Art, after all, is artifice. It is not "real," although art may depict, or represent, or interpret reality. And in doing so, any art form can choose the course of verisimilitude, that is, the imitation of reality; or it can choose the course of stylization. If verisimilitude is the course taken, artifice must be disguised. . . .Television serial drama, like Hollywood Cinema, tends toward verisimilitude rather than stylization. Popular audiences, after all, prefer the familiar, and in modern society, mundane reality is familiar. But
verisimilitude requires that the art always keep its guard up, so that its techniques of artifice never obtrude into the viewer's consciousness. (Schroeder 1979:415)
This chapter focuses on the activities of the audio, video, and music personnel and the conventions, or ways to structure the cultural products they employ. I also discuss recently introduced script writing conventions which are part of the new look of Guiding Light. Conventions not only contribute to the nature of the potential experience, but they also help make the production process routine by facilitating the coordination of activities. My emphasis here is not on the human relationships between the people behind the cameras or those who work the booms, but on the uses and nature of the conventions themselves.
The effectiveness and meaningfulness of conventions depend upon the participation of the audience. Ideally, the activities of the program makers as they are mediated through the taped performance are appropriately interpreted by the audience, a process whereby what is implied by the program maker corresponds to what a viewer infers. Changing conventions alter the fit, so the changes I discuss were
introduced very carefully. From the viewpoint of the program makers, the audience's experience with prime-time television and film, particularly the extensive experience of younger viewers with television, meant that the audience was more sophisticated. This was an important justification for many of the changes.
Technical developments affected the conventions. The development of good quality videotape made the adoption of the hour format feasible, but the decision to adopt that format was largely made for economic reasons. It is cheaper to lengthen a 30-minute program into a 60-minute program than it is to introduce a new 30-minute program. The starting ups costs are considerable; it takes several months at a minimum to build an audience; and it is difficult to compete with an already established soap. The hour-length format is also an expanded environment into which commercials can be placed, although Procter and Gamble initially fought hour-long programming. At one time an effort was even made to extend another 60-minute soap program into a 90-minute program, but the experiment was unsuccessful. The increased budgets for programming, the improved technological capabilities, and their impact on the forms of expression and potential experience made available are derived from economic considerations--the adoption of the hour format and the increased competition for a different and larger audience and potential market.
The nature and structuring of the scripts/episodes is intimately related to the employment of the visual, audio, and musical conventions. As part of the new look to the show, the pace of the show was increased so that the show would move faster or seem to move faster. Scripts were lengthened by the writer so that performers were forced to speed up their deliveries to get the entire performance on tape within the prescribed limits of 41 minutes. The episodes are divided into several acts with a few scenes in each act. There are typically 22 to 24 scenes in seven acts, so the many changes of scene can contribute to a sense of movement and increased pace. Shifting scenes ideally decreased the likelihood of viewer boredom.
Another change involved varying
ways of informing the audience about past story. One conventional
criticism of soaps is their tendency to repeat material in the
form of recap, or recapitulation. The headwaiter made use of a
number of techniques as a way of summarizing story--through flashbacks,
character's fantasies, layered conversations, telephone conversations,
and overheard secrets. One convention that still remained, however,
was the use of characters' names each time they entered a situation
or began a
conversation. Characters who obviously know each other well continually use first names as if they were strangers.
One of the innovations introduced by the headwriter was to have individual episodes entail action occurring over more than one day. Activities purportedly occurring in one day typically stretch over a number of episodes, but it is not conventional to tell a story involving more than one day on a single episode.
M : You try to have the script conform to real time, all the things happening in one script happening in one day.
Producer: Doug is the first writer I have worked with--he'll often have somebody late at night at two-thirty in the morning after Wired for Sound or whatever, at the end of an act and in the following act pick up at eight-thirty in the morning. I've never done that in daytime before. Used to be a day at a time. You could have two, three, or four or five scripts dealing with one night, but to go from one day into the next day in the body of one script, I've never done that before. You have to throw in some late night scenes so when you go to a commercial and come back in it's hours later. We're getting away with that on this show.
Again, the aim was to create an impression of faster movement in the story. Also, scenes were begun in such a way that the action was already in progress. Two people are in the middle of a conversation, for example, and the viewer/ listener enters an on-going situation, some of which hypothetically is missed, but which the viewer ideally eagerly participates in to catch what is happening. All of these changes are designed to create more movement and action.
