by Tiara Liquido
HBO, a premium American cable television network, is not only notorious for its substantial variety in films but their award-winning original series. One of their most popular shows, Entourage, is a direct illustration of HBO’s impeccable taste and high-level production. The show centers on the theme of male friendship and its significance when enduring Hollywood’s harsh lifestyle. The characters in the television program are a group of men working in the film industry who, on the surface, seem to only care about sex and partying. In actuality, these men have a multi-layered love for one another.
Entourage has light, comedic qualities, which reflects upon the perceived superficiality associated with Hollywood. However, the show is a comedy/drama and such drama is felt through the character’s hardships. For example, when the main character, Vincent, struggles with a drug addiction, his best friends are there to coax him into attending rehab and begin his path to sobriety. The cast exhibits empathy and care for one another, demonstrating a strong sense of loyalty to the audience. Most viewers mistakenly assume that themes in the show are solely represented through dialogue and plot. However, producers go far beyond the script and strive to perfect the mise-en-scène.
The mise-en-scène of a television show is the representation of space, which can refer to anything from camera angles, props, costumes, lighting etc.The mise-en-scène can also apply to the positioning and movement of characters, also known as blocking. Themes in Entourage are shown through aesthetic elements, the soundtrack, and the use of props. Although these elements are often overlooked, they have been crucial factors in Entourage’s success.
Entourage’s meticulously crafted mise-en-scène can first be seen in its weekly introduction, the credit sequence. Although there is no dialogue, the narrative of the show is portrayed effectively: it can be felt, heard, and seen through the music, production values, screening techniques, editing, etc. Jeremy G. Butler discusses in his book, Television: Critical Methods and Applications, the great importance of the mise-en-scène in television production; “Every television program has a mise-en-scène that communicates meaning to the viewer- meaning that may be understood before a single line of dialogue…is spoken. Mise-en-scène contributes to the narrative system of fiction programs…It is shaped by the needs of these systems and by other economic, technological, and aesthetic concerns.” Fortunately, HBO has a great deal of money and hires well-trained producers and craftspeople to create this type of quality mise-en-scène for Entourage.
The first scene in the credit sequence is a blurred close-up of the cast as they enter a car. Los Angeles’s colorful city lights decorate the background, giving a nice contrast to the gray street pavement and buildings. The camera is positioned low and subsequently the audience can only view the bottom half of the cast member’s bodies. In spite of this, one can still sense the types of characters that will appear on Entourage through their wardrobe. The men are wearing blue jeans and no-name brand shoes, meaning that they are everyday men. They dress casually, even when going out to socialize, yet they’re wealthy (through Vincent’s star earnings).
While the cast may be dressed in laid-back attire, the car they are entering is anything but casual. It is a 1965 Lincoln Continental convertible with suicide doors, a model that is rarely seen in the twenty first century and prices can range from $30,000 to $50,000. This demonstrates that the characters have a tremendous amount of money, as they can spend many thousands of dollars on a rare, valuable car, yet they choose to dress in clothing that common men wear. This also insinuates that the characters have not let their wealth “get to their heads.” They inhibit the world of L.A., known for it superficiality, but their friendship has kept them somewhat modest.
Various images of Hollywood Boulevard flash across the screen, making it overwhelming to focus on one single object. The speed of the editing represents the fast-paced storyline, characters, and society in which they reside in. As discussed before, the characters are a part of the film industry, which is a fast-paced and difficult occupation to keep up with. Los Angeles is also a fast-paced city overwhelmed by materialistic mentalities and the car culture. Their racy occupations and living situations make life hard to manage and impede one’s ability to keep focus, which is a direct reflection upon the rhythm and pace of the editing techniques of the introduction.
Images become more identifiable once the names of producers and actors on Entourage are lit up on billboards and storefronts. The camera switches back and forth from the names being lit up in streets to the car and its flamboyance.
This gives a fanciful feeling to the show and the life these men lead. Having one’s name lit up in glamorous lights is the American dream, a dream that many cannot attain. One can clearly see that these are powerful men with money, fame, and extravagance.
In order to go further into the Entourage’s mise-en-scène and unspoken themes, an analysis of a specific episode needs to be executed. The second episode in Season 4, The First Cut is the Deepest, is a perfect example of the well-crafted elements in HBO production. Although, the images shown in the Entourage are imperative to the mise-en-scène, another vital aspect is the music. The importance of music in television is rarely noticed or given credit. In Butler’s book, Television, he describes four main functions of music in television: capturing the viewer’s attention, manipulating the viewer’s understanding of the image, maintaining television flow, and maintaining continuity within individual scenes.
One particular scene in The First Cut is the Deepest that amplifies the importance of music in television is Johnny Drama’s party. The scene begins in the hallway of Drama’s apartment, which is filled with girls in short dresses and high heels. The song playing is a hip-hop and rap song by Wale entitled “Ice Cream Girls”. This instantly grabs the viewer’s attention since it is an anthem for partying and having a good time.
