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1995 Interview Veteran Directors Larry Auerbach David Pressman


Paul Raven

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Two veteran Soap Opera directors Larry Auerbach and David Pressman look back on four decades of directing daytime drama. They say sitcom and Movie directors still have an elitist attitude about daytime.

 

Directors of TV soap operas may be the hardest working directors in the entertainment industry. Unlike their counterparts in film or theater, their activities are not limited to one or two projects a year, with lots of long planning and down time in between. Even the directors of prime -time television, whom they most closely resemble, still lead a life of comparative ease, with a schedule measured by, at most, a little more than a dozen hours of actual onair production per season, mixed with repeats and months off for summer vacation.

 

Until recently, soap opera directors rarely heard of long vacations or extended periods for reflection. They were simply too busy, staging up to a dozen hours per month of programs that never take off for the summer or end up as repeats half the year. Their working schedule alone, with days often running from 7 a.m. to late at night, in addition to extensive preproduction meetings and hours of preparatory script -reading and blocking, would be enough to defeat all but the heartiest veterans of stage or screen. Yet, for all the demands of directing daytime drama, its practitioners are probably accorded the least respect of any comparable directors in New York or Hollywood. Part of this undoubtedly has to do with the genre they serve.

 

Disparaged for decades as the respite of bored housewives, soap operas continue to be regarded as the low - rent district of television drama. Despite the format's increase in production values, its growing prominence and appeal (witness the large prime -time viewership for the annual Daytime Emmy Awards), and the renewed interest in academics (who now hold the genre in surprisingly high esteem), those who toil behind the scenes still tend to be viewed, in the words of Larry Auerbach, as "hacks." Directors of daytime drama are also relegated to a lower level of consideration because of the sheet quantity and profusion of their work. By being part of the regular daily TV schedule, new installments of their programs must be produced Monday through Friday, fifty -two weeks a year-u feat of abundance unequaled by any other dramatic format in history. As a result, the often factory -like methods required of soap opera production make it difficult to look at daytime directors in the same way we evaluate the individualistic efforts of "auteurs" in film or some prime -time TV. Still, there is an artistry to direction of daytime serials that merits serious attention. As this interview with Larry Auerbach and David Pressman reveals, staging daytime drama calls for a tremendous variety of skills and talents.

 

The primary qualification is the ability to shape and guide performances under the fiercest of time constraints. Because of the genre's extended storylines and long -term character relationships, soap opera directors play a vital role in helping the actors understand and develop their roles while maintaining an essential character stability that is often forgotten by ever -changing regimes of writers and producers. Daytime directors must also be well -schooled in all the technical aspects of television production, since so much of the program is filtered through their eyes. Soap operas have no director of photography; instead the lighting and camera work are guided by the director's feelings about the scene. So too is the editing and blocking, which is usually fashioned by the director as he reads the script for a given episode a few weeks in advance. Though it is true that these directors are rarely distinguished by a unique style or visual approach- keeping the show uniform from day -to -day and director-to- director generally precludes such overt "signatures" - their craftsmanship comes across more in creating dynamic performances and sustaining a high level of dramatic energy.

 

It is here, in the struggle to produce an hour of lively and compelling new drama every weekday, that skilled daytime directors can truly make a difference. With a combined seventy years of soap opera experience between them, the two men interviewed for this article have helped define the standards of resourceful daytime directing. Both Larry Auerbach and David Pressman came to soap operas with backgrounds in theater and live television, two environments which provided invaluable training for their work in daytime TV. Larry Auerbach studied drama at Northwestern University and after graduation moved to directing positions at NBC's network radio operations in Chicago. In 1949, he switched to television, where he worked on a number of the innovative live shows originating from Chicago. A few years later he moved to New York and quickly found a job as the first director of one of the earliest television soap operas, CBS's Love of Life. Originally broadcast live for fifteen minutes a day, Auerbach was the program's sole director for more than fifteen years, and he remained with the show until it went off the air in 1980. After directing All My Children from 1980 -1983, he spent the next nine years at One Life to Live. Since 1991, he has directed episodes of As the World Turns and Another World, as well as a new soap opera, Family Passions, produced in Toronto and scheduled for broadcast in both Germany and Canada. David Pressman started out an actor, graduating from the Neighborhood Playhouse before directing plays in Toronto from 1936 -38. After serving in World War II, he became a charter member of the Actors Studio in 1947, and one of the directors of their live TV program, in addition to directing several other New York -based live dramatic shows. Unable to work in television for more than a decade because of blacklisting, he directed several plays on Broadway as well as serving as Chairman of the Acting Department at Boston University and heading the Neighborhood Playhouse. He returned to television in 1964, directing cultural programs for David Susskind. The Nurses was his first soap opera, which he began directing in 1966. After the show's cancellation in 1967, he spent two years on Another World, before moving to One Life to Live, where he has been a staff director since 1969. He has also directed prime -time episodes of The Defenders, The Nurses, NYPD, and The Hallmark Hall of Fame, as well as continuing his theatrical work in New York and regional theater. Here, Larry Auerbach and David Pressman discuss the changes in soap opera production over the last four decades and the challenges in directing daytime drama.

