The Challenges of Getting Hired as a Soap Opera Director

Grant Aleksander, Actor-Director

GUIDING LIGHT'S Grant Aleksander is also an actor who went on to direct.

Christopher Goutman changed careers from actor to director by simply asking Executive Producer Nick Nicholson (Edge of Night) for a shot, and being given the chance to prove himself. He explains why things are more difficult for emerging directors to get hired for that dream job now.

Susan Dansby:  In hiring directors what do you look for – and how do people even get that shot in daytime these days?

 Christopher Goutman:  I think it’s harder nowadays to get that shot – as you could tell from my anecdote about Edge of Night.  We go so fast now that we have no luxury of time.  We have no luxury to make mistakes.  You’ve really got to get the product done in a set amount of time.  So I think the number of chances that are taken for young directors is minimal. 

Ellen Wheeler, Actor-Director-Executive Producer

Ellen Wheeler changed careers from actor to director to executive producer

I have a bias towards theatre directors because I think theatre directors are trained to work with actors.  I think – to me – that that’s in most of what we do.  I think that you can learn the visual vocabulary fairly easily, if you have a knack for it. However, I have had in here some theatre directors who – once they sit in that seat in the control room – just blank.

Susan Dansby:  It is really sad.

Christopher Goutman:  It is just so bloody fast! I think people [who] have a knack for this, have sort of a very quick eye. And they’re able to keep these three sort of pictures going on in their head, and are able to sort of edit mentally. 

And it’s a knack – it’s hard to describe. But I cannot tell you – there are theatre directors who have sat in that seat and have absolutely panicked, and have never come back. They said, ‘Never again.’ It’s hard. 

So what you find here is that a lot of the directors in daytime come from the technical side of it – which again is a blessing and a curse. Because, I think, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to script interpretation; really dealing with sort of the internal life of actors.

And again, this is again a blanket statement, and I don’t mean to say this is true of everyone, because I think it can be learned. But I don’t think it is as instinctive as it is if you come at it from another angle as an actor or as a theatre director who comes from it from that side of it.

Susan Dansby:  I’ll put my two cents in on that as well. I think that it does help to have more than one vocabulary. To have a little bit of experience in the theatre, have a little bit of experience from the technical view.  There are so many things that can serve you; but if you’ve only studied one medium and one way of doing things, you’re really at a disadvantage.

Christopher Goutman:  I know that what we do is not the most complex stuff in terms of scripts. But you do have to interpret your script. And script interpretation is a key to what we do in terms of directing.

If you don’t understand what a beat change is, and know that it signals a change that you have to make in your physical staging of actors – again, that may seem to be in our dialogue, yours and mine, may seem to be the most basic thing.

But you’d be amazed that how few people really get that nowadays. And I cannot tell you the number of times here at As the World Turns over the past few years, I’ve just gone, “Well, wait a second. The scene changes here.  You’ve got to reflect that in your staging.” So you’d be surprised at what may seem very simple – as soap operas are, essentially – sometimes, a lot of directors just don’t get it.

More about Christopher Goutman:

Christopher Goutman: On Working with Writers and
Saying Goodbye to As the World Turns

How Does a Soap Opera Executive Producer Choose Actors?
Christopher Goutman: What it’s Really Like to be a Soap Opera Executive Producer
Christopher Goutman’s Journey from Child Actor to Director to Producer
Christopher Goutman Bio

About Susan Dansby

Susan Dansby has received four Emmy® Awards and two Writers Guild Awards for her work on the soap opera, AS THE WORLD TURNS. She is the author of HOW DID YOU GET THAT JOB? MY DREAM JOBS AND HOW THEY CAME TRUE.
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