Will Rebein, a 22-year-old FIT student, created the film in two weeks, but it tops every indie movie released in 2015. Comprised of paparazzi footage and clips from The Hills, SPEIDI resembles found footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project. It documents Heidi's emotional—and very physical—transformation from a nice mountain girl from Colorado to the possessed, plastic surgery-ruined wife of Spencer Pratt, a megalomaniac fame whore who blows millions on spiritual crystals. Throughout the film, the director gives his analysis of Spencer and Heidi through title cards. In one terrifying scene, cops surround the couple's house, telling Heidi to get down, and she begs them to let her stand because she just had more plastic surgery done.
Published on Vimeo, the film sounds like a joke vanity project, but Rebein's retelling shows the valleys of The Hills stars' tragic journey. Anyone who follows Rebein on Tumblr, though, knows he sees pasts the headlines and understands the depths of celebutantes' lives, which play out as stories in tabloids and on reality shows.
He grew up as a gay kid in Leawood, Kansas, "a middle/upper class homogeneous suburban neighborhood" and "the setting of The United States of Tara," he points out. Rebein looked to Paris, Britney, and Lindsay as heroines who could allow him to forget about getting bullied at school; like many gays, he has empathized with troubled female celebrities. In 2013, he released his first documentary, I'm Not Crazy, about Amanda Bynes's breakdown, and the creative experience taught him the skills to direct the masterpiece which is SPEIDI. Obsessed with the film, we contacted Rebein to discuss Heidi's narrative arc, celebrities' obsessions with Marilyn Monroe, and Paris Hilton's debut album. The interview has been condensed and edited.
Broadly: How did you come up with idea for SPEIDI?
Will Rebein: I started working on SPEIDI back in spring 2015. Originally, I wanted to make my own episode of The Hills using various footage of the cast from YouTube, and show what The Hills was actually like. I was fascinated by the fact that the show never showed their fame or even alluded to it. If anything, they tried to hide it and make the girls seem normal by working these internships when they were making hundreds of thousands of dollars from their own products or promotional activities. I was planning on using clips of The Hills and then inserting paparazzi footage of them. For example, I was going to show a clip of Audrina and Lauren fighting in a club from season 4 episode 18 , when Audrina accused Lauren of sleeping with Justin Bobby. This is the paparazzi footage of her entering the club before that scene and this is the scene of their fight. There was so much happening outside of the show that was never discussed.
How did you edit all the clips of Heidi and Spencer together?
I started accumulating all the clips of Heidi and Spencer on YouTube—which was easy because there are so many of them. I downloaded all the clips of Heidi from my Tumblr archive, because I had a lot of clips there. Watching all the clips again, I truly realized how much Heidi had changed and had a realization that people only paid attention to her physical change and not the emotional changes or abuse she went through. Over the years, all my friends thought it was so bizarre that I was a fan of Heidi Montag, given how hated she was, even after she disappeared from the limelight. I felt like this the opportunity to tell her story.
How did you keep track of the story's timeline?
I had already known in my head the entire timeline of her career because I've studied her media presence and activities in the media since 2008. I also have a good memory, so I remembered most of her interviews and where to find them online. If you showed me a photo of Heidi Montag on Google, I would be able to tell you what year, and around what month it was.
You added your commentary through title cards. Why did you decide to do that?
My first release of SPEIDI was in the same format as I'm Not Crazy, comprised of clips and no text. I received a comment on Vimeo saying that they were disappointed when they watched it because there was no commentary or analysis, but the idea itself was good. Some people said that after watching it, it didn't change their perspective or original thoughts, and that there was a lack of engagement with the audience. Then, I did a poll on my blog and a lot of people wrote to me saying they would like if I included my interpretation of it, so I decided to include text. Ideally, I would have liked to have voice-overs reading a script with footage (rather than have text cards with pictures I took from my blog), but this was something that I did on my own, and I didn't think I had the voice to narrate the movie.
Your films have a distinct look. What films and directors have influenced you?
My main source of influence is Adria Petty, who is the director and cinematographer of Paris, Not France. I thought the documentary was incredible and portrayed Paris in a way that seemed so human and unexpected from her media persona. Visually, I thought the film was mesmerizing and inspired me when I was working on I'm Not Crazy back in 2013. I was also inspired by the cinematography from Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, which contrasted scenes with photos and occasionally paparazzi footage that were accessible on the Internet, which is a key aspect in the film.
My first movie that I was obsessed with was The Ring in 2004. I remember seeing the DVD case at Blockbuster and wanting to watch it so badly, but I wasn't allowed to because it was PG-13. I would read about the movie online—I would read about it so much on the Internet, to the point that I felt like I had already seen it. Something about the dark nature of it was appealing to me. I remember I would print off screenshots of the movie and show it to all of my classmates in the 5th grade. Then one time in class, the teacher was trying to put in a VHS of a movie, and the TV started playing white noise on full blast and the whole class screamed. My teacher yelled at me because I was scaring the class. That same year, I watched the film at my friend's house and became obsessed with it even more. The film was so haunting, especially with the music they used.