 

BRIAN ROSE: Larry, you started out directing radio programs in Chicago and then made the switch to TV directing. What were some of the changes you encountered?

 

LARRY AUERBACH: It was certainly a learning experience. You had to think about the visual elements, rather than just the oral. I think it was certainly very helpful to have had the radio experience, because now when I go into a television control room -I'm very much aware of the audio and sound effects. The audio guys I work with are grateful, since unlike a lot of directors I pay attention to them and don't find them a nuisance. Obviously, TV directing was much more complicated and difficult, with many more things to consider. I learned all about timing from radio which was so important in the early days of television because you couldn't cut; there was no editing. You had to get on and get off.

 

ROSE: What was it like to learn to direct three cameras live?

 

AUERBACH: The first couple of months I was in the control room I didn't see anything. It was just panic time. It was either sink or swim. They just threw you in, and nobody knew any better, thank God. I didn't see any boom shadows back then, though today sometimes they call me "eagle eye." Working in live television was tremendous preparation for working with taped television. Directors who started with live TV like David and I did, do all the editing in our heads before we ever get in the control room. Of course, back then you didn't have the kind of supervision that you have today. You didn't have people sitting in the control room behind you.

 

ROSE: So directors back then had much more creative power?

 

AUERBACH: Much more power and much more creative power. There was never a producer in the control room in TV back in the days of live TV in Chicago.

 

ROSE: How did you move to directing TV soap operas?

 

AUERBACH: I came to New York in the summer of 1951, taking a leave of absence to look after my father, who was very ill. I began looking for work in the city without much success. After about six weeks, Chicago called and said either you have to come back or quit. At that time, Dan Petrie suggested that I contact a guy I had worked with back in Chicago, Roy Winsor, who was now head of radio and TV for the Biow advertising agency.

 

ROSE: What was your knowledge of soap operas at this point?

 

AUERBACH: Except for sitting in the control room on the radio side and listening to all those soaps, zilch. There weren't any on TV to be found, or if there were, they were ill -fated and weren't really soap operas, but more continuing family stories. Not what I call soap operas. I went to see Roy and he thought maybe I could do the pilot on his new CBS show Love of Life. The producer Carl Green interviewed me, but decided not to use me. They went though two more directors, but Roy still wasn't satisfied. Finally he called me up and said "can you start Monday ? ", and this was Thursday. I said sure. I went back to Chicago, closed up my apartment, got my car shipped here, and was ready to start. I reported to the Biow Company at 51st and Madison, which at that time was a very important advertising agency, with accounts from Procter & Gamble, Seagrams, and American Home Products. Biow was producing Love of Life for American Home, which owned the show, and was its sole sponsor at first -a situation which doesn't exist any more except for Procter and Gamble. I met my associate director, who sat there with a feather boa around her neck and a pile of cigarettes in the ashtray in front of her -and it was Glory Monty. She worked with me for three years, until Roy got The Secret Storm started, and he hired her to direct it.

 

ROSE: What were your first impressions of this completely new environment?

 

AUERBACH: The casting had already been done for the most part, but in those days directors used to do the casting, along with the executive producer, who was Roy Winsor. We had a line producer, but there were not producers in the control room. The producers stayed, for the most part, in the office and watched the show on the air. We were live, for fifteen minutes a day, in black and white. The producer's job was to work with the writer, primarily on continuity issues, and watch the budget.

