Case study: directing EastEnders
It would take a feature film director a year to prepare and shoot two hours of drama. EastEnders directors have five weeks. Lance Kneeshaw describes how he deals with the speed of production on the nation’s favourite soap.
The preparatory period, or prep, is where the scripts and shot plans evolve. On a show like EastEnders, directors need to make sure they understand what’s gone on in the lives of the characters before shooting starts. They also need to have a firm grip of logistics for such a large cast who may well be appearing in several scenes with several directors on one day.
The director will need to be clear about the story issues in each scene and what they want to get out of it, as they’ll turn around scenes incredibly quickly. Directors typically shoot a 30 minute episode in two and a half days – “a blinding rate,” according to Lance – but thanks to the strength of the cast and crew, he still finds there is time to explore scenes in some depth even while capturing action relatively quickly. “There’s a vigour to working on EastEnders that can be really rewarding,” he explains. “It can be satisfyingly fast and exciting to see the reality of a scene unfold.”
“In a relatively short period of five weeks, you have to get across two hours' worth of television. It’s a feature film’s worth of material that would be prepped in a year.” – Lance Kneeshaw
Once in the edit, all directors need to respond to the material they’ve shot rather than sticking to an obvious shot list. The editor will make a massive contribution to assembling shots in a way that’s convincing and engaging and Lance admits that often they’ll deliver something better than his own preconception of how material was going to fit together.
At the end of the day…
The end result – two hours' worth of television shot over five weeks – is equivalent to a feature film’s worth of material. The work is admittedly hard, but Lance relishes the buzz of production and shares the passion all EastEnders directors have.