In response to a wonderful question from a wonderful blog reader --
Thanks for your question, Justin! Though you kind of answered it already - soap background is different from regular background because shooting a soap is wildly different from shooting a TV show or film.I recently submitted to do background for Days of Our Lives, and in the breakdown it mentioned "Background for soaps is different than regular background." That confused me. Why is that? Is it because of the high-speed shooting structure of soap operas? Thank you for any further insight you can add.
1) The scale is different. Film and TV is shot on location or on a soundstage set. Camera angles can be wide and sweeping. Soap operas, on the other hand, are shot in compact, diorama-like sets that literally have no fourth wall. Video cameras have a limited scope, which is fine because they don't need to capture that much.
Consequently, soap operas need far fewer background actors to fill a scene.
For example, in a traditional film or TV restaurant scene, you need dozens of background actors to fill the space --
In a soap opera, a restaurant scene looks like this --
Yup, just two background actors behind the railing and you have a scene. Ta-da!
2) The shooting pace is also different. Contract soap actors are used to working fast - one rehearsal and one take is usually all they need to nail a scene. It's impressive to observe.
So if you're one of the few background actors working in a scene, you really need to listen carefully to your blocking and nail it every time too. You're there to fill the background of a very tight frame, so timing is everything. Move exactly where the Stage Manager tells you to move while listening to the scene so you can do it again if you have to.
And the third (and best) difference --
3) Your commitment is different. Soap background are usually booked for one set of scenes a day. Once those scenes are done, you're wrapped! A typical day is a few hours of waiting, during which I read or work, then 10-30 minutes on set. And you always get paid for a full day - score!
Hope this answers your question, Justin!