The question of pace in soap opera also may be related to the pace of commercials. I suspect that, given the extraordinary cost and care put into commercial manufacture and the intentions behind their realization, they might also have a major impact on technical quality, production values, and conventions of programming itself. Given the competitive process, programs have to compete with commercials. Anecdotal evidence for this is the familiar comment that at times the commercials are better than a particular program.
The development of videotape is a major technological development that affected the program, particularly in conjunction with computerized editing. At Guiding Light each scene is taped as if it were a live performance, unless there are highly complex moves involved, in which case it is shot movie-style. An example from Guiding Light was a scene in which Kelly swings down from the rafters of a barn to confront Duke, who has raped his love, Morgan. The scene made use of an elaborate studio set to represent a barn and a double for Kelly. There was much more movement than is characteristic of soap scenes. Such scenes are pieced together in the editing process. For most scenes, however, the selection and sequence of shots are determined by the director in the taping process itself.
The half-hour program, Edge of Night, generally tapes episode scenes in sequence, leaving time and space for the insertion of commercials. At times, scenes will be shot before (pretaped) or after the day (posttaped) on which the bulk of the scenes for an episode are shot. Half-hour programs, before the development of adequate quality tape, were performed in such a manner. The move to one-hour programming, the logistical and financial costs involved, the demands on performers, and the development of more sophisticated editing equipment have contributed to the use of filmstyle shooting in which scenes are taped out of sequence. But scenes are performed continuously, as if live.
The current technology of soap production has affected the work process in a number of ways. One technical director commented:
Prior to having tapes, you wouldn't consider doing these shows any other way than live. There was the tape itself as a good reproduction that got the shows thinking of going to tape and not going on the air live. That would be the first major breakthrough. Since that has happened, I would say the entire television picture has changed.
Computerized editing on one-inch tape has also contributed to the way in which one-hour programs tend to be shot. Before computerized editing, the editing process was much more difficult and time consuming.
An earlier system was still used at Edge of Night, except for scenes involving complex activity, when a computerized system was rented. The program relied more on the
technical director to create effects through a control panel (switcher). Editing also was more time consuming because sections of the performance had to be literally marked on the tape with audio beeps and physically marked with a line in the editing process. Locating a specific portion of the performance and coordinating and integrating it with other portions of the performance was a time-consuming and difficult job. With the earlier system, 'edit points were important and reflected the greater dependence on the actual taping process. The video editor at Edge of Night described its operation.
M.I.: An edit point is where they change cameras?
Editor: Definitely on a camera cut and hopefully there will be no audio. There is what we call a "small hole." There is silence before a word and they edit right there. You can't really edit on the same camera shot. It is very difficult. If you have a whole scene on one camera you couldn't edit where an actor "went up" [forgot lines]. Music is a problem too. They go from scene A to scene B. and the actor in scene B "goes up;" they have to at least go back before the line where there is no music in scene A.
At Guiding Light the computerized system allowed for greater ease in locating and editing in material at specific points. The performances are coded, there are 45 frames identified per second, and the computer locates a specific frame at the editor's command. Similarly, audio and music tracks are separate and can be manipulated during the editing process. One technical director noted the impact of computerized editing.
The editing technology having changed through the computer operated editing and the one-inch tape has made everybody basically thing of shooting out of sequence. When it was the old type of editing, I would say the shows stayed live for a longer amount of time until they moved into computer editing. They would spend too much money and too much time on editing until the equipment became more sophisticated. The end result was not technically good--you would have problems. There
was an overlap from the time videotape came into being and the shows at the half-hour level--there were no hour shows--until they decided to go fully onto tape with an editing process. One of the reasons the half-hour shows taped from start to finish was to avoid editing because of the technology of editing at that time. They would do a minimal amount of editing--it was not easy to edit with any degree of sophistication.
You can do virtually anything you want to do. You can remove the audio, change it, put it forward, put it backwards, put in new audio, all with relative safety--you can have one track with audio, one with music, it can be multitracked.
One social consequence of the computerized system is that directors or others in the control room will say, "They can fix it in the edit" when a scene has not gone ideally but they do not want to retape the scene. While editors then have more work, they also have a greater influence on the finished product, given the increased technical capability and greater reliance on the editing process.
The use of videotape and the improved editing technology have also contributed to the increased location shooting. Footage can be shot relatively cheaply and integrated into episodes primarily shot in the studio. For example, an important location shot made use of a Jamaican setting (although there was little to distinguish the setting from other tropical, romantic settings), primarily for beach and patio scenes. These scenes were interspersed with other scenes shot in the studio, occasionally in conjunction with scenes that, while shot in the studio, were identified as occurring in Jamaica. One limitation of videotape is its poor quality for night scenes. This contributes to the interior, well-lighted look of soaps.
