[ELI5] Despite the obvious budget differences, why do some tv shows look so much “cheaper” than movies?

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Like, from a cinematography standpoint? If you have shitty actors, shitty costume design, a shitty story or shitty dialogue, that’s one thing, but why do some tv shows seem like they are just filmed so poorly, with no depth to the images, and a very…I don’t know, “non-cinematic” look?

So many times I try to get into a tv show and I just can’t because the filming style makes it look so, so fake. More like I’m watching a play than an edited and polished piece of video entertainment. I notice this most often with sci-fi or horror tv shows.

Is it really just a matter of not having a high enough budget to pay for highly skilled camera operators and editors? Is it just inexperienced filmmaking on the director’s part?

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Backlighting of actors is a major factor and it doesn’t happen on shows with larger sets, or shows that are recorded on film often. Another thing that happens a lot is that the sets are evenly lit so they can film multiple angles at once. This is for speed of filming, but it also makes everything look bland.

Basically, tv, and especially low budget tv, is on a smaller budget and tight deadlines, so they don’t move the lights around between takes or camera angles, at least, when possible. This makes everything look bland and cheap.

On a large budget movie they may spend anywhere between 2-6 months filming a 2 hour movie. This means they can spend hours or even days on end making sure that every shot and every frame of footage is as meticulously perfect as they want it to be.

On a large budget network TV show, they will typically need to film an hour long episode in only 8 days, so everything must be done faster.

Something like a Lifetime Christmas movie can be shot in 15 days. In an instance like this, you cannot spend anywhere close to the same time stylizing and tweaking the lighting.

Set design is a big component as well. A big movie will actually build custom sets to look exactly how they want, where lower budget stuff will often shoot on location or reuse old sets from other movies.

Usually set up of scenes, set design and lighting. In a movie, every time the camera angle changes, you may have new lighting. On a tv show, a lot of time you have multiple cameras but one lighting setup, which makes production quicker.