CHANGES TO SOAP OPERA PRODUCTIONS PROVE DIVISIVE BUT NECESSARY TO KEEP UP WITH REGULARITY

By Resident Repetitive Television Expert Barbara Scratchings

The world of TV and film production has ground to a virtual standstill – so long as you don’t count the news and cheaply produced daytime magazine shows – because of the real world events of the virus thing, and not many types of programming have been affected more than the soap operas. Most of the UK’s population love to tune in too many times a week to watch their favourite characters fight, argue and commit adultery, as a means of escaping the events of their own lives for half and hour. Longer if they watch more than one of them. But due to the rules of social distancing and so forth, the producers of these shows have put in place new ways of making sure they can still churn out enough footage for the week, while ensuring the cast and crew are kept safely away from each other’s germs. These new methods haven’t gone down very well with a lot of the stars, and there’s even been talk of a walkout. While the actors don’t want to disappoint fans waiting for their next fix, they feel they shouldn’t be working as acting isn’t classed as essential. Calls to just put cartoons on instead have been rejected. I interviewed Sean O’Connor, the Executive Producer of EastEnders, to find out more.

TDJJ: “Mr O’Connor, I don’t really follow the world of soap operas, so can you explain to people like me what the whole controversy is over?”

SO’C: “Well, we want to keep up producing four – I think – episodes of our show per week, but in order to do so, we’ve had to come up with new ways in order to film stuff because everyone is in their house now, and because of the rules involving social distancing etc, it’d be a logistical nightmare if we insisted the self-isolating stars come to the studio to film things. That’s why we’ve told the stars they must film themselves on their own phones and then send us the footage on an email, and we’ll do the rest.”

TDJJ: “That sounds easy enough, though I’m not too sure how it would match your existing locations on the show. Are you going to use CGI or something to sort this out?”

SO’C: “We simply wouldn’t have the budget or time, as much as we’d like to. It would make more sense and won’t confuse the viewers as much, but we felt this is the biggest area where we had to make the most compromises.”

TDJJ: “Have you advised the actors to film themselves in, say, a kitchen for all the kitchen scenes in the show?”

SO’C: “No, it takes them too long to set everything up in different rooms. All they need to do is sit on a stool and look into the camera and say their lines. And also have a sheet of paper taped up behind them with the location details written on, like when they’re supposed to be in the kitchen or pub, things like that. We considered using subtitles, but it takes ages on the computer to sort it out. We just don’t have the time.”

TDJJ: “I know there can be quite a few punch ups and illicit smooching on screen, they’re staples for these kinds of shows, so how are you going to do these bits if actors are unable to be in close proximity?”

SO’C: “In terms of kissing and other such things, we’ve asked the actors to copy what they do on Peep Show, which is just pretend to make out with the bottom corner of the camera. Provided the other actor does the same, it won’t look too weird. There’ll be a lot more guesswork when it comes to violence. All we’re asking everyone is to film themselves throwing punches and falling over in as many ways as possible, to give us options in the editing.”

TDJJ: “Since starting making the show in this way, did you encounter any problems which you didn’t anticipate?”

SO’C: “Yeah, I’d say the main one is real family members getting in on the act. When the actors are saying their lines and acting at their house, it’s seems to be that their children walk into shot and generally balls up the whole thing. We’re already on a very tight schedule, so after a short time we just decided to write them into the story. We don’t even give them any character traits, it doesn’t seem important.”

TDJJ: “So, despite these ongoing issues with the actors, do you feel this is the best way forward during these times?”

SO’C: “Yeah kind of. I mean, the new kids that we have to accommodate are annoying, they don’t do most of the stuff in the script. It’s not as though we’re asking them to recite a ten page soliloquy or anything, just a simple glass bottle to the head and some biting. You’d think any old child could do that, but no. Not when the camera’s running anyway. Maybe should’ve used sock puppets instead as advised.”

Published by The Daily Jabjab

Hi, I'm from Stockport, Greater Manchester England. My plan on my blog is to hone my creative writing and write a post every day this year. It sounds daunting, and I'm sure things will evolve over time. Let me know what you think about my writing - any tips, useful websites and things like that would be quite lovely. Thanks for reading!

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