Posts Tagged ‘The Hills’

The Hills and Camera Flukes

December 24, 2009

The Hills is marketed as a reality television show, claiming that it is not staged or written or planned in any way, but a product of spontaneity.  But something drew me out of the reality so much that I wanted to…. perhaps write a letter inquiring how they expected us as viewers to accept this as truth.  Not the valley girl accents or the endless parades of blondes with big boobs or the empty conversations about broken hearts and shattered relationships, but the camera!

There would be a shot of let’s say… Kristin and her boyfriend (or former boyfriend- it was hard to keep track) The camera would have a shot of them from the front, cut to the back with the exact same conversation and film them from behind except, you couldn’t see the camera! So… I perceived that as the scenes were staged.  I couldn’t really concentrate on much else…

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I like The Hills, so what?

December 10, 2009

While trying to express why I like watching The Hills in class, I realized that I had a harder time explaining it than I thought. After putting my thoughts together, I’d like to explain some reasons. I’m not arguing that the show is some amazing work of art, I am just explaining what is likable about it, or more accurately, what is so appealing about it which has me, along with many others, watching it week after week.

While I am embarrassed to admit it, I am vicariously living through the characters in The Hills. I can experience broken relationships, drama, and high heels without the true pain of it all! I laugh, I gasp in shock, and I cringe at the character’s actions and it’s a true rush. I feel like the only drama in my life which I can compare to The Hills ended when I graduated high school and part of me still craves it.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I love gossip. The Hills allows us to hear all parts of a rumor from every perspective without getting caught. The gossip in reality tv is more convincing than non-reality shows because the characters are more real, more relatable. Even with such wealth and tabloid fame, the characters in reality tv shows will never be considered “stars.” This keeps them on our “normal” level as opposed to A-list actor level. We relate because they do not have any special talents, looks, or lifestyles that none of the viewers could potentially have.

A relatable character on screen is very vulnerable to its audience. Seeing a character on The Hills at their worst is the ultimate connection to them. It makes them seem human because we all go through the same emotional issues. But a reality tv show cannot be “too real” or else it gets boring. The audience doesn’t want to watch some roommates sitting around the couch vegging out, like one can see on Big Brother. Taking the exciting, yet realistic, parts of one’s life and putting them in a 20 minute episode is the way to keep an audience.

It’s easy to find similarities between reality shows. A reoccurring character cast is seen with the typical hero and villain. The audience loves to love the protagonist while loving to hate the antagonist. It’s a never-ending battle between good and evil which the audience loves to take sides on.

Reality tv shows know how to target audience. There are psychologists working on set in order to appeal to viewers and the low costs of producing such shows with the steady viewership means that they are not going anywhere. I think that reality tv shows should be looked at in a different context than scripted series. Instead of looking for a work of art, one should succumb to his or her guilty pleasure and enjoy.

Cinematography on The Hills / Hisham Abed

December 9, 2009


I have to admit that I went through a Hills phase. After purchasing the first season on iTunes out of curiosity and watching the entire thing in a couple of hours, I got addicted. I liked the show because it somehow made me feel better about myself. I agree that the show is extremely scripted, fake, and often a waste of time to watch as half of it consists of Lauren Conrad’s blank, glazed stare, as she parts her lips and utters a soft but somewhat sincere “Yeah you’re right………………….” – a phrase which seems to always last at least 5 seconds and takes up most of the show. I stopped watching The Hills after the second season primarily because the plots (or lack thereof) were becoming too repetitive and predictable. I also could not stand Spencer’s face.

After watching a recent for this class, I found myself reaching a new level of appreciation for The Hills. I never really actively watched the show or closely observed cinematography, sound placement, etc. This time, however, I noticed the brilliance of the show’s cinematography and photography. A TIME article calls the show “possibly the best-looking series on television”. The show’s mid and long-range shots framed by the L.A landscape and warm sunlight give it an artistic feel. 

The genius behind the show’s cinematography is Hisham Abed, the show’s director and director of photography who has also worked on The City, Laguna Beach and the film Elizabethtown. In an article on the New York Times published in May 2006, Abed explains using color tones of red and orange to highlight the romance within the show Laguna Beach, but changed these tones to blue and silver to signify and exhibit the tension often seen on The Hills.