These technological developments have, however, ultimately been fit into the commercial context, and while introducing new possibilities, have also been limited. For example, location shoots have been used to depict romantic settings and/or action-adventure settings on Guiding Light. The shootings fit the style of the show and have been used consciously that way.
Even with the use of tape, the picture quality still retains the quality of live television. Several performers remarked that some audience members think the show is "madeup" or improvised, it seems so real. Hoggart captures this quality of many television performances:
Television has a peculiar "immediacy" and "fluidity"; it strongly suggests that "it's all happening," gives a sense of "thereness," "thinness" and "newness," and it tends to break down existing categories. It resists stage acting and even cinema acting, breaks through the picture frame or mental proscenium arch, and merges the spectator with the picture, on its sidelines if not at the centre. On television everything tends to become an instant report from the front-lines. Or television can make a funeral in a back garden seem heavy with the meaning of life. It heightens even the most "ordinary" ordinariness of life and seems to give it dramatic significance. Because of its sense of actuality, of its Brechtian breaking of distance, we are all sidewalk spectators of the drama of life when we watch television. (1970:170-71)
The fact that, even with the use of tape and more complex editing, the programs retained the quality of being live is important for the nature of the performances. Similarly, the visual conventions employed also contribute to the realism and presentness of the performances.
Though we readily see the importance of cinematic codes in film (camera angles, lighting, setting, camera movement, editing . . . ) we neglect to notice the effects of formulate camera moves in soap opera and in doing so we
succumb to the "realist illusion": the idea that the camera simply records reality. We assume that the soap opera is a utilitarian tool, not an expressive one, and so we see this kind of cinematography as dull, routine, obvious--of no import. And that is what the makers of soap operas count on. The very obviousness of the cinematic codes of soap opera keeps people from thinking about them and thus makes them effective in doing their job: to shape and direct the audience's point of view. (Timburg in press)
For the camerapersons, shooting soaps becomes an extremely routine matter. The limited and repetitive nature of the way soaps are conventionally shot meant that many cameraper-
sons paid little attention to the director's blocking of a scene and needed little direction. At both Edge of Night and Guiding Light the associate director would prepare camerapersons for the next shot, which would then be taken by the director. The practice at ABC's All My Children was different. A shot-sheet was given to each cameraperson which listed the shots and framing. The shots/takes in a scene are numbered sequentially, and the cameraperson would know where his shots and their composition fit into the sequence. In addition, they communicate with the technical director, not the associate director.
Professionalism for camerapersons consisted of carrying out routine activities well. Rules for good camerawork included:
1. Composing a shot appropriately,
such that there are "no lamps sticking out of the tops of
people's heads," and objects in the background do not interfere
with the emotional focus of the shot.
2. Keeping the boom or its shadow, if there was one, from showing in a shot.
3. Keeping a focus on where there is a key light.
4. Maintaining a focus on the eyes, even if the nose is out of focus.
5. Knowing which side a performer looks better on.
6. Being able to anticipate the next shot, for example, a fast rise. A camera rise is slow, but performers may rise too rapidly and potentially move out of the frame. The good cameraperson can anticipate such moves.
7. Showing the furniture and set to its best advantage.
8. Using furniture to create depth in a set. This is done by using a piece of furniture in the foreground.
The types of shots employed are limited. On soaps there is a virtual absence of some shots, for example extreme long shots, and a greater reliance on others. This is partly a function of the size of the sets--their depth, width, and height--camera capabilities, and time. However, the shots can also be related to the social significance of distance. Gaye Tuchman (1973), discussing camera conventions in television news, relates news/film (tape) conventions to the social or cultural significance of distance. She labels four major categories, using a framework developed by Edward Hall.
Significance varies on a continuum, so one can distinguish between close personal distance and far personal distance and, similarly, between close and far social distance. The following drawings (Figure 7-1) are labeled
with terms that Tuchman uses (reflecting their social significance) and also with conventional television production terms. In television news film there is a reliance on far personal, close social, and far social distance. On the one hand, news avoids extreme close-ups and close-ups that are associated with intimacy. News film is supposed to be objective (read "distanced") and close-ups imply subjective involvement with what is in the frame. On the other hand, television news tends to avoid shots that fit the public distance category because such shots are seen as too impersonal and television likes to personalize the news.