I'm also very influenced by Ryan Murphy's show Nip/Tuck. The ending of I'm Not Crazy was inspired by the ending of the Season 2 finale. I also used the song "Cars" during the 2007 DUI montage clips [in I'm Not Crazy], which is used frequently throughout the seasons and was Escobar Gallardo's favorite song. (He was a drug lord villain on the show.) I also found the [intro] song for SPEIDI on a Nip/Tuck Spotify playlist.
In I'm Not Crazy, the opening credits juxtapose Amanda, Paris, and Britney with Marilyn Monroe. Why did you choose Marilyn as an old star to show them against?
I wanted to make the intro consist of silent clips of Marilyn Monroe films and put a red filter over it, because Amanda Bynes's neighbor from 2013 said Amanda would leave her door open and had changed all of her light bulbs to red and would watch Marilyn Monroe films on mute. I wanted to include Marilyn Monroe in the intro to define the mood. After I decided to add parts about Britney, Paris, and Lindsay in the documentary, I felt it would make sense to contrast them all with Marilyn because she is one of the most iconic celebrities and is symbolic of the troubled starlet. Amanda says in the opening clip of "I'm Not Crazy, "I want to be like Marilyn Monroe" and I thought that was extremely disturbing, given the fact that Marilyn eventually died. Lindsay Lohan also has a [fashion] line called 6126, which is Marilyn's birthday. In Paris Hilton's Paris, Not France documentary, [which] took place during the peak of her fame, she says she thinks of Marilyn Monroe as she is being photographed and tries to emulate her "fun and flirty" image.
How did you learn to make documentaries?
I have no formal background in film. I first started video editing for fun back in 2007 when I was in the 7th grade. I was friends with a set of triplets that lived in my neighborhood, who went to my school, and were also on my swim team. They had a digital camera at their house, so we would create funny commercials that I would put on my YouTube page called swim100278. Lucas Cruikshank, the creator of Fred, had a YouTube channel during that time with his cousins called JKL (Jon, Katie, Lucas) productions. I used to love watching their videos and wanted to make a channel of my own, so we would record ourselves doing funny weight loss or acne product commercials. We took turns recording scenes, and then I would import the footage into windows moviemaker, cut down the footage, or add transitions. I still have the videos privately uploaded on my channel—they are atrocious!
Did your interest in the maligned female celebrities also start when you were in middle school?
The Paris Hilton era reigned from 2003-2007, so I was extremely young for most of that time. My first memory of being a fan of Paris is in 2006, when I was in the 6th grade. I took piano lessons from my elementary school music teacher, and she would occasionally babysit my brother and me during and after our piano lessons. During my brother's lesson, I would log onto the computer in her office, and I remember going to Paris's website to listen to clips of her upcoming debut album Paris. She had a subscription to this music service, so she would receive new pop albums in the mail, and we would always play pop music in her car when she drove him home. (She even let me listen to the uncensored version of "London Bridge" by Fergie.) Feeling comfortable around her and enjoying music together, I asked her to drive me to Best Buy so I could buy Paris's album when it came out. I was ashamed to ask my parents because I felt like boys weren't supposed to like Paris Hilton, and I kept the CD hidden in my bedroom. I also remember going to my room to listen to the radio for the premiere of her single '"Stars are Blind," and being so excited to watch the premiere of the video on E!, which I watched in the back corner of my basement on the TV next to my Mom's treadmill, so no one in my family would see me.
What did the starlets mean to you at the time?
Reading about these stars online was something that I did in solitude and kept me very entertained. I could entertain myself and not have to deal with the reality that I was different from everyone else—it was complete fantasy. I always felt different from other boys during elementary school and middle school—I hadn't identified my sexuality yet—and didn't embody the standard gender roles that the other guys did. I also felt pressure to fit in because my brother was the ideal heterosexual, masculine male with lots of guy friends. People were surprised that we were related because of how different we were. My parents encouraged me to participate in various sports, so that I could be more involved with my peers, but secretly it made me feel very uncomfortable because of the social environment, particularly on the basketball team. I just felt like an alien being around the team because they were all very masculine and passionate about sports, and I was more feminine and insecure about myself. My parents didn't understand why I never wanted to hang out with the boys on the team and would make me call them to come over; they just assumed I was shy. One time in 8th grade in 2008, I was sitting on the floor in gym class, listening to my iPod while the roll was being called. A popular boy asked, "Will, what music are you listening to?" and it was "Gimme More" by Britney Spears. I immediately changed the song but he said, "Let me guess, Britney Spears? Hannah Montana?" and everyone started laughing. When I got home, I deleted her music off my iPod. I didn't realize this at the time, but when I would read about pop culture online—about Lindsay, Paris, Britney—all these girls were a vessel of escape.