 

ROSE: What was your day like?

 

AUERBACH: In the morning, starting about 7:30, we had an hour of dry rehearsal, in a rehearsal hall. Then at 9:30 we brought the cameras in to follow what we had created with the actors. A dress rehearsal followed, and then a take. After the show went off the air at 12:30, we would go have lunch for an hour. We then had three hours of rehearsal in the afternoon, which allowed us to block organically, directly from what the actors were saying and doing. It was in a rehearsal hall, with chairs marking out the sets. You maybe had a P.A. there, though I usually didn't since I timed everything myself. Then I would go to the office for an hour or so. Next, I would go home and block my script for the next day. I directed all five episodes a week for a long time. The three hours of rehearsal in the afternoon was a luxury, giving us almost as much time to plan next day's half -hour show as we're now given to do a one -hour program.

 

ROSE: What new challenges did you face as a director doing life daytime drama?

 

AUERBACH: They weren't really that dramatic. It was somewhat different in having to work with the same group of actors day after day and establish the relationships with them that were required, but that's a situation that continues even up to this day. Like live TV and radio, there was no editing back then on Love of Life. If there was an error, you had to live with the error.

 

ROSE: And were there any?

 

AUERBACH: Oh, sure, and plenty of close calls. American Home Products was the penny -pinching outfit of all time. We had a very low budget and we were limited to twenty -five appearances a week, which included principals and extras and everything else. So, for example, if you had six people on today, you could only have four people on tomorrow, and so forth. One day I was doing a show with Petty MacKay, Dick Coogan, Hildy Parks, and one other actor whose name I forgot. Hildy was single at the time and she said to me after rehearsal one afternoon "I'm going down to Washington to have dinner with Justice Douglas." She was quite the lady about town., I said to her, for God's sake, if the weather's bad, take the last train back, will you please. Well, in the evening, the weather was fine, but next morning when she got up, it was terrible fog. A friend of hers called me from Washington and said "the golden girl will not be there on time. She'll be there in time for dress." Then I got another call, "she won't be there for dress, but she'll be there for air." She never showed up on time, so we just had to take it. There was nothing else I could do. So I sat the cast down at a coffee table, and we wrote new lines to explain what she was going to be talking about. There were no teleprompters back then, so the script was written on little cards hidden by plates on a coffee table.

 

ROSE: What was it like to direct a soap under the time pressure of live TV? Were you monitoring the time or was it an associate director?

 

AUERBACH: No, we had a script girl, now called a P.A., who would tell me, and then I would send word out to the stage manager to signal to the cast to either speed up or slow down. Plus you had credits at the end so that you had a little flexibility. And you've got to remember that we had four live commercials to do, two - thirty second spots and two one minute, which I also had to direct. Plus I was the only director on staff for years, up until the time they started shooting Love of Life in color. Roy Winsor, who was producing the show, wanted to give me a raise, but American Home wouldn't go for it, so he went to them saying color was much more difficult to do, and he'd need to hire an additional director. They agreed to let someone come in to work one day a week, but they refused to give me an increase. So I began doing a four -day, a week schedule. A few years later, after CBS had taken over the show, I went down to three -aweek schedule, which I continued until the show went off the air in 1980. When I switched to All My Children, there were three directors on staff, and we averaged about one -and -a -half shows a week. Now on As the World Turns, there are five directors on a regular basis.

 

ROSE: Since you were the sole director on Love of Life for close to fifteen years, did you try to develop a distinctive style so that when someone turned on the program they would say, "That's definitely Auerbach's work "?

 

AUERBACH: The medium itself, for the most part, required a certain way of doing things, particularly in terms of soap operas. It's show with a lot of close -ups, at least it was back then because the home sets were so much smaller. We wanted to concentrate attention on the characters, plus the fact we didn't have a lot of scenery in those days. We were limited in the amount of movement we could do, the equipment wasn't as flexible, the studios were smaller.

 

ROSE: So technical factors have as much to do with shaping what you did as a director as anything else?

 

AUERBACH: They had a lot to do with it, and they still do.

