Beloved by millions (and millions) of dedicated fans, soap operas have been on television since 1952, when “The Guiding Light” premiered on CBS. They spent decades as one of television’s most successful markets, but lately, these daytime dramas have run into rough times. In 1990, 12 soap operas aired on the major broadcast networks; now there are only four. And even those final few remaining seem to be barely hanging on.
So, how did these soap operas thrive for so long and just run into trouble now? Is it money? A lack of interest? Are they simply just not as exciting as they used to be?
Full Sail Film and Digital Arts & Design graduate Matt D’Amato set out to answer all of these questions in his new documentary, SOAP LIFE, which he co-produced with John Grossman. The film, which was recently picked up for distribution by FilmBuff, will see a national release in February/March 2014, but screens this weekend at the Orlando Film Festival. And even if you’re not a fan of soap operas, SOAP LIFE is a fascinating look at how television’s changing landscape has affected some of its longest-running programs.
Matt got involved with the project while working for New York Production Services. The exec producer’s wife joked about documenting why all of her favorite soap operas were getting cancelled. The joke turned into a full production, and Matt and John spent two years diving into the world of daytime television.
“My mom was really into soap operas when I was little, so I knew the names of the shows and I knew a few actors, but I definitely had to do a ton of research,” says Matt. “Then we started reaching out to actors, producers, and people that run the fan conventions. It took us awhile to gain their trust, to believe that we weren’t trying to paint the genre in a negative light.”
The end result is a comprehensive look at the history of soap operas, a profile of the shows’ most dedicated fans (including people who petition outside of network buildings to save their favorite soaps), insight into why the shows are getting cancelled, and thoughts for what the future holds. Footage includes interviews with some of soap opera’s most legendary names (like Agnes Nixon, the creator of the shows “All My Children” and “One Life to Live”) and clips of some of the most memorable moments in soap history.
Matt D’Amato (right), with director Sako Brockmann (left) and “All My Children” creator Agnes Nixon.
“These shows are expensive to produce,” says Matt, who was also involved in every step of the film’s post-production. “The budgets are getting slashed and the cost of production is going up. And they’re not drawing in as many viewers. It’s hard when your show has a lot of actors and locations and you’re expected to shoot brand new episodes every day.”
Besides being picked up by FilmBuff, SOAP LIFE has screened in New York and Los Angeles and Matt says that even those who don’t know much about the genre have really enjoyed the film. “We wanted to show how it’s an important part of television history. There are some really great stories and characters that shouldn’t go unnoticed,” says Matt. “This is my first feature project, and I’m really happy with the outcome. If you’re a television fan, this will be very interesting.”
SOAP LIFE will be screened on Sunday, October 20, at 11:30 a.m. at the Cobb Plaza Cinema Cafe in downtown Orlando. More information is available at orlandofilmfest.com.