Movie vs 'Soap Opera' Look

This might be sort of a difficult question to phrase; however, I will try.

Has anyone noticed that strange, uenxplainable ‘feel’ that home videos, low-budget films, soap operas, and some infomercials have? Sort of like everything is moving too fast, sort of ‘swimmy’. I don’t even know, because i don’t think theres a word for it. If I remember correctly, the standard is always 27fps at least for TV…so what is it?
My friends have said that it’s because it looks -too- real.

I am glad you asked this question. I have noticed it too but could not find a way to phrase it. They do look different.

Do you mean other than the difference between film and video?

Mostly it’s due to the fact that the soaps, infomercials, and lower budget movies are shot on varying types video tape to save costs. Everything from S-Vhs to Beta to DVCPro is used depending on budget constraints. Prime time shows and movies are either shot on high end video tape or film. It doesn’t matter how nice your lenses are if the media you are recording to has flaws.
Many movies nowdays are shot digitally (Once upon a Time in America and the latest Star Wars come to mind) and they are exceptionally clean.

Whoops, posted before Earl did, and he put it much more succinclty than I did.

To answer Earl, no. I don’t mean that; because I’ve noticed it across -many- mediums. One TV show may have it, another amy not. One movie, one may not. Video, DVD - Whatever. What I’m tryign to say, at least to my memory, is that it appears in more than one place.

Yancey’s response seems to hold some credence, though.

Video rate depends on if your in the PAL or NTSC world. 27 fps is, as far as I’m aware, not a rate anywhere. PAL is 25 fps, NTSC is 29.97 fps.

As for the ‘feel’ of soaps vs. better productions, there are a couple of explanations:
A weakly show is shot in about a week, a soap is about 30 minutes a day. The fast work shows. There is little room for multiple takes, unless someone screws up in a craptacular manner.
There are less production values (which costs money) and if you start looking, you’ll see that tv in general shifts angle by cutting. Sweeping pans don’t work too well on tv. Also, on the cheaper productions, you have static cameras - dolly work means more opportunities for screw ups, plus they are more expensive. What movement there is tend to be zooming, which, if you think about it, is not used very often in movies.
Soaps are shot in a tv studio, which adds to the static feel. Also, until recently, videocameras couldn’t match film cameras for quality and most soaps were shot directly to video - which shows. There are some movies for theatrical release now that are shot using video (Collateral was one), but for most expensive productions, film is still the media of choice.

I’ve read in previous threads here that the main difference, aside from recording medium (video, etc…) is the lighting system.

Often soaps and lower-budget shows will evenly light the entire set, and simultaneously film with more than one camera. Since you can then film in less takes (ie. one camera on one person in a conversation, the other camera on the other person), you save money. However, shooting like this requires constant illumination (more diffuse, covering all the angles).

Movies and some tv shows only film from one camera angle at a time, and lighting is adjusted to the optimum for each individual shot. This results in a different feel or mood to the lighting.

Addendum: I fairly certain the multiple-camera system used on many tv shows is called the “three camera system”, or something like that.

I found this link that explains the three camera system:

Waenara, that quotation is wrong on two major points. I Love Lucy did not pioneer the use of three cameras for network television. It pioneered the use of three film cameras. Three television cameras were already standard for live television shows like Texaco Star Theater (The Milton Berle Show), Toast of the Town (The Ed Sullivan Show), and The Goldbergs (one of the earliest TV sitcoms), before I Love Lucy went on the air in 1951. But because videotape had not been invented yet, live television broadcasts had to be recorded by filming a television tube (a kinescope) to make a kinescope film, which could then be quickly developed for rebroadcast for different time zones. But the image quality suffered in kinescope films. Hence the idea to use three 35mm film cameras to make I Love Lucy, instead of a live broadcast.

Actually, most sitcoms today are shot on 35mm film, not videotape.

Walloon your post reminded me of something. I Love Lucy was by far not the first show on television, but many people remember it as one of the earliest because there’s so little record of other shows from the late forties and fifties. Ozzie and Harriet, for one, has few traces. Lucy earned a bundle of money in pushing for using film; because of that the shows were able to be used in syndication for decades. It’s still on as a matter of fact; I’ve seen several episodes and I was born decades after the show came on.

Videotaped sitcoms were around for a while. Go watch that rascal Archie Bunker, or Taxi. And several 70’s and 80’s sitcoms were made on tape (and it shows). By the 90’s, most quality sitcoms – and even many crappy ones – were back on film. And yes, even sitcoms shot on film use 3-4 cameras. Like Friends, or Cheers, or Seinfeld. That lets them shoot just one or two takes with a live studio audience and still have lots of camera angles to cut with. Though there are some new sitcoms that use the 1-camera, no live audience approach, like Malcom In the Middle. These are shot more like a typical TV drama, aka Movie Light.

But to answer your question very basically, the “film vs. video” response is totally correct. To help explain a key reason the look is different, here are some details.

Film is a series of 24 individual frames projected in a second.

Here in the U.S. (other countries have different systems), we use the NTSC video format. While the shorthand approach is to say it runs at 30 frames per second, that’s not quite accurate. It actually runs at 60 half-frames per second (known as fields). The lines on your screen are drawn in an interlaced fashion, like you would interlace your fingers. Every other line is drawn, then the tube goes back and draws the lines in between. (This is how CRT screens work… LCD, plasmas, etc have their own techniques, but let’s keep this simple.)

Those 60 half-frames give video a smoother look. More “real-life” but far less glamorous.

Another key factor is that video is an electronic process, and film is a chemical process. Like margarine versus butter, or a frozen dinner versus a gormet cook. One is a cheap imitation of the other but serves its purpose when used correctly. (Video is much cheaper. Requires no processing, so you can shoot something and have it air seconds later like a newscast, etc.)

This answer could go on and on without even getting to new technologies like HD and progressive scan video (a technique where video images don’t interlace), but that should cover the basics.

Something I notice is that I can tell within less than a second of flicking onto a soap whether it is a US or Australian/UK made soap.

US soaps are shot with golden/brown lighting and tones.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which debuted in 1952, a year after I Love Lucy, was shot with a single camera on 35mm (it wasn’t filmed before a live audience). The series has been rerun in the past, and is still available for anyone interested.

Other filmed contemporaries of I Love Lucy that are available: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950, switched to film in 1952), Adventures of Superman (1952), Make Room for Daddy (The Danny Thomas Show) (1953), The Honeymooners (1955), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955).

I forgot to mention that the first non-documentary filmed network series, Hopalong Cassidy (1949), was in syndication for many years after its initial broadcasts.

Really? I did not know at all. I’ve often seen that show cited as an example of early television which we have almost no trace of anymore.

The Soap Opera Home and Away made a huge change in the way it was shot some months ago and it seemed to be to do with the lighting amongst other reasons. It was more “natural” and didn’t look like a lot of hot studio lights bearing down on top of the actors and actresses’ shiny foreheads :wink:

A far better example would be the CBS show Mama (1949 - 1956, based on the 1948 movie I Remember Mama which starred Irene Dunne and Barbara Bel Geddes.)

For most of its run, the show was broadcast live and not even a kinescope survives. The final season or so was filmed, but not enough to profitably syndicate.

Nitpick: The TV series Mama was based on Kathryn Forbes’s book, which the Broadway play and the movie were also based on.