 

ROSE: David, you'd been a director of live primetime drama for a decade before you moved to soaps. What lessons were you able to bring from the experience?

 

DAVID PRESSMAN: I never worked with live soap operas, but my first soap opera The Nurses in 1966, was done very much like a live show. We were given access to the video tape recorders at the network's engineering center at 2 or 3 p.m. and were given only a half hour. That was it. We did the show directly to tape, with no edits or retakes. Sometimes, for special occasions, like a dream sequence, we would have pre- tapes. We would get the machines at a special time at twelve noon, say, and that would be rolled into the show.

 

ROSE: What special challenges did soaps present to you as a director?

 

PRESSMAN: There was the pressure of having to do it rapidly and get it done in one day. It was a hard adaptation for me at the beginning, especially since I was directing all five episodes a week. There was also the challenge of getting the acting up to par.

 

ROSE: Did you find there was a difference in directing soap opera actors compared to actors in other formats and media?

 

PRESSMAN: Most of the actors working on soaps came from the theater or from film. The technologies might be different, but acting is acting. There's no such thing as special soap opera actors.

 

ROSE: For both of you ... was acting always your priority as a director?

 

AUERBACH: It always was and always should be.

 

PRESSMAN: What's missing now is that you really should be able to do a show with only two or three very good performers, a good script, and just black velour for the backdrop.

 

AUERBACH: Which was exactly the way we originally did it back in the 1950s. We had black velour and wainscoting about two feet high to delineate one area from another. We would put a desk or couch in front of it, and we would hang pictures from the air on trick line.

 

PRESSMAN: And it would look exactly like it was walls. Sets for a long time were minimal. Sam Leve, a wonderful stage designer was on the CBS staff for many years, and he designed a circular cyc that went around the entire studio.

 

AUERBACH: We didn't use a cyc; we used actual black velour flats. The basic reason was they didn't want to spend the money for sets. We put up grey wainscoting to help hide the floor, and a black flat, and then all you needed was set decoration.

 

PRESSMAN: One of the things that needs to be mentioned is the demanding technical nature of soap opera directing. During camera blocking, which followed the dry rehearsal in the morning, and usually took about an hour -and -a -half or two hours, we would have to concentrate all of our energies on the technical side. You have to solve all the problems of where the camera goes -is it a one - shot, a two -shot, a dolly or a pan? The cameras have to be placed to avoid the boom microphones and their shadows. The actors are there only to verify their position, as they run their lines. After the taping, we went over to the Hotel Empire to rehearse next day's show from about 3 to 5 p.m. We would stage and block everything, then I would mark my camera shots on the script. I would have my script for my associate director, Kenny Rockefeller, and he would come in early the next morning to get to work lining up the shots. The cast also had time for another rehearsal the day of the taping.

 

ROSE: In essence, your job was split in two. You had to work creatively with the actors, and then suddenly shift gears to work with the cameras.

 

PRESSMAN: You're staging in relation to the camera, and how the actor fits in. As you're blocking the show at home, you look at each scene in terms of its emotion and what you're going to do with the actors. Will you have them go to the phone or walk to the door? When will she act upset or happy? This is usually all our invention.

 

AUERBACH: Then you have an actor come in to rehearsal and say, "but I don't think I should sit down here." So then you have to figure out how are you going to deal with that mechanically, technically, or what reason can I give him or her for sitting at that point.

 

PRESSMAN: If it's an emotional reason, they'll generally accept it. Or you'll explain that you'll have to change all the shots. You are staging, you are acting teacher, you are acting coach, and you are an editor. When the show is being taped, the director has edited 98% of the show in his or her head, usually on paper the day before. Of course, you make changes as you go along, as you see the set in the morning and discover that something just may not work, the furniture has to be moved and so on.

 

ROSE: What did you feel your reputation was like as a director of soap operas? Were you regarded as low director on the totem pole?

 

AUERBACH: Absolutely. No question about it, and it still exists. It's still an elitist thing in the way other directors and people in the industry look down on us.

 

PRESSMAN: When I think of the way sitcom directors work and the hours they work and the salaries they're paid, and compare it to ours, it's ridiculous.

 

ROSE: And this was true right from the beginning -you were slighted because you were working in daytime.

