Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Model of Production - Part Two

One of the most significant changes that came with Ellen Wheeler's new production model was the introduction of more frequent outdoor scenes. Using Peapack, New Jersey as a backdrop, Wheeler gave the people of Springfield more freedom than they'd ever had to do something most of us take for granted: go outside. It was, for the most part, a welcome change.

Where the new sets were extremely limiting and, by and large, ugly, the fact that Wheeler expanded Springfield to include a park with a lake, land around the Bauer house, the Spaulding mansion, and the farmhouse, a church exterior and a cemetery brought some realism to Guiding Light. We got to see Olivia getting into a real car and driving. We got used to the idea that the bench by the lake was a place many residents of Springfield went to when they had things to work out in solitude. Instead of playing out on a soundstage with astroturf, potted plants and fans blowing to create an illusion of wind, the annual Bauer BBQ actually took place in a very real back yard, with real grass and trees. For the most part, the exterior scenes have worked well, even though the video lacks the warmth of film. The exterior scenes of the farm house, with it's big porch, lush lawn, and stand of trees in the background, are especially nice.

Most notable of the outdoor scenes under the new production model, in my opinion, would be Olivia's big reveal at the cemetery. This scene is teeming with raw emotion stemming, in part, from the fact that Olivia spends the first half of it by herself, talking to Gus' grave. She doesn't realize that Natalia has approached and is just 15 feet away. The scene wouldn't and couldn't work on a set or soundstage. Even the weather was on Guiding Light's side on the day of filming - the overcast sky helps set the bittersweet mood of the scene. Sunshine would have looked ridiculous. Filming outdoors also allowed for the physical proximity of the two characters - imagine how silly this scene would have played out if filmed in even the best of the new GL sets - Natalia three feet away from Olivia, instead of 10 or 15 feet away. It's about as perfect a dramatic scene as you're likely to see on television.

Sadly, the change in production model was, as I've written, all about a need to drastically cut the production costs of Guiding Light. During the show's heyday, when revenue from soaps were subsidizing network news programming, there was money to burn. In those days, actors and crew would pack their bags and head out for elaborate location shoots. These were usually a lot of fun, and they weren't wasteful: location shoots were driven by plot, and not the other way around.

Matt and Vanessa didn't meet in Springfield. The story line called for Vanessa to be out of her element in every way possible: away from Springfield, away from the board room, away from the designer business suits and power lunches. In order for Vanessa to be open this new chapter in her life, she needed to get outside, in the sun, away from her comfort zone. In order for the viewers to accept Vanessa doing something so uncharacteristic - having a passionate fling with a much younger man who she barely knew - we needed to see her far away from the trappings of her real life. From a practical point of view, there was no logical way for Matt and Vanessa to cross paths unless she went off for a week in the country: he wasn't likely to be found hanging around the offices of Spaulding Enterprises or Lewis oil. He wasn't the sort of guy you'd expect to meet by the pool at the Springfield Country Club. Matt and Vanessa's initial encounter only worked because it was a location shoot.

The Roger/Holly Santo Domingo location shoot is, by now, the stuff of soap opera legend. Again, the story line called for the characters to be far away from familiar Springfield. Holly certainly couldn't be within reach of a multitude of friends and neighbors willing to help her. If anything, the story called for her to be far, far away, enjoying a false sense of security in a foreign land. The rainforest of Santo Domingo provided a perfect backdrop for a series of hot, sweaty, edge-of-your seat chase scenes, culminating if Roger's deadly drop off a cliff. Or so it seemed.

The Verdict

I call this a tie.

In terms of including realistic outdoor scenes on a regular basis, thus expanding the world of
Guiding Light to include more of the natural world, the new production model scores well. Without it, we
never would have had a gazebo scene, or that wonderful shot of Natalia, Emma and Olivia entering the
church hand-in-hand.

In terms of beautifully filmed location shots that support and enrich a story line, the old model scores, big
time. We're not likely to see stories that are this well-written, supported by such lush, gorgeous location
shots on daytime television again.


MJinTenn said...

I very much agree that outdoor scenes have in many cases worked very well. Olivia's reveal at Gus' grave was the first GL scene I had ever watched and I have been firmly in Olivia's grip since. Everything about that scene was dramatic perfection, weather included. I think the snow storm after the non-wedding was one of the luckier turns of fate, as well, as it made the ideal backdrop for the scene at the gazebo.

There have been times when noise traffic of the vehicular or aerial type has been a distraction, but it's easy enough to overlook.

Your previous post included clips of hospital scenes that make the current Springfield hospital look so drab and depressing in contrast.

Thanks for sharing so much GL history; I'm loving catching up.

ocean1blue said...

And who will ever forget that shot of a sobbing, hearbroken Olivia running away from the BBQ after she found out Natalia was gone. Olivia all alone in that field just added to the feelings of isolation and sadness. The location shoots have definitely brought an extra element to Otalia; although the FoL (both indoors and out) will forever be my favorite set!

Snapper said...

MJinTenn - The one bad thing about these sort of low-budget outdoor shots, where there was no choice but to shoot at a specific time, was the inconsistancy re weather. The wedding/gazebo scene is supposed to have happened on the same day as the cemetery fact, only an hour or so later. It's a bit of a strech for us to believe that a full foot of snow has fallen between the time Liv and Nat were at Gus' grave, and the time the wedding is set to start. That sort of thing is, of course, completely out of anyoe's control. In the old days, I think they might have gone back and re-shot the cemetery scene in the snow, for continuity's sake.

Ocean1blue - There's something about the external shots around the farmhouse that make them the most reaslitic. I thin it's the fact that we're not just seeing a patch of grass, but a whole landcape. A real house with a real porch, that's smack, dab in the middle of a really beautiful spot - gorgeous trees in the background, lots of space...and they made use of it in a way that the Bauer and Spaulding exteriors were never used. For the most part, exterior shots of those homes were just set-up shots to establish the interior scenes to follow. When it came to the farmhouse, there was plenty of stuff played out right ont he porch, on the bench, on the path, at the driveway, as cars drove up. It seemed very real.

MJinTenn said...

In case you can't tell from my previous comment, I have the attention span of a gnat, so the foot of snow on the ground immediately following the non-wedding never crossed my mind.

Otalia pretty. That snow was a lot deeper than I am.

Snapper said...

I'm not even going to go into the whole business with outside noise. It sucks int he new model, but was non-existant during old-school location shoots. They had a giant budget, and could re-shoot or edit as needed. The level of outside noise present in exterior shots using the new model was extremely annoying, but given the tight limits they were working under, there's no one to blame. It irked me to hear Ellen Wheeler telling Morley Safer that they didn't have time to lament things that went wrong or pat themselves ont he back when things went right. I understand these were facts, but that staement sounds like theopening lines of a book called, "How to make sure your television program will piss people off, kill actors' morale, and not be renewed for an additional season."

Anonymous said...

We watched the GL finale in HD on a giant movie screen. It looked gorgeous! Too bad it can't be watched that way every week. I am used to watching it on my tiny computer. You can see their facial expressions and take in how truly gorgeous the actors are. The outdoor scenery looked so green and lush.