With that said, I may have to start watching the show on mute.

Cultural Value of The Hills

December 9, 2009

The hills is one of the most addictive/hated/beloved/vapid/influential/successful television series of our time- who would have thought that a spoiled girl from Laguna Beach who’s vocabulary was mainly dependent upon the word “like” would become one of our generation’s most poignant icons? Some would even go as far as to say that The Hills ”is almost becoming like a novel at this point, like this generation’s A Tale of Two Cities or Oliver Twist.” But do we really want this bitch fest filled with drama queens and spoiled divas to become the defining popular culture phenomenon of our time? Even in the new golden age of television, Entertainment weekly has ranked The Hills number 82 on its list of “The New Classics: The 100 best shows from 1983 to 2008” (may I also mention that it beats out Mad Men, which ranks 92 on the list?). Either the entire Entertainment Weekly team was on crack when writing up this list, or we are seriously underestimating the cultural value of this seemingly tasteless series.
The Hills is MTV’s highest rated series, yet one of the most widely bashed shows, which only proves that watching it has become one of our nation’s guiltiest pleasures. Is it the tumultuous relationships between Lauren, Heidi, Audrina, Whitney and their many men that keep us hooked (or repelled)? Or perhaps it just embodies our millennial attitudes and desires for fame and fortune. No matter our motivation, at the end of the day we will always love to hate The Hills.
However one thing Hills haters can’t bash is the unreality of its “reality” format. Its contrived design is not so much scripted as it is what one producer would like to call, “Scheduled reality.” Lauren and gal pals are not told what to say, but they are, however, required to submit summaries every Sunday giving the producers a rundown of the major weekend drama so that the camera men know who to follow and where to go. So we are hating on the hills for the one thing that gives us the most pleasure- its non-coincidental capture of intimate moments, girl fights, relationship drama, and messy drunken hook-ups. We watch this for the same reason we buy OK! Magazine each week- As human’s we are inherently social creatures, and who doesn’t love indulging in some juicy gossip with coworkers at the water cooler (even if it is on Heidi’s plastic surgery)?
As shameful as it may be, The Hills, is an important cultural phenomenon because it creates a common ground for people to unite on. All the haters gather together and create a dialogue filled with reasons to hate the hills, they may be hating, but they’re sure as hell social while they do it. Fans gather together to watch the episodes, to chat about the diva showdowns and to sympathize with its characters, creating a community with a common bond and identification. And for the people that couldn’t care less about the show? They share “being out of the loop.”

Check out Entertainment Weekly’s list of the top 100 shows over the last 25 years. Their picks may surprise you. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20207076_20207387_20207339,00.html

Hello, My Name Is… “Random Coworker”

December 8, 2009

Often I miss the dialogue in certain “contemplative” (read: the characters sit around murmuring about issues instead of the usual shouting matches) episodes because I’m laughing so hard at the obvious extras inserted as friends and co-workers.

My favorite is Elodie (wtf is up with her name?), who seems to exist only to be Heidi’s sounding board. It’s like they’ve got magnets in their heads — the moment Heidi glances at her, Elodie’s eyes are trained on her. “What’s wrong? How was the paty? What did Brent do?” And it’s never even just logical work issues. No, they’re chattering about Jordan or Spencer (who are equally abusive… kind of scary); Heidi’s spats with Lauren or Audrina; parties…

Then of course, Elodie got recast from Sympathetic Coworker to Victim to Backstabbing Beeyotch. Gawker does the best justice to this “reveal”, so check out their recap here.

Bless you, Elodie.

Why The Hills works

December 8, 2009

After about ten minutes of watching the Hills, I felt like I had been lobotomized.  After 20 (a full episode) I was dying to know whether or not Lauren was going to lose her job, Heidi was going to keep her job, and if their frememy status was ever going to change to plain enemy. After about the fifth episode I was sort of wondering what was wrong with me and why I kept hitting the next button until I realized the main reason. Even if I find LC, Heidi and Audrina boring and vapid, they are all actually kind of likable. There is something very humbling about their stupidity and their ideas of what they should be doing.

