One woman’s journey falling over stuff in LA

In attempt to varietize (is that a word?) the web series I watch, this week I’ll turn my attention from the zombies that ate hollywood alive to the people that hollywood eats alive. We’re going to take a look at Hollywood Girl. Created by and starring Courtney Zito, this series follows the misadventures of Zito’s alter ego, Quinn Monroe, as she tries to make it big in Hollywood. Or at the very least, stop being the cliche that she is (as she admits herself – waitress by day and actress by night).

A Little Aside About Format

Before I get into reviewing the actual show, I’d like to take a moment or three to discuss formating of web series. By that I mean, how do we intro a show? Do we recap previous episodes? How long is too long for a title sequence? Should advertizing go at the head of the show? Etc and etc. It’s clear that producers are still figuring out the best way to do these things for web series. Hollywood Girl suffers from the lack of standards and some bad decisions. Over half the episodes frustrated me as a critical viewer due to the length of time I sat through intro material. There was often a commercial, “promotional consideration brought to you by”, list of the music featured in the episode, and a “previously on Hollywood Girl” recap.

For Episode 2 & 3, the actual story didn’t start until 2 minutes in. Then, after about 30 seconds of a teaser start, there’s title sequence. After the red light turned to green, I almost immediately hit a speedbump. To be fair, Hollywood Girl seems to have realized how detrimental these time sucks can be as the latest two episodes don’t overdo it.

Web series producers! Heed me! We can define our own way to do this shizznit! Stop wasting your audience’s time.

• Commercials. Maybe put your cousin’s mattress store commercial at a half way point, or at an act break. If you’re going the youtube route, the site is going to put a commercial up front anyway.

• Title sequences. Obviously length varies, but you have to be economical between what’s interesting, informative and just way too long.

• Promotional Consideration, Music by, donated locations, and all other supporters that deserve recognition can be kept to the credits, links in your about, ads on your site & those nifty youtube onscreen links.

• Credit rolls are out, kids. Make credit cards, keep them up for a second or second and a half and move on. It’s the internet, we’ll pause if we want to read them in detail.

• Previously On. Don’t do it. There’s a really good chance I’m not watching the most recent episode first and if by chance that’s what I’m doing, if I like it, I’ll go back and watch the other stuff. It’s right there on the internet in front of me.

This stuff adds up when you’re dealing in fractions of a second and it can make a more compacted experience for your audience and possibly reduce the file size of your upload.

Hey, wasn’t I going to review something? Oh yeah…

So… Hollywood Girl….

This is clearly a pet project made out of love and desire to create. I can dig it. This takes alot of work and commitment. But I don’t think it ultimately comes together very well.

First off, there’s a huge storytelling problem in that we’re often told about things we don’t see. She’s a waitress by day (so much potential for gags there) and only once do we see her at her job (which is a flashback in the vlog bonus content, not in an episode). She has a love interest from season one, we’re supposed to accept their chemistry and that they like each other – but there’s not enough development towards it. She goes to an audition in the beginning of season 2 and we don’t see it happen! There’s even a gag in S2:1 where her friend does a terrible job painting Quinn’s toe nails AND WE DON’T SEE IT! Sure the cat responds to it, but we’re robbed of the punchline. We’re getting all the befores and afters. This screams amateur and “doing the best we can with what we got.” Which I can accept, but if you can’t force this story into the best you can do, you should create a story that caters to the best you can do with what you got. I say this to my production students all the time.

Quinn narrates her own story, sometimes commenting as narrator, sometimes commenting as voice in her own head. Yeah, it’s a bit Sex & The City, but Carrie Bradshaw she’s not. I don’t subscribe to the theory that narration is terrible storytelling. I do feel that voice over should add to the information we see or be giving us additional laughs. For the most part, Quinn’s voice over is information that is so obvious, it’s a needless convention here. How about using it to bring us more of the funny?

