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Selling Sunset Creator on How the Show Chooses Its ‘Fun and Aspirational’ Soundtrack

For Selling Sunset fans, there are countless different reasons to love the show. Some come for the glory of seeing the huge, glistening mansions sold by the show’s real estate agents. Others revel in the drama of real estate agents duking it out in six-inch heels. Then there’s the absorbing effect of the girlboss-core music used in transitions between scenes. Selling Sunset’s Adam DiVello, the creator of Selling Sunset, has always seen the show as an aspirational look at California’s wealthy, in the same vein of his previous creations, Laguna Beach and The Hills. But instead of following the drama of high schoolers or the 20-somethings, Selling Sunset, which dropped its fifth season on Netflix on April 22, is about women at the height of their careers.
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People just love to watch these worlds that these women live in and see these expensive homes and see the cars they drive and the clothes they wear, and I think that’s a huge part of the success,” DiVello tells TIME. “I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and tell me they moved to Los Angeles because of The Hills.”

Below, DiVello talks about the iconic soundtracks of his shows, how tabloids affect Selling Sunset’s plotlines, and how he created a spinoff based on a DM.

How would you define the genre of music that you use in Selling Sunset?

I’ve never had to do that before. You try to make it fun and aspirational. It’s also dramatic, so we use the music to help tell those stories. In most cases the songs are fun, and they tend to have somewhat of a message in them.

The way the music was used on The Hills was so distinct, like the way it would show the artist’s name in the corner of the screen like a music video. How do you think music in reality shows has changed from when you were doing it back then to now with Selling Sunset?

When we did The Hills, obviously that show didn’t have interviews, it didn’t have people talking to the camera, so we really needed to rely on music to help tell the story. And that show, much more than Selling Sunset, we would rely on lyrics telling the viewer what’s going on or when Lauren was looking at Whitney once in the clothes closet at Teen Vogue because she was talking about something Heidi did, and we used this Rihanna “Umbrella” song.

Selling Sunset is nice because we have these interview bites, so we don’t need to get all the exposition out through songs and through stares and glances.

So with the spinoffs like Selling Tampa and the upcoming Selling OC, do you change the music based on the vibe of the location?

Definitely. We certainly didn’t want Tampa to have the exact same sound as Selling Sunset, but we kind of wanted it to have that same brand. How does it feel a little more beachy, or so it has more of an island-y feel to it. We definitely tried to make that show sound a little different than Selling Sunset.

Season 4 and 5 of Selling Sunset were shot back to back – how do you go about making them look like two distinct seasons?

Even though they were shot continuously, we definitely took some time down cause it’s just a little tiring for the crew and everybody to make 20 episodes straight through. You know the gang had all gone to gone to Greece during the holidays and we thought ‘what a perfect way to start the season out’ and Chrishell and Jason’s news had just broken that they were dating, so that was over our holiday break and it’s like, boom there you go that’s the beginning of season 5.

Selling Sunset. (L to R) Emma Hernan, Chrishell Stause, Micah in season 5 of Selling Sunset. Cr. Mitchell Haaseth/Netflix © 2022
Mitchell Haaseth/NetflixEmma Hernan, Chrishell Stause, Micah in season 5 of Selling Sunset.

How did the pandemic affect the way you shot the show in season 4 and 5?

Lots of nasal swabs. Lots. We get tested twice a week. I think we made a really conscious effort going into it, like did we want the cast members all wearing masks? Or was it okay if they didn’t wear masks? Cause we filmed it a while ago and we didn’t want it to come out and everybody still be reminded of this period of time in the country and in the world. So I think we tried to show as little masks as we could.

Did you have a vaccine policy for shooting?

I don’t think I’d wanna answer that one.

The past couple seasons you’ve added new cast members, like Chelsea and Emma. What do you look for in a new cast member?

Obviously they have to be a real estate agent in the first place, and experience is always nice if they’ve got experience in selling high end luxury homes. You look for other stereotypes in a reality person. They need to not have so much of a filter. They have to speak their mind and be willing to show who they really are and tell their story.

Your shows historically have had majority white casts and that’s changed a bit recently with Selling Sunset and Selling Tampa. Were you making a conscious effort to diversify the casting on these shows?

With Selling Tampa, Sharelle [Rosado] actually just reached out to me. I think it was through a DM. She was like “you have to meet me and my agents. We’re incredible.” I read she was in the military, she was a paratrooper jumping out of planes and fought alongside her father and then when she was done with the military she opened up this brokerage and hired all of her friends who were all realtors. I was like, “this is a show.”

And as far as Vanessa and Chelsea, I don’t think it was a conscious effort, it was just like we found them, we thought they were great characters.

Tabloids play a big role in the show, in terms of what drives the conflict between the women, especially in season 5. They have drama over who said what to which tabloid outlet. Are they encouraged to talk to the press?

We certainly don’t encourage them to say things about each other. They have press obligations when the show premieres, and Netflix takes them through the paces of talking to reporters. And as far as the other stuff goes, that’s the stuff that just happens between seasons.

People are gonna wait and watch to see how it turns out when they watch the show. Like when Jason and Chrishell – that got out in the press that they were dating – the show wasn’t out yet but the storyline was out there in the world, everybody knew. But I think that a lot of people waited to see how it happened when the show launched. It keeps the show on people’s minds between seasons.

Selling Sunset: Season 5. (L-R) Jason Oppenheim and Chrishell Stause in episode 5 of Selling Sunset: Season 5. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022
Courtesy Of Netflix Jason Oppenheim and Chrishell Stause in Selling Sunset: Season 5.

With The Hills and Laguna Beach there wasn’t social media the way there is now. Do you find it harder to keep the show surprising when the cast is posting between seasons?

We watch the show and then the viewers are able to go with the girls and follow along with their day to day lives, so I think it’s just something that keeps our cast in the audience’s lives between seasons. Because you’re right, back when we did The Hills, it was like Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly that was breaking these stories every week. We were on a lot of covers. That was what kind of kept our show alive between seasons.

You’re filming a reunion special for this season – is this a new endeavor?

Yeah it’s the first one we’ve done and we’re super excited about it. Netflix asked us to make one and we jumped at the chance. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun, I think there’s gonna be a lot of surprises. There’s gonna be a lot of questions answered. The cast will be there. Tan France is hosting it from Queer Eye.

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