why do soap operas all have the same ‘look’ to them?

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You can tell something is a soap opera by just looking at a scene. What causes this?

In: Other

It’s the frame rate. Other TV shows such as sitcoms use lower framerates; I believe 24 FPS. Soaps use higher framerates; I believe 29.97 FPS.

It’s a combination of a bunch of things, many of which are designed to make filming as cheap as possible (they have to produce 5 hours of TV every single week). They shoot on video tape (ie camcorders). They have shallow sets, so they need to use specific camera angles and a certain way of (brightly) lighting the set to make rooms look bigger. One of those effects, IIRC, are a lot of single person, straight on, close up shots. They often use a soft focus.

The biggest thing is probably that they use a different frame rate. In fact, I believe that’s what your TV tries to replicate when you turn on Motion Smoothing (or whatever your brand of TV calls it). Many of the other factors could be (or are) applied to other shows without getting the soap opera effect, but the different frame rate is what really contributes to the odd look.

The nature of their rapid and cheap production forces them to have a very homogenous style.

The game of soap operas is to produce as much content as possible as what you are really doing is making the bare minimum that justifies the ad-breaks (hence being called soap operas, because their early radio-play form were dominated by soap commercials). So they are produced cheaply and quickly, meaning there isn’t time or budget to do much more than write the script then stick the actor in an existing set to deliver them.

Those sets need to be made ready for production very quickly so the lighting setups for them are just left in place. You rock up, hit the switch and the set is lit. That lighting is done so that the actors can stand anywhere inside them and still be well lit for the multiple cameras pointing at them. You want multiple cameras because doing multiple takes for different angles takes time and time is money.

So everyone is just homogenously lit in the scene and every scene is lit like every other scene.