Public space Beyond 13 feet
Social distance 4 to 12 feet away
Personal distance 1-1/2 to 4 feet away;
Intimate distance 0 to 18 inches away
Soaps emphasize a limited range of shots. They avoid public distance or long shots, as does the news, but make much greater use of intimate and personal distance or, put differently, shots of the shoulders, head, and extreme close-ups. One characteristic readily associated with soaps is the use of close-ups. They contribute to the identification of a program as a soap.
The emotional intensity of soaps and their personal or individual focus are relatable to camera conventions and the social significance of distance. Some of the reliance is attributable to the size of the sets and budget (time), but even in location footage there is a reliance on the same types of shots. Budget factors conspire to keep out elements that do not fit the symbolic world of soaps. Even outdoors, for example, we rarely see crowds or get a sense of impersonal forces that dwarf the individual.
The headwaiter of Edge of Night spoke directly to the issue of the absence of "strangers." They used strangers in episodes in which Mike Carr, a detective/lawyer, was outdoors, walking blindly with a cane.
We didn't pay the strangers anything. We made sure nobody was identifiable. With crowds you run into money problems. You can't use anybody in your drama without letting them know they're on the air. Strangers are really extras and are extraneous.
One soap that I observed did employ crowds of strangers. Search For Tomorrow filmed chase scenes on the streets of Hong Kong. Apparently the same restrictions do not apply in an alien society since they will not see the program. A combination of factors works to keep the focus personal and limited.
The patterning of shots tends to reflect the change in social distance for dramatic effect. Opening shots in a scene are often from a greater distance than those closing a scene. An establishing shot will provide a context of significance for the scene and then the camera typically moves closer. The use of the zoom lens to tighten in" or "squeeze in" is quite common. Generally, once a camera is positioned it seems rarely to be repositioned. A partial explanation for this practice is that it is risky to move the camera and chance creating noise or confusion. Another is that it can be confusing to the viewer to have the perspective changed, particularly since the camera will partially reflect the point of view of one of the participants in the scene. The general pattern for many scenes is a gradual tightening or concentration of focus, a decreasing distance, and an intensification of emotional involvement and identification. Many scenes end on a close-up or extreme close-up. When directors wish to emphasize the isolation or loneliness of a character, they will visually pull back from a scene.
The use of studio cameras and their relatively permanent positioning has also to do with the need to avoid rapid movements, both on the part of the actors and cameras because there is such a reliance on close-ups. The tighter the shot, the greater the magnification of any movement. Use of a hand-held camera would be disturbing given the conventional style of shooting, although portable cameras are used for scenes that require unique camera positions or more than the usual two or three cameras. Occasionally, hand-held cameras are used to present the point of view of someone who is being chased and/or in some form of danger.
Cameras tend to remain fixed and to follow the movement of performers from that position. The cameraperson is much like a gunner, tracking a target until it is properly framed. In the case of head-on shots, the figure's nose is
framed in the exact center of the picture. When someone is moving across a set, the camera frames that person to one side of the screen, leaving the other side empty. As one cameraperson put it, You let them move into or look into a space and follow them into that space."
The hand-held camera and "steady cam" are used a great deal, however, for location shooting.
The hand-held camera is used a lot outside. They are shooting with hand-held almost exclusively when they go on location. There is a steady cam device which allows a man to man a camera on his person and move around and keep the camera movement down to an absolute minimum. There are also a lot of mounts --if you want a 14-foot high shot, you need a 14-foot ladder, put the camera on the ladder with a clamp, put the camera on it, shoot your sequence, and take the camera off--it doesn't take any major dismantling. And that, of course, is time. You can put it on a very lightweight tripod. So the flexibility gives you anything from studio mode of operation to actual hand-held usage--you can go into airplanes with it, put it in cars.
Camera placement in soaps also reflects a pattern. They are placed in the rooms or sets where action occurs and also partially reflect the point of view of participants in a scene. For example, when a person enters a room, he is captured by a camera placed to the rear of a person already in the room. If that person is at a desk in an office, the camera is positioned low on its pedestal relative to the height of the person entering. If both the participants in a scene are seated, both cameras would be low on their pedestals.
The camera tends to be in a position that corresponds to the height of a person. There are no shots from a boom or from a place high over a set. Similarly there are few shots from extremely low positions. On one occasion (at Edge of Night) a camera was taken off its pedestal and placed on a sled (a wood platform with small wheels) so that the platform was only a few inches above floor level. The camera on the sled framed two seated people in such a way that an expanse of floor did not appear in front of them and a large window appeared behind the performers--the scene takes place in a dance studio.
