House Hunters International: Risking it all in Christchurch- A City in Repair

August 13, 2015

Here’s how I saw it going down. We secretly filmed House Hunters International (well, not so secret if we’re Facebook friends) back in January. We had a blast. I promised myself I’d write everything down about it right away to share with you guys. They promised to email me and my friends/family at least a week before the show premiered.

So neither of those things happened. I found out after it had aired that we missed our 22 minutes of fame! And, I realized, I’d never written about our HHI experience. So that’s my plan now- to will my brain into remembering past what I had for breakfast and bring you the first hand, inside scoop on what it’s like to be a star guest on B-list late night mom-cable TV!

Actually, let me first say that I’m just poking fun at HGTV because I don’t even own a TV. HGTV is neither B-list nor mom-cable. I watched HHI for years during college, and dozens of people have admitted to me, since finding out I was on it, that it’s their favorite show and they never miss an episode. And according to the recruiter, HHI is the most-watched cable show (*that’s not on a major network) in America. Note: I’ve been unable to back this statement up whatsoever in a 45 second Google search.

So how did it all start?

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Well, here, actually.

Last October I received a comment in my About Me section from someone named Michelle, from Leopard Studios in London, asking if I wanted to be on a show, maybe I had heard of it? House Hunters International portrays the lives of a couple who are searching for a new place to rent/buy in a country they have recently relocated to. Was I interested?

“What a scam”, I thought, as I frantically Google searched this Michelle lady for signs of actually existing. When I found her, verified that Leopard indeed owns most of the shows on HGTV, and this was in fact not appearing to be a scam, I got sort of excited.

To be chosen we had to interview with a couple of producers, then make a short video telling the crew about ourselves and our move to New Zealand. These were all facts they knew of course, but I imagine they needed to screen us to ensure we were visually appealing enough for the American viewer’s eyeballs.

So we made our funny video. We signed quite a few papers. And we were chosen. This all happened within a few weeks, and we were advised filming would be in January, as the crew all had requested Christmas and New Years off. Lazy.

We were excited, and distracted. Summer started. Racing happened. Scott broke his ribs. Christmas and New Years came and went. And suddenly it was time to do this thing!

We got a text the night before shooting from our director, John. He and the camera man (also John) and Grant, the sound guy and Zack, the… well… the lighting guy/driver/coffee getter/hair fixer… kind of the bitch, really… would meet us the following day at the end of the street near our house. OK? OK.

The following morning was gray and drizzly. Typical Christchurch summer. Convinced that if I willed the sun to come out it would, I wore shorts and a tank top. (It didn’t.)

HHI Insider Tip #1: There are a lot of “costume” changes. The show portrays the couple looking at 3 properties in one day, when in fact they are all shot on different days. There’s outfit changes for the initial interview, the interlude segments, and the final segment, which will all be shot out of order. Keeping the clothing (and matching hair and jewelry) in order is important. Also, you may not wear white, small patterns, stripes, logos, or tube tops. Right.

We got underway with our interview. Director John was incredibly easy to talk to, and he made the whole interview process totally easy. He had this air about him that made me feel like he was really into our story. Instead of assuming he was (he’s done a ton of these shows) I will just say that I think this is what makes him a good director. Scott and I were interviewed together, and then separately.

HHI Insider Tip #2: They want conflict. We talked about this a fair amount prior to and during filming. Scott and I did our homework and watched a few older HHI episodes to see how the couples managed this. For the most part, we concluded: BAD. Squabbling, nit-picking, even talking a little smack behind each other’s back. It’s all for the TV right? Lets hope so- but neither Scott nor I were happy being portrayed as bickering nitwits, so HGTV didn’t get the Kardashian-style drama from us that must make HHI the sort-of-#1 cable show not on a big network.

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Pretending Im not freezing. Act natural. Sit up straight. Is my bra strap showing??

Director John really didn’t care what the network wanted. When we did our separate interviews and he “queued” us up for a little conflict, Scott and I dodged it like Tom Cruise dodges bullets in Mission Impossible 5. He understood us. He’s Kiwi after all. Conflict, especially public, is such an American thing. In New Zealand it’s terribly impolite to publicly air any kind of dirty laundry, even light heartedly about dirty laundry. Or house hunting.

The interviews took several hours, and then we headed to Horncastle Homes to meet our realtor, Justin. This was one of the most genuine experiences we had, as we had never met this guy before and we had to explain to him exactly what we wanted in a house rental. He told us (clearly flustered by the camera) that in our price range, $1600/month, we were going to be lucky to find anything in the location we desired. We had to film this scene several times. I sensed there was a disconnect between Justin and ourselves. (Truth: he was a nice enough guy. But wouldn’t be our realtor. Ever.)

