycled, and hence, their sets, costumes, props, etc., inventories can remain unchanged for years. However, an upside to this is how it can encourage creative teams to take a more inventive approach to storytelling. Writers can develop plotlines that are manageable to pull off with a limited budget in mind, all the while establishing a believable world for audiences.
Developing the script
Script development is a critical aspect of soap opera production and the point at which the genre diverges from traditional TV series. Due to the ongoing nature and sheer volume of episodes, multiple storylines, and character developments all occurring simultaneously, soap operas tend to have a much larger writing team than traditional TV shows - often 40+ writers!
Simply put, soap opera productions will establish a general storyline whereby individual writers or smaller groups of writers get tasked with elaborating on specific plot details and preparing a script for each episode. But as the success of soap operas relies heavily on twists and turns to keep audiences engaged every day, the writing team has the tremendous responsibility of continuously brainstorming and developing ideas for future storylines.
With such a fast-paced production schedule, writers must work quickly and efficiently, often juggling multiple scripts simultaneously. Their primary challenge is to adhere to stringent writing guidelines and meet the standards required to ensure that scripts get approved by production for subsequent shooting to commence. Moreover, they must be aware of obstacles such as determining the number of scenes allotted for each episode, working with a limited number of characters and distributing them evenly across episodes. They also need to consider on-set limitations, such as studios that enable multi-unit shootings or the availability of outdoor sets. Above all else, they must be mindful of budgeting constraints and remain creative in developing storylines that can be executed with limited resources/recycled resources while still maintaining believability.
The daily need to keep audiences engaged means that soap opera scripts are heavily character-driven, focusing on emotional storytelling that resonates with viewers. And writers must cover all facets of writing while fulfilling the expectations of financing partners and the audience regarding the storyline's mood, ensuring it is not too dark or brooding.
Finding the right talents
With the script finalized, it will be up to the production team and actors to bring a compelling story to life on the screen. However, a challenging aspect of casting actors for soap operas is to find those who can commit to production long-term and give the story the desired impact.
Soap operas are well-known for their complex storylines and large cast of characters, which poses a unique challenge for actors. Unlike TV series, where actors often play a single character, soap actors can play multiple characters and must transition between them in different plotlines/settings - requiring them to convincingly portray a broad range of emotions at any given moment.
An actor's commitment to soap operas can be akin to theater productions. Most often, they will be required to commit for at least one year or multiple seasons. Therefore, finding the right talent is crucial to ensure consistency in the show's storytelling and character continuity.
Producing a soap opera is a challenging and ambitious process, with one of the most demanding aspects being the rigorous shooting schedule. While unexpected events are bound to happen in any production, soap operas must remain vigilant, especially since they operate daily.
Typically, soap productions run for a week, consisting of five working days and multiple units, and each day is dedicated to shooting a single episode. This rigorous schedule results in just 20-40 minutes per scene, compared to a few hours or days for regular productions. So a minor delay of 5 minutes can significantly impact the ongoing shooting day.
Despite these unique challenges, soap operas face similar obstacles as other productions, such as actors calling in sick in the morning, extras arriving late on set, etc. All crew members and creative departments must stay ready to finalize details in time for the shooting day and be prepared for last-minute changes to the script or replacing actors, which are imminent factors in soap opera production.
Soap operas and TV series are commonly produced in a studio or on location. However, the challenge for soap directors and cinematographers is to quickly establish the look and feel of each scene while working within a tight filming schedule.
On shooting days, directors will often come prepared and accept the floor plans and props suggested by the crew. The focus for each day is to deliver the story through the actors while using multiple cameras to capture shots from various angles to offer editing flexibility in post-production.
The challenges of working on a soap opera require a unique set of skills to navigate this specialized area of content making. While they possess the same steps and utilize similar resources as other TV productions, their dynamic nature calls for a distinct approach to storytelling.
And while there is certainly no shortage of tools and software available to streamline the production process, few can match the capabilities of Yamdu. In particular, the system's integrated features can handle multiple aspects of filmmaking - from films to commercials and serialized content - including soap operas. If you have any inquiries or would like to learn more about Yamdu's platform, please do not hesitate to reach out or contact us.