The height of the sets does place limits, but, again, shots from extremely low or high positions would break the
frame of soaps. Because of the realism and psychological focus in soaps, they shy away from an emphasis on physical stature. For example, The Hulk, a show about a doctor unable to stop his transformation into a green muscle man when he becomes angry, is often shot from extremely low angles. In this way his physical stature is emphasized or exaggerated. Conversely, shots looking down tend to diminish the stature of individuals. There is a general avoidance of these camera conventions in soaps I have observed. Again, this has implications for the surface realism of soaps. The physical exaggeration of human dimensions would change or threaten to change the "key" used to interpret the action, perhaps into something more readily identified as fantasy or fiction.
There is also a reliance on a fixed plane and an avoidance of "vision in motion," which would occur if the camera were to keep changing its position. The use of hand-held cameras would produce just that, as would the use of dollying or trucking. For example, conventionally, when someone moves, the camera follows that person and "pans' with him. A technical director who had extensive experience in television, including experience doing early live television drama, commented on the limited uses of the cameras.
The soap writers, up until this point, have not written for camera movement, and the directors tend not to use camera movement as it would be used on location or in the making of film. Even against the days when we had live dramatic shows, we had very fluid camera movement--because the cameras had four lenses on them and the cameramen being able to pick any of the lenses. We had tremendous amounts of fluid camera movement in the, for instance, Studio One dramatic series, Ford Theatre. The concept was different
in that nighttime format. They have yet to get involved with that in the studio.
It is time consuming to rehearse movement. In our framework they try to get so much done in a relatively short time that they do tend to oversimplify camerawise. Also, the fact that the studio camera is only equipped with a zoom lens makes it very difficult to move the entire camera unit and zoom at the same time. The lens is designed to be used from a steady position and use
the optics of the lens to actually pull the scene
in and out, from close-up to wide shot. It is an awkward camera to use when you start dollying--it is not designed for that. You may arc a little right or left, but none of the sweeping movements we used to do with the straight lens. There is a definite restriction on the camera movement using this optical equipment.
Through the rehearsal process and final taping, there are a number of monitors in the studio and in production offices. In the control room there is a monitor for each camera's picture, as well as a monitor for the image taped (on line). Throughout the process there is continual feedback, which aids the process of generating the appropriate images.
In film, image sequences would normally be related to editing events. In television soap opera production, editing can occur at a number of different points. Zettl's Television Production Handbook distinguishes four senses of the term editing:
1. Emphasizing the important and de-emphasizing the unimportant.
2. In film and videotape: cutting out unwanted portions and gluing the desired pieces together into a continuous show.
3. In live television: selecting from the preview monitors the picture that is to go on the air.
4. [electronic editing] Inserting or assembling of program portions on videotape through electronic means whereby the tape does not have to be physically cut. (1968:508)
The degree to which "pick up edits" (repeating a performance after a stop has been called) or "inserts" (the taping of limited segments that are inserted into the larger more acceptable sequence) are used depends greatly on the technical capability of the editing equipment. At Guiding Light, inserts were used more frequently. But the overall editing process basically entails assembling the show, shortening the final take in a scene, or doing an insert.
Shortening final takes is particularly important since the pace of soaps has changed greatly over the last four or five years. This is reflected by the use of fewer lingering close-ups or extreme close-ups at the end of scenes. Often the dramatic significance of scenes was emphasized by
lengthy shots of reactions to dramatic news. Actors often spoke of being left with egg on their face in such scenes. In general, final takes were one area where the tape was manipulated to fit the program to its proper length and to avoid the exaggerated lengthy final shot.
A recently made stylistic change at Guiding Light was the use of cuts at the end of scenes as opposed to the traditional use of dissolves. The gradual fading or dissolving of the final image has been replaced by a (rapid) cut in order to increase the pace of the show and make it move faster dramatically. One problem with rapid cuts is that they can be disorienting.
At times, the cut comes so rapidly you don't know effectively that a change of scene has taken place.Let's say they are in Hillary's apartment and the last shot is close-up. And the next shot going into the next apartment scene is a close-up of somebody else. When I go from here to here I don't see any background scenery. The audience doesn't know that you have changed the location. A dissolve is a change of location and a lapse of time, generally. It can be confusing at times.
We always used to dissolve from scene to scene within an act. A dissolve always denotes a change in location and many times a change in time. In soap opera, it could be the same time. It could be eight o'clock in the morning one place, to eight o'clock in the morning another place, but you'd still be dissolving to show the audience you have changed your location.
