Up in a posh stretch of the Hollywood Hills the same neighborhood where Jennifer Aniston lives The Hills gang has gathered for the barbecue hosted by Lauren's ex Doug Reinhardt, whose dad lays claim to inventing the frozen burrito. Most of the show's main players are gathered around the backyard pool: Lauren, her roommate Lo Bosworth, Whitney Port, Frankie Delgado, and Stephanie Pratt. Audrina and her on-again, off-again boyfriend Justin ''Bobby'' Brescia will arrive later, after being chased up the hill by paparazzi. (Alas, Aniston never does drift over for a beer.) Four cameras prowl around the house; the producers have turned Doug's guest room into a makeshift production base. The command center is tense when a partygoer says that Brody Jenner, Lauren's ex–turned–best friend, will be bringing Heidi's boyfriend, Spencer Pratt who Lauren believes started a sex-tape rumor about her last year. Doug goes to greet Brody at the door, and Lauren warns, ''Don't let him in.'' But it's a false alarm Brody arrives sans the toothy blond villain. Doug, Brody, and Frankie hover on one side of the pool, the girls on the other. Lauren watches as the fratty guys laugh and joke. ''That's really gross,'' she says. ''I've kissed two out of three of those.''
As with most scenes on The Hills, the cast knew ahead of time that cameras would be present at the barbecue. Almost everything is planned in advance, which is why production of The Hills has always faced tremendous skepticism is it contrived? Is it fake? The answer is...to a point. The Hills is, essentially, scheduled reality. A typical week begins with producers calling the core cast members on Sunday and getting intel on what's happened to them over the weekend. An e-mail update is sent to the staff that night so everyone can prepare for Monday's ''story meeting,'' in which the producers and story editors sit around and dissect the Hills girls' personal and social lives. From that, they determine whom to film during the week. (On average, it takes editors four to six weeks to cull through the footage and put together an episode.) Lauren and her costars are forbidden to attend these meetings. ''I would love to sit through one of those,'' says Lauren, ''because it's really them being like, 'Yo, did you hear what this person said?'''
Plotting out the shooting schedule is an elaborate process: Depending on where the girls are going and whom they'll be with, production will call ahead and clear the locations restaurants, cafés, retail outlets for the crews to come in. Once everything is set up, Lauren gets her shooting schedule e-mailed to her, usually the night before. If the idea of coordinating your real life with a film crew sounds surreal, it's even more so now that Lauren thanks to The Hills and Laguna Beach before it is too famous to have anything resembling a real life. Her schedule is packed with photo shoots, fashion shows, and red-carpet events like the Dark Knight premiere or the White House Correspondents' Dinner (her highlight of the evening was meeting the Jonas Brothers sorry, Mr. President!). All that glitz seems perfect fodder for reality TV, but producers insist on keeping the celebrity side off camera. The series' original premise and the stories that made it successful in the first place are all about the relatable aspects of Lauren's life, like dating, heartbreak, and friendship. ''We have a hard line because we really enjoy the world of The Hills we've created,'' says DiSanto. ''But you never say never, because as they get more and more famous, their non-fame lives get smaller and smaller.'' Adds exec producer Liz Gateley, ''We give people the access that they're not getting in the tabloids. They're getting their private life.''
NEXT PAGE: ''We work with what they're giving us. I don't think any of these kids are making up stuff, but I don't know.''