 

AUERBACH: Yes, we were seen as hacks.

 

PRESSMAN: I've always felt that any daytime director who has been on a show at least a year can go and do a film tomorrow. Any guy who's only been doing film could not come in and do a soap.

 

ROSE: What skills did you have to have as a soap opera director that are different than directing other formats?

 

AUERBACH: The ability to deal with problems without bull. Just get it done!

 

PRESSMAN: Plus the special relationship one has with actors.

 

ROSE: How do you approach acting for soap operas?

 

AUERBACH: That depends on the actor. With some, you have to approach everything as organic and as part of the method. With others you have just to tell them where to stand and what to say and which way to turn. You can't generalize about it. The generalization is you have to know who you're dealing with.

 

PRESSMAN: I come mainly from the theater, and was a teacher of acting for years. It's my primary emphasis. Forget the special effects, and fires and floods they ask us to do now. Acting is the focus.

 

ROSE: Do you think you're given enough time to shape performances?

 

PRESSMAN: Never enough time, and we often have to deal with actors cruelly.

 

AUERBACH: And somewhere there are line producers who don't understand the first thing about acting, so all of their emphasis goes to the mechanics of things, or they ask for performance aspects that simply can't be done.

 

ROSE: Such as?

 

AUERBACH: They want emotional transitions that aren't possible for a performer to achieve without just doing it arbitrarily. That's not the way you deal with most actors. Or you can't go to an actor after a dress rehearsal and say "No, that's not what we want. THAT 's what we want." Acting is a tapestry and if you pull one thread out, the whole thing goes to pieces.

 

ROSE: In what ways do these conditions force you to treat actors "cruelly ?"

 

PRESSMAN: One of the problems is that producers often cast improperly, because they look for the body and not necessarily for the talent. Very often, we'll do the auditions as requested by the producer, and we'll have four or five people. We'll select one, and say "There's your actor." And they'll respond, "yeah, but we want the hunk." And they'll get the hunk, and a month into the show, they'll find out the guy can't act. One time we hired an actress, and she was forced to do an incredibly amount of emotional stuff, discovering she wasn't dead and so forth. Scene after scene she had to be crying, but she just wasn't up to it. I had to go out and say, "it's your job on the line, come on and do it." And I scared her, using the tactics of my position, to almost force it out of her. She was now crying all the time, scared of her job - but now the performance came out very well. Then the producer watched the take and said, "Why didn't you do it like you did the first day ?" They simply don't understand. They think a performance is just something an actor can crank out because it's their job. An actor is not a machine. You don't know how much the actors depend on the director to help them out in terms of creative guidance.

 

ROSE: What happened to your schedule when soaps went from a half -hour to an hour?

 

PRESSMAN: To me it was like working nine times harder.

 

AUERBACH: Our day now basically goes as follows. Usually you go in and block the actors in a dry rehearsal. On one show I worked on recently, though, you come in in the morning and your dry rehearsals and camera blocking are on the set at the same time. The actors go on the set and the cameramen are there, and the actors are acting, and the cameras are moving. And this is what I hate -you don't have enough time to sit down and work with the actors.

 

ROSE: What do producers now expect to happen in terms of the quality of performances?

 

AUERBACH: They want topnotch performances, but quicker, they just want it quicker. You've got to follow a much tighter schedule.

 

PRESSMAN: The schedule for us actually begins much earlier than just coming in in the morning. I get the script for a show two weeks before. Blocking it out takes about six hours. There's production meeting the following Wednesday. We talk over the floor plans for the six or seven sets in our large studio, and I might ask for a little bit more room here or there. Then I keep the floor plan, and get a mimeographed script. Then I sit down at home and block the show, which will usually be about 500 shots. Everything is there in the script -two shots, close - ups, etc. Then a few days before the show I stop at the studio and talk to the lighting director. I show him the floor plan, where everything goes, where it will be moved, what the sets will look like, where the booms will go. On the say of taping, I get in at 6:30 in the morning, look over the sets and the props, tell the prop guys what else I need, where the furniture should be moved (we change the position of furniture a lot to accommodate action we've invented that can't quite fit in to the design of the sets). At 7:15 I start rehearsing with the actors till about 9:30 or 9:45. Then I take a short break. From 10 to 12:30, we block actors and the cameras -we need that much time since I have a full one -hour show to do, plus usually a few extra scenes. Then it's time to break for lunch. I bring mine with me, go to the director's room and take a twenty- minute nap. At one o'clock we used to have a full dress rehearsal and then tape. No more. Now we dress /tape. Before, we would take a bunch of scenes, dress them, there are notes from the producer, discussion, fights. I deal with the actors and the crew, then we would tape. It's now a combined process, and we shoot a little bit out of sequence, doing all the scenes that take place in one set together, then move to the next set.