I loved the fact that Heidi thought she was just to good for fashion school and thought her new job would just be throwing her into parties right and left. I also love how Lauren just looks down on Heidi whenever work is concerned. Their “frenemy” relationship is probably the most realistic part of the show, since half of the stuff they do is definitely written in. For example: Teen Vogue would never send an in school intern to NYC overnight to deliver a dress only to make her turn right back around to go home to LA. However, I do like that they are making it seem like their jobs are privileges and can be taken away at any moment if they mess up.

The main reason why I think this show works is because unlike a real scripted show like 90210 or Gossip Girl, it is based in some kind of reality. This isn’t Leighton Meester playing a part, it is a supposedly real girl who wants to make it into the fashion world (Which makes me wonder now why she wrote a book and acted in a movie if all she really wants is to do fashion). Because they are supposed to be real girls, we can identify them. They’re just like the average girl trying to balance school, work, boyfriends, and play. However, it is important to know that the look and the feel of the show are very rooted in teen drama. The minute Lauren showed up at the apartment complex I immediately thought of Melrose Place and when they were dealing with school it evoked feelings of when the original 90210 cast went to college.

Unlike a teen show, things aren’t always handed to them on a silver platter, and even though Lauren works at Teen Vogue, they haven’t yet (well in season 1) figured out some ploy for her to be some celebrity’s date which then skyrocket her into fame. Even though I know its fake and at times it sounds like what they are saying is bad scripted dialogue, there is something real to it, I just can’t say I know what it is. Maybe I’ll find out in season 2.

Who Cares if The Hills is Scripted? Not Me.

December 8, 2009

Mention The Hills or The City in front of most, and you’ll get a response along the lines of “Oh that’s so scripted”.  I’m willing to admit that I have seen every episode of both of these series, and yes, the show is obviously at the very least staged. But I really don’t care, and I’m a little surprised that so many others seem to.

Whether real people with real loves and careers or characters dreamt up by producers, Lauren, Heidi, Spencer, Audrina and Whitney will always be whimsical figures to me that exist in a world outside of my own reality. I didn’t grow up in an environment that even remotely resembles the Southern California coast, and even after attending this chic urban university for two years, I still haven’t had any close encounters with any fashionistas that could rival those featured on television. From episode one of Laguna Beach, the MTV docudramas broadcasted worlds that I would never be able to fully relate to and that would always have an element of fantasy. I suppose that maybe some in a similar position to mine tuned in to examine how the other half lived, however knowing MTV’s target audience, my guess is a big chunk viewers just wanted some easy entertainment. That certainly was my motive.

So what do I care if it’s not totally real? It was never totally real to me, and in general, I’m not watching television to get a sense of reality, in fact I’m usually doing just the opposite. For that hour that my tv is on, I’m convinced that Dr. House trying to cure an ailing dictator, that  Nancy Botwin has moved in with a corrupt Mexican mayor/drug lord and that Locke has discovered a mysterious hatch on a deserted island. For the half hour that I’m watching The Hills, I also believe that Lauren attends FIDM, that Heidi and Spencer almost got married in a court house and that Audrina actually has a job.

It is also worth noting that no “reality” tv show is perfectly true to reality. As an intern working on MTV shows such as True Life and DJ AM’s Gone Too Far – both shows that are relatively true to “real” life – I saw firsthand that producers are always after a story that can be told concisely in a pretty strict time frame. They  are constantly redoing host interviews, voice overs, and asking very guiding questions. Participants are asked to rearrange their daily schedules and important events based on camera crew availability. Misleading editing is also an obvious tool that is often used. To accept anything broadcast on television as pure reality is simply a naïve mistake.

Also, as both The Hills and The City are shot in styles that are more similar to scripted television than to documentary or reality television (very steady camerawork, even outdoor scenes are well lit with extraneous noises kept to a minimum, no host or confessional interviews, etc.), I am inclined to watch it in the same manner as I would a scripted series. In fact, I remember when watching the first episode of Laguna Beach in 2004, the aesthetics alone caused me to take a few minutes to figure out whether or not it was a fictional show. The rather vapid dialogue kind of gave it away, but it still has always seemed to be never too serious about portraying “reality”. So when people tell me it’s scripted, they’re really just telling me something that on some level I have known from the start.