The writer for Guiding Light made extensive use of close-ups, which contributed to the possible confusion in the mind of a viewer. The overuse of close-ups was criticized by one technical director.
The overuse of close-ups is an arbitrary thing brought on by the producer and/or the writer. We went through a phase of Guiding Light where we had a certain group of producers in Cincinnati and they just wanted close-ups. We went through a number of months where we shot 60 percent of the show in close-ups to a point where people would make an entrance in
the room and they'd be discovered in a closeup. That went the way of all arbitrary things--it disappeared.
One innovation on Guiding Light was the use of fantasy sequences based on Nola's experiences of old movies. A number of fantasy sequences were filmed that copied the original films--Casablanca and Shipmates Forever, for example. The visual conventions employed imitated the film conventions. For example, a camera was suspended over the dance floor to capture the choreography as Busby Berkley had done.
Visual conventions, as well as audio and musical conventions, key different frames of reference. Dreams, fantasies, and flashbacks are often shot so the images are soft or hazy, but they may be associated with audio and musical conventions also.
One audio convention creates a sense of distance, when combined with the visual images. Booms are placed in different locations, with the boom that is located at a greater distance, or behind a door, set at a lower volume level. This was referred to as "perspective sound." The audio director makes reference to a scene in which one character listens through a door to a conversation on the other side of the door.
In the last scene Nola leaves and stands in the hallway, listening to them inside. I had a boom out in the hall, a microphone out in the hall, and I had a microphone inside. What I do is increase the volume; you have the boom in the hall at the normal level, and I knocked down the boom in the room. So it picks more from the hall microphone than from the direct microphone. That gives you an effect of hearing through the door. That gives you a perspective sound.
Another basic technique is the use of filters for phone calls. The person heard through the phone sounds different from the person on camera when he or she speaks into the phone. The viewer is hearing the person on camera directly, and the person off-camera indirectly through the filter. Filters are also used for thought processes, although these are distinguished in part from their use in phone calls by less of a filtered effect.
Audio conventions are also employed in flashback and dream sequences. Echo effects are added to the visual component to make the context distinguishable from present time. Echoes are typically combined with a blurring or softening of the visual image. Tape has made it much easier to employ flashbacks, which are particularly useful in soap storytelling because they provide a way of recapping material. Flashbacks acquaint viewers with what they may have missed, reinforce the knowledge viewers already have, and stimulate associations. Flashbacks are also useful as they express or reinforce the psychological focus of the programming, allowing psychologically significant past events to occupy the present consciousness of a character.
Before the use of tape, both dream sequences and flashbacks could be created, but they were done much more infrequently. Done live, flashbacks or dream sequences were captured by cutting from one set, in the present, to another where the flashback or dream sequence would be enacted and then back to the scene in the present. The computerized editing process has made it even easier to use these conventions than mechanical tape editing. All programming is coded so that specific sequences can be retrieved quickly through the computerized process.
Another audio convention is the voice-over, which allows access to a character's inner thoughts and takes the form of an interior monologue. Typically the visual component involves a close-up of a character, usually motionless with an appropriate facial expression, while the viewer/listener hears the voice-over. Again, the technique contributes to the drama by providing access to intimate thoughts and feelings. One audio convention that is used less frequently is the use of multiple echoes to create a bizarre effect. One word is repeated over and over to create a sense of disturbance.
The use of music to create or emphasize emotional effects continues to be a characteristic of soap operas. As melodramatic performances, structured around romantic and sensational incidents, relying on music as an integral element to create or enhance moods or meanings, and sponsored by soap manufacturers, the label soap opera has stuck despite the many changes in soaps over the years. The label also calls attention to the use of music itself. Traditionally, a solo organ provided the music for most soaps, creating an air of almost religious solemnity to the performances. [l9] One music supervisor commented, "I tell people what I do, I'm the music
person for Guiding Light. 'Oh, organ.' In fact, there is no more organ music. It is all very well orchestrated."
Music remains important, but the greater ambitiousness in their production and the overall effort to change the look of the show has led to a wider and more varied choice Of music. Organ and piano, once replaced by strings, are now being superseded by a reliance on a greater variety of instruments and sound sources in different combinations, such as synthesizers, solo drums, or vibraphones.