 

AUERBACH: It's a little bit different on As the World Turns. The director on that show is on his feet all day long, from the time you come in in the morning till sometimes late at night. During the blocking, for example, you go on the floor and block, let's say, three scenes. Then because they don't have to use floor monitors, you run from camera to camera to check the shots. Then you run into the control room and dress them, talk to the producer, then go out and talk to the actors, then back to the control room to tape the three or four scenes. After that, you do the next group of scenes, and so on. This goes on all day long, since they have a morning and an afternoon session. The morning session has to be done by 2:15, then you immediately go into dry rehearsal for the afternoon session. The director usually doesn't get a lunch break - they bring you a sandwich. Then you go off to the other studio and do the same thing, until, 7, 8 or even 11 o'clock at night.

 

PRESSMAN: I would really not like to lose the morning dry rehearsal, because that's where you really lay out how the scene is to be played. Plus you get a chance then to check your shots.

 

ROSE: Do you think performances have suffered as a result of this incredibly pressured schedule?

 

AUERBACH: It depends on the actors. They're adaptable too, just as we have to be.

 

PRESSMAN: The people who come from the theater are the most disciplined and the best to work with. They come in, they know their lines, they're there ahead of time.

 

AUERBACH: The older actors also are frequently much better.

 

ROSE: Soap opera actors must memorize an enormous quantity of material, far more than actors in any other field. What problems does this present for them and for you?

 

PRESSMAN: Some actors, particu- larly the veterans like Erika Slezak, Susan Lucci, and Robin Strasser are magnificent at it. They may not have all their lines memorized before they get in, but they're so expert they can pick them up during the day.

 

AUERBACH: For actors who are on four or five times a week, line memorization is a big issue, but as David said, they're experienced enough to pick up their lines in the morning, perhaps hold the script in their hands during dry rehearsal, and by the time we go to camera blocking, they know it. The ones who aren't so experienced may continue to hold the script during camera blocking, but then they've got it down.

 

ROSE: There was a period during the early 1980s when many soap operas began to use teleprompters to help the actors with their lines. How did you feel this worked out?

 

PRESSMAN: Unfortunately, actors began to depend on them. They wouldn't really know the words comfortably, and very few how to use the prompters without making it look obvious. I remember one of the actors was nearsighted as she was constantly squinting to make out her lines.

 

AUERBACH: They eventually got magnifiers for them, but it didn't help. We only used the prompters up until about the mid- 1980s.

 

PRESSMAN: I would love it, too, particularly for the actors. Some of the young actors we work with today come in and don't even have their lines down. I'd say to them"come on, you make $600, $700 a day to learn your craft. How dare you come into work and not know your lines cold ?"

 

AUERBACH: It's a discipline problem. If we had to do it live, they'd have to know their parts. I hate it when an actor, right in the middle of taping, says "can I do it over again?" What can you do? So you have to do it over.

 

ROSE: You mentioned that in the past when a mistake occurred during taping, it was very difficult to do anything about it because you only had the network's VTR's for a very limited, set period of time. What happens now?

 

PRESSMAN: You stop and do a pickup, since the editing and technology permits you to do it.

 

AUERBACH: The terrible problem with that is if you have a very emotional scene, and one of the actors makes a mistake and you have to do a pick -up, you have to stop and find the place to do the pick -up -well, by then, all of the emotion goes out of the scene. You're better off to just to go back to the start of the scene and let them play it from there.

 

ROSE: A dramatic change occurred in daytime drama when you were able to get out of the studio and shoot a few scenes or even an entire show on location. How did this come about?

 

PRESSMAN: The technology permitted it. Smaller cameras, simplified editing -all of these things made it much more feasible to leave the studio.