HHI Insider Tip #3: The whole episode is shot in five 8-10 hour days. There is A LOT of film. It’s actually pretty constant work. And some poor person/team has to whittle that 30+ hours of footage into a 22 minute show that makes sense.

When we finished shooting at Horncastle, the day was winding down and the crew went to get some shots of the city. We were released. We had wondered if we would be getting beers or food after shooting, but these guys seemed pretty much all about work in the evenings.

HHI Insider Tip #4: Yes, you get paid. For some reason I don’t feel at liberty to say how much, though if you Googled it I bet you could find out. But you don’t get paid as much as 2 average people would make at work for 5 days. You do, however, get paid in food. Or rather, I consider getting treated to 5 days of very poshy lunches a type of payment. I love poshy lunch. And when Zack the coffee/lighting/hair guy shows up mid-shoot with cappuccinos and scones from the best cafe like the freaking caffeine fairy… that feels like getting paid. I’m easy to please. Feed me.

So day 1 was a wrap. We were exhausted! Who knew this TV star stuff could be so tiring?! And also… fun??? Neither of us consider ourselves to be center-of-attention types, and yet, we were really digging this. Pretty cool.

Day Two met us with similar dreary weather and me in costume #3- shorts and a tank top. I was really convinced that NZ would change it’s mind and show it’s sunny side for us. Later that day I found myself wrapped in someone else’s puffy jacket between takes, teeth chattering, legs mottled whitish purple. Thanks a lot, Christchurch.

HHI Insider Tip #5: We really hadn’t seen these other houses before. They wouldn’t even tell us the locations of the houses we were touring until we got there, because they wanted our reactions to be genuine.

On House #1, they definitely got what they were going for. When we met Justin, our questionably trusty realtor, we were handed hard hats. Say what? We were led into a construction zone, bare frame walls, tarps, dust and all. We were given a verbal account of what the house would someday look like- someday being 8-12 weeks away. We were also advised of the price (which was reduced to a range we would have actually considered when aired on TV!!!) before we were shown the magnificent view from the guest and master bedrooms. Someday I’d like to have a house like that. Someday.

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This is just a Google image. House 1 is the one marked “3A”. I know this really gives you nothing. But it’s a picture to break up the words, right?

After poshy lunch #2 we headed downtown to see some Christchurch rubble. (Clothing change #4). At the rubble we discussed the earthquake, our move, and we pretended to see downtown Christchurch for the first time. Scott pointed out geology-y things to me and I asked sort of dumb questions. It flowed nicely.

HHI Insider Tip #6: You have to wear a fuzzy little microphone on your front (if you’re a woman, between your boobs) which is taped to your skin and connected by a not-so-conspicuous cord to a battery pack on your back. I had to ix-nay wearing the dress I wanted to for one scene because… where to hang the battery pack? Far too heavy for underwear!!! So this little contraption is nuisance enough, but then every time the wind blows, a passer-by speaks, a car drives, a plane flies, a butterfly flies, or you breathe, Grant the sound guy frantically starts waving his hands to STOP SPEAKING NOW and start over when he gives the “OK” sign. In downtown Christchurch, where busses pass buildings that are being demo’ed and rebuilt next to parking lots where tourists drive and speak, underneath seagulls that screech frantically… we repeated ourselves. A lot. I noticed they cut out a very large portion of the downtown footage.

Day Three was our favorite. The first thing we did was shoot some scenes from the house we chose, but the fun part came after lunch. (Or should I say, poshy lunch #3: the epic burger day.) The mountain bike riding! We were pretty stoked to show these guys what we were made of on the bikes (or rather, to have them bring the footage back and get us riding bikes on US TV. The closest I’ll ever be to a pro mountain biker!!). We had a ton of fun traipsing them up and down a few of our easily accessible trails. It was a little bit muddy. So perhaps we had more fun than the crew. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves:

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We had GoPros (small action cameras) attached to our handlebars, which you can see in the photos. These got some really bizarre below-rider face angles that I’m really not to sure about. They used a bit of it in the show, and it kind of feels like my boobs got 15 seconds of their own HGTV fame. Oh well.