Music production houses are contracted by the soaps for music. The production company provides a catalogue of musical pieces appropriate to the style of the show, which is continually revised to fit changes in story. At Edge of Night the theme of the program, played with the opening skyline of a city (Cincinnati, corporate headquarters of Procter and Gamble) at dusk, evoked the mysteriousness appropriate to the program. Guiding Light changed its theme during the period I carried out my research. Originally the program opened with harps and strings along with a visual of soft sunlit flowers. This image and theme were replaced by a series of takes from the program emphasizing drama, romance, and action with light now associated with the flash of photographers' cameras and the reflection of light from the mirrored surfaces in a disco. The music, also, emphasized this different image. The religious, inspirational "guiding light" of the earliest programming had changed to a more secular light promising a more exciting way of life.
In April 1982, Guiding Light's musical catalogue had 1,114 separately numbered musical pieces, from four seconds to three minutes, recorded on cartridges. There were also other unnumbered pieces--cocktail music, disco music, wedding music, or synthesizer sounds. The music supervisor for the program selects the pieces thought appropriate to an episode and directs the music technician, who physically plays the tapes.
The pieces are catalogued by number (slate number). There is a very brief description of the mood of the piece (vague fear), a description of the sound sources used (vibes, strings), and a notation on the length of the piece. The music supervisors will often add their own notations to help them remember or differentiate the pieces.
For example, this "cart" is described as a scheming feeling." When I go through and listen to it myself, I put my own [label] on it to help me identify it. What somebody else feels is a tense piece of music, could
also to me have a feeling of being "ominous" or "heavy" because there are so many little moods. One time there will be a sad scene, and the next time there will be a little anger behind it. You have to find the right piece of music to fit the mood.
The supervisors receive scripts of the episodes they are responsible for in advance. If scripts are not available in advance, supervisors are given breakdowns describing the scenes in the episodes. The scripts generally do not indicate where and what music is to be used. The coordinators rely upon the scripts, as well as familiarity with past performances in making choices.
You get the feeling after watching day after day how the character is going to play it. You read the script, and you will think, "Ah ha, this should take a lot of time, there is a very warm mood." Then when they come on, it isn't always that way. But you also become attuned to the way a performer plays the role. You get used to that. After being here a while you know exactly how that character is going to play it. For example, yesterday, there was a scene between Nola and her mother where her mother says, "Since you came back from London, are you happy?" She said, "Yes, why shouldn't I be? I have everything. I have a new baby, I live in this beautiful home. I have a chinchilla coat." Then the mother says, "You don't seem happy." "But I am happy, on top of the world." In the script it said, tears are coming down her cheek. But in reality, that wasn't the way they played it. She didn't do that at all. It was must faster and she was sort of depressed. I just put in a little sad cello underneath when she was saying her last line, "Oh, yes, I'm very happy." At the end of the scene as it faded to black, the mother and she put their arms around each other. And there was just a sad chord.
Timing is particularly important. The music, to point up something ideally, or be most effective, must enter at the appropriate time. Anticipating what happens in scenes and
having a good sense of timing is an important part of being professional.
There has to be a sense of timing with what the actor is going to do. . . . A lot of it is a sense of performing, a feeling.
There is a sense of the musical and dramatic moment and being able to combine them.
All three of the music coordinators I spoke with had been or were also professional singers, particularly of opera.
There are various categories of music, some defined by their function, such as opening or curtain music, others by their mood, and others by their connection with an individual or theme in the form of a leitmotif. Curtain pieces, for example, are used at the end of a scene, although they can also be used as an opening if they "don't sound too finalized." A curtain, "neutral serious," would be used for the close of a scene while another, "curtain-pretty-vibes," could also be used as an opener. Since it was pretty and played by vibes, this meant "it was up" and was usable as an opener. Other curtain categories, for example, included "curtain-mystery," "curtain-eerie mystery," and "curtain-mystery strange."
Musical leitmotifs are also employed, particularly as themes for individuals. An identifiable theme is created for an individual, and variations on that theme are created to reflect different moods. For example, the theme for Hillary had various forms, one a "sad curtain," another "bright and happy." The supervisors themselves will develop thematic statements for individuals, even if the pieces originally were not composed with that use in mind. One of the factors influencing the choices of music is whether the musical piece will "give something away."
If we know something and know something that is coming up two or three weeks down the road, we have to be careful not to give that away in the music. For example, Carrie. It is evolving that she has a split personality. A while back, say a month ago, when she was on her honeymoon, another coordinator wanted to use strange music, "Carrie Two music" we call it, electronic music. This was before it came out she had a split personality. He wanted to use the music when she burned a picture up, but the director said not to "because it would
give the audience a clue and we don't want to drop that clue already."
Music is used at the beginning of a scene to set the scene," but then removed. It is also used at the end of a scene.
