Lynn Shelton Talks "$5 Cover" at Sundance, Blurs Lines of Reality

Maybe I'm one of few people left in America who still cares whether reality television is actually real or not, but I'm getting more and more confused about how accurate MTV's new web series "$5 Cover Seattle" will be. It's starting to feel like MTV and director Lynn Shelton can't keep their messaging straight on whether the Seattle version of the 12-part web series will be pseudo-reality and semi-scripted (much like the previous Memphis incarnation) or an in-depth, cinema verite-style look at the Seattle music scene.

Shelton was at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival this weekend, premiering "$5 Cover" and attending the 8th Annual Seattle Party, which was co-sponsored by Sub Pop and featured performances by the Moondoggies and Beach House (the latter isn't even a Seattle band, but that's a different complaint). She spoke briefly about her perspective on the Seattle scene--including the assertion that grunge-era bands may have changed their sound to get record deals (I'm not touching that one)--and her vision for the web series.

The most out-of-place quote, if you ask me, is this one, where Shelton says that she's aiming for something "authentic" in her series:

"I love the idea of creating a portrait that's really authentic and shows how the music is created."

This doesn't really jive with what Shelton has previously said in interviews and press releases about "$5 Cover." She usually talks about how the series reflects her own vision of the scene and that it's semi-scripted. For example:

"MTV and [Executive Producer] David Gale have turned over the reins to me as an artist to portray the Seattle music scene as I want, which is to say, as it is, as I see it."

Or, about the purpose of the $5 Cover franchise:

"[Craig Brewer's] idea was to take actual bands--real people--and then have some of the musicians act out little narrative threads, playing themselves and playing out scenarios that were inspired by their own lives in some way. Then there were some actors in there as well. Then he created this hub, this recording studio--he did some things that were more contrived--and every single episode has a musical performance incorporated into it as well.

Don't get me wrong, I'm eagerly awaiting the debut of "$5 Cover," and I love the idea that some smaller, unsigned Seattle bands are getting national exposure. At the same time, I worry about what these bands could be getting themselves into. I'd hate to see them become sensationalized or trivialized or--as the great reality television complaint goes--the victims of a bad edit.

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