 

ROSE: What was it like for you as a director shooting remotes, where previously you were confined to the studio.

 

PRESSMAN: It was fun. We were shooting with two cameras, sometimes three, unlike film production. In 1980, I did a week in Southampton, Long Island, where we rented a villa, all the major characters came out. We used two hand -held cameras, plus a Steadicam. There were fifty extras, as well as an elaborate horse race. The sequences were ultimately used in the next twenty shows.

 

AUERBACH: Even at that, you had to take the sequence of the remote and break it down, much like a film continuity script. You had to keep in mind what followed what, where the characters were at the end of the closing shot, even if the scenes were shot with a few days in between. It could get very complicated.

 

PRESSMAN: I think if a strictly movie guy came in to do these remote shots, with a single camera, it would have taken two weeks at least. We had to keep in mind how the scenes were built, how the conflicts developed.

 

ROSE: So in essence you were shooting multi- camera, studio -style, while on location?

 

AUERBACH: Yes, I did a big remote on All My Children up in Canada for ten days. We shot two- camera material, for the most part, but with each camera on a separate tape machine. Then we had to go into the editing room, to put together what we shot on the isolated cameras. But you still had to do the editing in your head, so you knew that when this piece came up, and you might have done two or three takes ,you wanted, for example, the second take only.

 

PRESSMAN: I was talking to my son Michael Pressman, who's a director on Picket Fences, and they're now starting to use two -cameras more on prime -time film production. They find that it's better for editing. They can do the show quicker. But working in film, as opposed to video, is so different anyway.

 

AUERBACH: Take lighting for instance. In film, they've got a director of photography to help in so many areas.' Our lighting director is hardly the same thing. We've got to place the cameras, worry where the booms are, watch for shadows. We've got to be our own director of photography.' The lighting director in television works for you. I go in to meet with him the day before with the floor plan and I say "here's where the actors are, here's where the cameras are, here's what angle I'm shooting from, here's where the boom's going to be." And he lights from what I tell him. He doesn't tell me where the lights are going to go.

 

PRESSMAN: In the daytime situation, if the director is not prepared when he comes in the early morning for the first rehearsal with the actors, if he's not 102% prepared, it's a disaster. You can't come in, like a film director can, and say, I'm going to try this, and the we'll do a master shot, and then we'll cover, and put it all together in the editing room.

 

AUERBACH: Plus, they'll do six takes.

 

ROSE: When did you first begin to encounter the problem of soap opera producers making the kind of creative decisions formerly reserved for the director?

 

AUERBACH: For me it was when CBS took over Love of Life from Roy Windsor. There it was primarily network interference. They began a very active presence in the control room. They would come in and talk about the performance, without understanding that the performers can't be told to develop a particular emotional response just because the producers want them to have it at that point. They never comprehended that responses need to be organic and develop from the material and the emotional situation at the time. This started a precedent for us, and after that point, producers then routinely came into the control room, and a great deal of interference with the director's job began. Producers, who weren't at that time very good, would attempt to impose their desires on a framework which is very tightly constructed. The minute you attempt to do something like that, the whole thing begins to unravel. Far too often in the old days, you had producers come in who felt that anything the director chose to do should be changed, or else they weren't earning their salary. You had a lot of second guessing, just because they were there. Good producers understand what's going on, realize how it works, and can give succinct notes that deal with the overall emotional level and the overall shooting scheme of a particular show.

 

PRESSMAN: I think the hardest part of daytime is the writing, because that's where it falls down very often, where you have writers who don't know what happened three weeks ago, or suddenly change characterization.

 

ROSE: Will you be there when lines are changed to correct these problems?

 

AUERBACH: We may change them ourselves, or the actors may change them.

 

ROSE: Is the producer involved?

 

AUERBACH: To some extent. We have to turn in a script the day before, and the producer usually looks at the revised script. I always note my changes on the cover, primarily for the sake of my production assistant. I'm always very careful not to change the author's intent, but I might change the way it's said to fit a particular performer's style. Normally, since the changes are not substantive, they're approved. If I have a major problem, I raise the question as soon as I've read the script.

 

ROSE: You've both been associated with numerous daytime dramas in your career; did you find it difficult to move from one soap opera to another?