The ability to attain the focus of the audience may be one of the most important aspects of music in television. More often than not, visual stimulation is not sufficient. Butler stresses this by concluding, “In sum, television viewing is an inattentive pastime. The viewer gaze may be riveted to the set for brief, intense intervals, but the overall experience is one of the distracted glance. In this setting, visuals alone are not captivating enough to grab the viewer’s attention. Sound is a much more effective stimulus in this regard.” Wale’s song in Entourage fulfills this need for stimulation by being loud and fun, yet not too abrasive.
The next function of music in television is manipulating the viewer’s understanding of the image. This can be done by the sound and image supporting one another, the sound and image contradicting one another, or the sound helping to emphasize select elements within the image. In the case of Drama’s party, the sound and image support one another. The scene proceeds to show a room full of girls with only a hand full of men dancing with one another provocatively. Wale’s song “Ice Cream Girl”, a song meant for people to dance to, coincides with that milieu because of its strong beats, drums, and bass.
Another aspect of song is the lyrics. Wale’s song vocalizes sexual experiences and the sensuality of a women’s figure. The hook of the song goes as follows: “Two scoops, shorty get that ice cream (sing it to me girl), Get that ice cream; get that, get that ice cream. Ooh, cherry on top, she like it on top and when I hit the spot the cherry gon pop.” This also emphasizes the dominance of the men at Drama’s party and the objectification of women.
Throughout the scene, Turtle attempts to manipulate multiple women for sex, as guests in the background engage in sexual activity. Sex is on everyone’s mind and Wale’s song is a direct reflection upon the young, rich L.A. lifestyle. It could even be played at a real-life event such as this.
The last two functions of music in television are maintaining television flow and maintaining continuity within individual scenes. These are exemplified at the beginning of the party scene and the scene prior to it. The scene before Drama’s party involves Ari pulling his daughter out of High School as loud, angry music plays in the background. Ari’s scene ends with him slamming the classroom door and segues into the party scene where an elderly woman across from Drama’s apartment opens her door to find provocative women in the hallway. This creates a smooth flow in perfect sequence. Ari’s emotions, frustration and shock, with the school his daughter attends is directly linked to the emotions of the elderly women, who seems distressed to find a party in her once quiet hallway. The camera fades in and out just as the music does, naturally constructing continuity in space and time. Audience members may not be conscious of the music playing, but without it they may not even watch the television show.
Another aspect of production that viewers are affected by, but often overlook, is product placement. Many shows dabble with product placement as a form of business, but HBO is known for retaining a massive amount through their dexterous techniques. Below is a graph of products used in the first three episodes of Entourage, in season one, along with the amount of money companies paid HBO.
As the show has become more popular, more companies are willing to pay for their products to be shown. In multiple scenes in The First Cut of the Deepest, product placements are made and done so naturally that it is almost unnoticeable. The first scene is in Ari’s office. The camera shifts to his sleek, silver Apple computer. Ari, a powerful, high-paid movie agent, is constantly on the go and relies on technology to make money. This directly translates to his computer and telephone. Without those products his success would not have been made. He needs to network and contact companies, his Apple computer ensuring his financial security.
Another central product placement is the Hermes handbag that Ari’s wife, Melissa, constantly holds. She is a symbol of elegance, class, and dominance and her red Hermes bag amplifies this. This handbag is proof of her wealth and luxurious life. She may be subordinate to Ari, yet she always seems to get what she wants.
The last major product placement in The First Cut is the Deepest is seen at Drama’s party. The guests are intoxicated, holding ambiguous red cups and beer bottles. What is apparent is that they are drinking Red Bull, a well-known energy drink. Having guests drinking Red Bull sends the message that these people will party throughout the night, enhancing their drunken “buzz.” Product placement is done carefully, like commercials, and sends subconscious messages without dialogue. The viewer watches a character using a product and will feel that his or her life will also be enhanced if he or she obtains that product.
Television audiences often watch cable programs as a form of entertainment, a practice in which they can take a break from a busy day. As a result, the viewer may not be fully attentive to dialogue or the images on the screen. This makes it imperative that the mise-en-scène and unspoken themes be invigorating to all of the viewer’s senses. Entourage has won awards such as Best International Television Series, Outstanding Sound Mixing, Best Supporting Actor, and Producer of the Year. Although the script and actors may be astounding, Entourage owes much of its success to the mise-en-scène and unspoken themes. The subtle aspects of the show often go unnoticed but the effects and outcomes are the extremely successful and lucrative.
Butler, Jeremy G. Television: Critical Methods and Applications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007. Print. (p. 253)
“Part 2: Mise-en-scene.” Film Studies Program. Yale University, 27 Aug. 2002. Web. <http://classes.yale.edu/film-analysis/htmfiles/mise-en-scene.htm>.
“News.” Front Row Marketing Services. Web. <http://www.frontrow-marketing.com/press-detail.aspx?id=248>.