My real issue is the writing. It’s the underlying problem with the narration, the fact that I can see all the jokes coming from a mile away and that there’s nothing really at stake for Quinn. We’re told she needs to make it as an actress, but she’s not really “struggling.” She’s bumbling and not in a unique enough way to have the bumbling hold the show together. I know she’s going to drop her cell phone in the sink way before she does it.

The camera work is decent and the editing is solid. I have to mention that the cube transition isn’t really making it look professional, but I’ll forgive it as I think it’s charming in its amateurness. It reflects Quinn’s bumbling state. In fact the show would benefit from playing fast and loose a little more as an expression of her clumsiness.

Zito has great expression and plays her character well, but she’s too generic. If she was half as funny to me as the show wants her to be, Zito would get to show more acting chops that I suspect are there. Again, more of a scripting issue.

S2:1 is by far the best episode and if all of season 1 was condensed down to 3 episodes leading into this one, it’d be a much stronger show. Season 2 also brings up more significant issues. Quinn feels she’s not getting cast due to her body shape. I, for one, would be much more interested in satire of women’s representation in media and a girl’s struggle against that. It has substance, it could pull in some controversy and it might have some real tension. As someone who prefers realistic looking women over media ideals, I’d applaud the show for taking on the topic. It’s more interesting than seeing her fawn and fall over random pretty boys.  But they have to lose the weird streaky vision thing. It looks generic and canned. It serves no purpose when she stares at the “skinny bitches”. It’d be funnier if she looked at them and fantasized about them stuffing their faces with her “grandmother’s lasagna” with or without the streak effect.

I have suggestions. Wanna hear? Sure you eff-ing do. There are bonus vlogs outside of the episodes that include flashbacks and one little fantasy sequence (in fact, it was of Quinn and her friends stuffing food in some dude’s mouth. This could be a thing! Weird food/body issue/fantasy comedy! Or maybe not. I’m just spitballing here).

Get those vlogs into the episodes, she can segway scenes, give context to her voice overs and would allow the format to be a little looser, as we can get jump cuts and play with the editing. Next, make the show more absurd. When her friend does a push up and then lifts her legs, it’s a great gag representing how Quinn can’t compete with people’s crazy standards around her. More of that! The show lacks a unique spark but has potential.

My honest recommendation is that it’s worth a watch, but don’t start from the beginning, start at the first episode of season 2 (no new episodes have posted as of this writing) and see where it goes from there, and if you do like the episode you might feel compelled to go back and check out the rest.

My favorite parts:

Zito’s willingness to look clumsy on camera. She should embrace it and push it further. Liz Lemon is funny cause Tina Fey isn’t averse to looking downright stupid on camera.

S1 Ep 6 • Quinn meets with famous movie star “Pascha Maneer” after accidentally knocking her over at a red carpet event. The voice over and acting come together and make funny happen.

Least favorite parts:

Love interest in Season One is devoid of personality. I believe he was cast for his eyelashes.

We don’t see half the moments of interest.

The narration is too obvious, it should assume a smarter audience.

And now for some links!

Relevant stuff…

The Hollywood Girl youtube channel.

The Hollywood Girl website.

Courtney Zito’s website.

Lady-centric things I dig that aren’t really relevant…

The New York Four & The New York Five by Brian Wood. Great ensemble cast, slice of life graphic novels about a group of young ladies living in New York. This should be a tv series.

Local by Brian Wood. Covering 20 years of a girl’s life as she travels around the country. Each issue represents one day within one year.

Yeah so I like comic books. At least I kept it to realism and didn’t go all superpowers and cosmic shit. I’m plugging Brian Wood, so I should also plug his website. He’s quite good, that Mister Wood.

I have to admit I don’t care much for the HBO show Girls, but I do dig Lena Dunham and what she has to say about online videos, body image and other things sort of related to this blog post.

I’ll be back before too long with another review. Thanks for reading. I do accept comments, but at least for now I’ll approve or disapprove them. Not that I don’t want to hear contrary opinions, in fact, I would love to hear if you disagree with me and would likely add the comment. But I’d like to avoid the usual fowl mouthed tactless adolescent comments that somehow crop up all over the internet.