 

AUERBACH: There are differences in the way some shows are s hot. Some shows demand a lot more physical action, some demand that the pace be faster. As new man on the totem pole, I want to fit in, unlike some directors who go to a new show and try to impose their way of working on the control room, for instance. As a matter of fact, when I come in to a new soap, I'll go into the studio and spend at least several days there just to get the feel of the studio and the feel of the crew -see what cameramen are doing what kind of work, see how the A.D. works- how the show gets put together and what the intangible feeling is around the studio and around the control room.

 

ROSE: Over the last ten years, what other changes have you seen in soaps, other than the stronger role of post - production?

 

AUERBACH: The casts have gotten bigger, the stories have become more complicated, and I think there's been a growth in the medium.

 

ROSE: And that's presented new directorial challenges?

 

AUERBACH: Any time you 're dealing with fifteen people instead of eight, you have more challenges. When you're dealing with a story that's more complicated, it requires more of you in terms of what you know about what's going on and what the show's emotional structure is.

 

ROSE: After working in soap operas for decades, did the work every become routine? Do you ever get bored?

 

AUERBACH: No, because every day presents a different problem. You have a different mix of actors, you may have a different mix of crew, and certainly a different script. The days may be generally the same, but specifically different. On the whole, it's a challenging, demanding type of job that requires something different every day.

 

ROSE: Where do you see soap opera production moving in the future?

 

PRESSMAN: The only thing I can see is that maybe we'll shoot more and more out of sequence. Technology permits you to do extraordinarily sophisticated editing in assembling pieces together -more pre- editing, more preparation.

 

ROSE: So you feel it might move more to a style of film shooting, with every- thing out of sequence?

 

PRESSMAN: We do everything out of sequence now. We shoot everything that takes place on one set for each show, then move to another set. All this requires a high degree of preparation, including more pre- editing.

 

AUERBACH: You may even do Friday's show before you do Wednesday's show, depending on the availability of actors. Still, I think the overriding issue will always be the need to save money, and soaps are going to have to be made cheaper.

 

ROSE: How can that be achieved? AUERBACH: You can have fewer actors, you can have fewer extravaganzas, you can have fewer remotes and fewer sets.

 

PRESSMAN: I'd like to see them move back to half -hour soaps. You can tell a better story. With an hour you sometimes feel they're filling in. It's a lot to do to create that much drama every day, five days a week. I should note that I've always really enjoyed doing daytime, because you're dealing with your profession- actorswhich is really what's it's all about. The technology works hand -in -hand with this.

 

AUERBACH: Beginning directors get more concerned with the mechanics of directing than the performance, but the performance is the heart of the matter. I can tell somebody about how to shoot a show, where the cameras have to go, etc., but that's just mechanics.

 

PRESSMAN: Anybody can learn that.

 

AUERBACH: But you either know how to deal with actors or you don't.

 

ROSE: And that can't be taught.

 

PRESSMAN: Yes and no, but certainly by example. I've taught directing workshops up in Maine, and I tend to take the directors and break them up into groups and make them direct each other. Turn them into actors. Technical mistakes just aren't important. Technology does permit us to do anything if we want to, but that's not the heart of the matter. You can do the show without it. All you need is a good story.

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This is an incredible interview. Thank you for posting it! I love that we not only have behind-the-scenes technical talk, but also talk about acting and the creative process -- not to mention Larry Auerbach was doing this since 1951!

 

A couple of things stood out for me. First was Auerbach mentioning the shift in creative control from director to producer (I assume he means EP). I agree, and think it has brought down the quality of actibg in soaps. EPs may have a particular global vision, but directors work face-to-face with the actors and the script, and that gets lost in translation when you are an EP calling the shots from the control room and barking commands over a PA system.

 

This was great:

 

ROSE: For both of you ... was acting always your priority as a director?

AUERBACH: It always was and always should be.

PRESSMAN: What's missing now is that you really should be able to do a show with only two or three very good performers, a good script, and just black velour for the backdrop.

 

Yes please! Watching old soaps on YT, I really love how drawn in I am into the emotion and the dialogue and drama when there is absolutely NOTHING to distract in the scene but two actors.

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