Dinner is a dud. A lot of desultory requests for napkins, a few belches and conversation on the order of "Whose Gatorade?" Someone feeds half a loaf of Italian bread to the dog.
There are seven carefully chosen people between the ages of 19 and 25 sharing this rather swell loft in SoHo for 13 weeks. The price of admission is that video cameras and microphones are recording their interactions, adventures, routines and mishaps. Their highly edited lives, set to a throbbing soundtrack of INXS and Guns N' Roses, will become an MTV series called The Real World _ a 13-episode hybrid of documentary and soap opera, with overtones of music video, that premieres May 21.
Executive producer Jon Murray, watching the proceedings on video monitors from the control room built into the rear of the loft, says, "They'll loosen up."
Besides, he says, action "happens when we least expect it." Why, just last night Kevin (the poet) and Eric (the model) had a big blowup and, with the camera operators scrambling to follow, stalked out of the loft; they wound up spending two hours talking on a doorstep on lower Broadway. A few nights back, Norm and Julie (the gotta-dance kid) and Heather (the rapper) started painting a Jerry Brown mural and segued into a paint fight that proved quite telegenic, although a squad of carpet cleaners was required the next day.
All of which reassures Murray and co-executive producer Mary Ellis Bunim, who's in Los Angeles editing the resulting tide of videotape, that their concept _ "a group of young people living in a loft together in New York City pursuing their dreams" _ is viable verite.
Originally, MTV was interested in an actual soap opera, the kind requiring scripts and actors, aimed at its core audience of 18- to 24-year-olds. But by the time writers are seasoned enough to generate credible scripts, programing execs decided, they lose touch with the rites and lingo of the young and may even gag at phrases like "pursuing their dreams." Besides, writers and actors cost money.
Once the network gave the go-ahead in November, the producers launched their search for the project's two central elements: the people and the place.
After visiting and rejecting several dozen locations, the producers found this building downtown and broke through the walls of two adjacent apartments to form a single vast four-bedroom loft _ one that few artistic young wannabes could actually afford to rent, even en masse.
Both home and set, the place has been bugged, with 14 mikes set into ceilings and night tables, in addition to the wireless ones the participants wear. The phones have been tapped so that viewers can hear both sides of conversations. In an adjacent work space with a separate entrance, a crew of up to 13 people at a time puts in 10-hour shifts surrounded by dubbing racks, a sound-mixing console and swags of cable.
The residents of Loftland are a deliberately diverse collection: three women, four men, five whites and two blacks: six people who were already living in or around New York and _ after auditions in Austin, Tex., and Birmingham _ Alabamian Julie Oliver, at 19 the baby of the bunch. Add three musicians, various other fledgling performers and artists, and no one who works for the phone company.