In the beginning of a scene, unless it is important, if they are just talking back and forth, the music wouldn't help. In other words, you bring the music up to set the scene, and get out with the music. It's ridiculous and silly to keep the music there just for the sake of keeping it there. That's number one.
The use of music to put a "button on a dramatic moment is particularly important at the end of a scene.
What really dictates it is if there is a very strong ending--if a new and important piece of information comes at the end of a scene that requires a much stronger tag . . . there usually is not time for subtext at the ends of scenes because it is usually a fairly fast ending. It depends on what kind of feeling you want to leave--if it is a suspension thing, a question, a declaration.
Musical pieces that emphasized a point are termed "stings" and have a close connection with what are called "take notes" in the musical catalogue. In both cases, music is used to "draw the viewer's eye quickly, even more than just with a camera shot." Take notes are played by all the instruments and last about three or four seconds. This category was being used less frequently than in the past and was referred to as part of the "old-fashioned soap opera style." Music adds to the emotional complexity of a soap by underlining the subtext of a scene.
Subtext. That's where music plays a big part. A couple may be playing what seems to be a love scene and yet maybe one or the other is cheating, maybe the audience knows he is cheating . . . that could be a subtext. In a happy scene and we know a character is going to die, the music could bring that out. I would play a sad piece if I chose to bring out that aspect. My choice
depends on the storyline--how strong that storyline is playing elsewhere. It is the music's job to underline what is happening and to bring out a subtext.
"Bridges" are used to move from one scene to another, to create or identify the emotional underpinnings of the scene. For example, when there is a shift from a troubled moment to a lighter moment, bridges are used across the scene break. Since the scenes are shot separately and usually out of sequence, the music has to be fed over" the end of the scene into the next scene, and special note has to be taken to shut off other sound sources while the music continues to be taped. Later, in the editing process, the video and audio signals are combined or added to the music, which has already been recorded. One supervisor stated that music is not placed with a dramatic moment in the middle of a scene unless it involves a flashback or dream.
In the old days the organ would be doing little bits and fills all the time. In the middle of a scene, it would sound very artificial to add something at that point. That would be a no-no. However, if there is a flashback or a dream sequence, you might use music to accent the fact that there is something out of the ordinary going on.
Music is also not used when a scene begins with the action already underway. For example, someone might be involved in a phone conversation. Music is viewed as distracting in such a context. One exception to the rule that music accompanies the end of a scene is when a following scene is extremely dramatic.
Even if the end of one scene does have a reaction from an actor, but you know from your script that the next scene coming up is the more dramatic scene, you want to be underplaying with some music, you'll lay off for that previous scene.
Another major rule was to use music to fill a "dead spot."
If the scene calls for it, you put in as much as possible. Also, if there is a "dead spot," if at the end of a scene they do a 'take," somebody says something and they do a
take of one person, and then the (other) person before they switch to another scene, you "fill the gap," help hold it together.
One of the ways music was being introduced into the program directly was through the use of popular entertainers who appeared in the disco, Wired for Sound. Also, two major performers, John Schipp who played Kelly and Tom Nielsen who played Floyd, were performers themselves. The use of contemporary music, in the context of a disco, performed by characters on the program or guests such as Judy Collins, was justified on the basis that it would appeal to and attract younger viewers and add entertainment value to the program. The use of music in the storyline itself created a number of problems. The sound levels for the music in the disco scenes made it difficult to hear the dialogue; at other times the selections contained vocals, which also conflicted with the dialogue. In addition, since the music was recorded live from the studio floor, any stops in the taping of a scene meant that the entire scene had to be retaped.
Music continues to be an important
and integral element in Guiding Light. It functions in a variety
of ways -- generating suspense, emphasizing a subtext, and filling
a dead spot. New music has been composed and utilized to create
a new look to the show. Musical, audio, and visual conventions
are combined to "key" the meanings of the performances.
They are carefully fitted together to create an ideally distinctive
pattern of experience. In whole, or ins' part, conventions are
important for the expression and experience of Guiding Light.
Technical developments have affected the work practices 'or conventions. Better quality videotape and computerized editing are the two major developments; the zoom lens, a lesser one. They have largely been incorporated to make the programs longer and more profitable and fit within a style derived from the traditional forces generating the performances--attracting the afternoon female television audience. The specific pattern of current conventions, the recently introduced changes, are a part of the competitive process. Scripts and their content have been structured differently; musical, audio, and visual conventions have been altered to create a more appealing experience for the audience in the competition for that audience.
Proceed to Chapter 8