The “Unreality” of Reality Television

December 8, 2009

What bothers me the most about television shows like The Hills is the fact that people perceive this to be real life opposed to a quasi-scripted MTV production that is more akin to improvisation than anything else.  For example, when Lauren is interviewing for her Teen Vogue internship it is obvious that she bombed the interview.  Lisa Love asks Lauren, “Can you write,” and instead of telling Love what makes her an apt writer she simply responses with a sheepish “Yes.”

“Well?”

“I like to write,” responds Lauren.

Her interviewing skills are so poor that it is actually uncomfortable to watch; however, later in the episode Lauren magically lands her internship with Teen Vogue, an event that would never happen in real life.

Yet people perceive this to be the real deal.  My 18-year-old sister, a diehard of The Hills and The City, frequently refers to events that have happened in Lauren’s, Heidi’s, and Whitney’s lives as if they had happened to a good friend.  My sister wants to intern at Teen Vogue this summer, and she cut her hair to look more like Lauren’s years ago.  She has said countless times that Lauren Conrad is the prettiest person she has ever seen, and she wants to look and be just like her.  Is this an extreme case though?  Unfortunately, I don’t think it is, because more people than I would like to admit interpret reality TV as, well, reality even when they know better.  In that way, reality television is like advertising, you know the advertisements are gimmicks, but somehow we do subconsciously buy into them.

Even I bought into the first season of The City.  I would tell people that I only watched it, because the show was on whenever I worked out at Palladium, but no, I really did watch it.  I watched it until this summer when I was interning at Bergdorf Goodman, and I found out that Samantha, Whitney Port’s friend that “works” there as an assistant buyer, was actually a BG intern from a few years ago.  She now interns there once every two weeks or so to maintain her matriculation with the company, but she is no means an assistant buyer or even a paid employee.  They even taped an episode at the office this summer, and instead of being excited by it, I was actually kind of disappointed, because all of the glitz and glamour was instantly sucked out of the show for me.  It was like learning how the magician pulls off the magic trick, for the experience was anticlimactic and somewhat disappointing.

Thus, even though we “know better” than to think this is “real” life, perhaps on a subconscious level we don’t.  Perhaps we kind of enjoy voyeuristically looking into the lives of the rich and the famous-for-no-reason characters like Lauren Conrad…even if we’ll only admit to watching these show at the gym.

The Hills: Actually a Bravo Competition Show.

December 8, 2009

Even though this was my first taste of The Hills/Laguna Beach/The City genra of shows, I felt that the editing and overall style was very familiar.  I am a devoted Top Chef fan, and I know that pretty much all of the Bravo branded reality competitions have the same look and feel, but i was blown away to find out that The Hills fits eerily well into this style.

The opening credits for both shows go through their list of character/contestants with a heavy slathering of effects filters.  The main difference being that Top Chef acknowledges the audience while The Hills ignore it.  Watch from 0:55 to 1:40  of the Top Chef video and from 0:27 to 1:30 of The Hills video to get a sense of the openings.

In both shows the openings are followed by a similar set of cut scenes  that are repeated throughout the episode in between the competition or the teen drama.  Shots of busy streets, fancy restaurant interiors and exteriors, are beautifully saturated and framed to look “careless.”  What would have been ordinary shots are sped up and slowed down and shot with wide angle lenses to give a sense of movement and excitement to cars driving on a road or a person entering a building.

I suppose for arguments sake, Top Chef’s non competition editing can also be made for MTV.  There is an ever lingering sense that the editors are searching for any little shred of anger, friendship or romance to create a huge side story.  And while the cheftestants are not expected to be actors, some of them are more convincing in their obviously scripted, yet subtle product placements than Heidi is at playing the painfully stupid and meddlesome character in The Hills.

These shows also end in suspense that is blown out of proportion.  Through Lauren’s crazy escapades of the first episode, The Hills sets up what is expected to be a major chewing out of the main character.  I could picture in my mind the millions of commercials that week replaying Lauren’s nervous face, but instead she hardly gets a slap on the wrist.  Top Chef takes the same stance in their next week previews where it seems like Tom has had a conniption over someones terrible food or a portal to hell has opened up in the kitchen and a cheftestant is swallowed up.  Just like The Hills the suspense hardly ever pays off.

Heidi Montag’s music career really intrigues me.

December 8, 2009

“It ain’t that easy, but it ain’t so hard” being Heidi Montag. The lyrics are the best, enjoy!