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Reality show and real life collide

August 06, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Hollywood is learning that reality bites.

Residents of a quiet neighborhood between Sunset and Hollywood boulevards are in an uproar over the ongoing filming of a popular television reality show that they say has turned their lives upside down.

"The Hills" producers and city officials allege that the neighborhood unrest is overblown -- and has been fanned in part by a resident of the street who produces a competing TV reality show.

The real-life drama has at times eclipsed the plot line of the highly rated "The Hills," which features young women who are struggling with their careers -- and their love lives -- amid the glitz of Hollywood. One incident involved an alleged knife fight between paparazzi on a homeowner's lawn. Another ended when police were called to break up a confrontation between residents and city officials.

The controversy over "The Hills" production comes amid debate over the practices of paparazzi and what some suggest is disruptive filming throughout Los Angeles.

The Orange Grove Avenue dispute is unique in that many of those who live on the tree-shaded street are themselves a part of Hollywood's entertainment industry.

Residents describe their neighborhood as a kind of Mayberry tucked between the Sunset Strip and Hollywood's tourist area.

Until now, they say, the street has been known more for its potluck block parties than for its celebrities.

That changed when 22-year-old Lauren Conrad purchased her three-bedroom, Mediterranean-style house in the 1600 block of Orange Grove on Feb. 1. The weekend that Conrad and friends Audrina Patridge and Lauren Bosworth moved in, a 15-person MTV production crew was there to film them.

It didn't take long for the home's address to land in the hands of paparazzi and of fans of the weekly show.

Sightseeing vans and tour buses soon were regularly detouring through the neighborhood and stopping so tourists could snap pictures and peer over Conrad's fence in hopes of a glimpse of the young women.

Residents say Conrad and Bosworth have been courteous and cordial but complain that gawkers blocking their driveways and littering their lawns and the continuous filming has become a nuisance.

"Most of the people in this neighborhood work in the industry. We're happy with responsible filming," said Mary DeConcini, who has lived on the street for 10 years.

But the filming has turned Conrad's house into "a production facility for their TV show," said David Brumer, who lives next door. "They're running an ongoing production studio in our neighborhood."

Brumer, a commercial realty agent, said many in the neighborhood doubt that Conrad, Patridge and Bosworth actually live in the house, despite what the show's story line suggests.

"Lights are left on in there 24/7, so you wonder if anyone is sleeping. Most of the neighbors don't see them there on a regular basis except when they are shooting," he said.

Fans sometimes show up at night, however. "Last Saturday night between 12:30 and 2:30 I was awakened three times by girls stopping in front of the house yelling, 'Lauren, we love you!' " Brumer said.

More worrisome are the occasional altercations in front of Conrad's house, according to neighbors.

Logs kept by homeowners indicate that "a drunken brawl broke out during a party" at the house May 4 and continued as the combatants stumbled down the street. On June 14 "several paparazzi began fighting and one pulled a knife on the other one."

Residents suggest that the paparazzi are tipped off to the comings and goings of the cast of the "The Hills" by MTV or the actors themselves as part of the show's publicity campaign.

A petition signed by about 30 residents demanding that the city revoke the filming permit complained that the show's production workers served food to the paparazzi and placed a port-a-potty in front of Conrad's house for their use. Homeowners also asserted that paparazzi were stealing residents' wireless Internet signals.

Conrad has denied personal involvement with paparazzi. And in a statement, she disputed that her house was nothing more than a de facto film studio.

"This is 100% my home and my only place of residence. I try to be a respectful and conscientious neighbor," she said.

A spokeswoman for MTV said that all of the show's filming was done "in accordance with all required production permits."

"The Hills" filming permit allows shooting to occur 16 days a month. It prohibits filming that is visible to neighbors before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m.

"We require all the production crews to be shuttled in and to not have production vehicles on the street," said Todd Lindgren, a vice president of FilmLA, which coordinates filming in Los Angeles. "We've tried to convey that we recognize that residents are upset. The number of looky-loos and tour buses would make anybody upset."

Stacy Marble, a field deputy for Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the area, said some of the most strident complaints about "The Hills" filming have come from neighbor Steven Antin.

He is an actor-producer who Marble said "is trying to shop around a reality show himself about what a hard time he's had living next door to where a reality show is being filmed."

Antin, producer of the "Pussycat Dolls" music-reality series on the CW Television Network, declined to comment. But in an e-mail to The Times, he said the petition shows that the neighborhood is united in opposition to the filming.

Neighbors, however, said he was probably joking about producing his own home-grown program.

It was at LaBonge's Hollywood field office that police had to be called to break up a meeting involving homeowners and city representatives, Marble said.

Although the Los Angeles Police Department would not comment, Marble said officers have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood to monitor the filming but have determined that many of the homeowners' complaints are rooted in issues other than Conrad's reality show.

"Has she had a few parties get out of hand? Yeah," she said.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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