HHI Insider Tip #7: You work with a producer on your “story line”. We chose to mountain bike (duh). We actually tried to heli-bike because they wanted us to get to do something we’d never done before in New Zealand. This would have been perfect, but this “new” activity had to take 3 hours or less. We also chose to tour a brewery, and shoot a scene with Scott brewing beer at home, which he does do, and did actually do during the scene. Lastly, we wanted our final scene to depict us riding with our friends, finishing on the beach with a cooler full of home-brew, because this is exactly what we would do. It’s who we are, and it’s who we want the world to see us as. Not a bickering couple who actually gives a damn about carpet colors or water pressure in a rental.

As we were released for the afternoon, still on our bikes, we were given the GoPros to film some more footage if we desired, and given one strict rule: don’t get hurt.

Scott won’t appreciate this next part so I’ll sneak it in and maybe he won’t notice: he got hurt. 3 ribs, to be exact. Ouch.

Moving on to day #4! Short on sleep and one of us heavy on the pain meds, we showed up at House #2, ready to be surprised again. We weren’t met with hard hats, or even an out of budget house. They showed us a house we would actually consider. It was $240/month above budget and a bit far from the mountain bike trails, but all-in-all a place we could actually visualize living.

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Art deco style with freshly repaired earthquake modifications. This house was big, which would have been expensive to heat in the winter, and also just had a lot more space than we could fill. But the garage would have been amazing for bikes and brewing.

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HHI Insider Tip #8: There is one camera guy. But if you take notice when watching the show, there are several camera angles. When filming, you’ve got to pay attention to what you’ve just said, because you’re going to repeat it 3-5 times. “I like the sloping angle of this wall, it’s very art deco.” And again, as the camera pans the wall. And again as the camera captures your face looking at the wall. And again, because Zack the coffee/lighting/hair bitch accidentally walked through the shot. Though there were never lines to actually memorize, it was as if you wrote your own as you went, and then had to memorize them on the spot.

Good old director John had a lot of energy this day, and he was hopping in and out of closets and rooms, asking us to open doors, bend over, turn around, and basically be more gymnastic than we had been in the previous house. If only he knew one of us was harboring <24 hour old broken ribs. Scott smiled and stiffly carried on like a true actor, performing through the pain. What a trooper.

After each house viewing there was, again, an interview with both of us then each of us individually. This when, again, they would get couples to conflict with each other’s assessments of the house, but we stayed true and, in Johns words, “made life difficult for the editor- glad that’s not my job!”.

Setting up for our interview together outside of House #2:

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The weather did play nicer this day, though it wasn’t nice enough to forgo pants, which is how it appears in this photo.

After House #2 and poshy lunch #4, we toured the Twisted Hop Brewery. Though I felt like they had no idea what we were really doing there, they were very kind about showing us around the place. We genuinely enjoy home brewing, and are fascinated by the prospect of doing it on a larger scale some day. Many mico-brewers have this exact story, with Jim of the Twisted Hop being no exception.

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With day #4 a wrap and only one left, Scott and I went home feeling genuinely sorry that this experience was nearly over. While I pondered this and vowed to make the best of the final day, he swallowed a muscle relaxer and fell straight asleep, propped up on 9 pillows for support.

HHI Insider Tip #9: You already know what house you’re going to choose. Think about it. Do you think they can film a show like this and then have the folks actually decide? What if they don’t like any of them? What if they can’t get a loan? What if they choose a different city? What if the stress of house hunting breaks them up? Who wants to see that? What if their visas are denied because they’re actually Mexican drug lords and wanted in 48 countries and they are deported to Iceland? There are too may risks in creating this show when people don’t actually know which place they’re going to choose. Sorry, world.

On the final day of shooting we toured House #3 (spoiler- our house). The big conflict with the house we chose and the other two is that when moving in, the earthquake repairs weren’t done. I really wanted a place that would guarantee us some longevity. The idea of a move out date looming over our heads was enough to make me consider not choosing this place. But, it had everything. Location. Price. Character. Garage. Quiet. Deciding that everything else was perfect, I was willing to choose the broken home.

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Our decision scene was a funny one to film. Hashing out a conversation when you know how it’s going to end is really an art. I could have used some lines to memorize. Also, they wanted to keep this scene very “us”, but wouldn’t let us get a beer. I know probably 45%+ of HGTV viewers are tea-totalers but come on. You said you wanted this to be us. “Us” would have a beer. Nevertheless, we settled for coffee and stumbled awkwardly through this scene. Director John had seemed pretty confident in us until this moment… then, not so much.

HHI Insider Tip #10: The “Three Months Later” scene, if watched closely, will not show any signs of time lapse. Hair hasn’t grown, seasons haven’t changed. I’m not going to say anything about why, I’ll just leave you with that.

The final scene was my favorite. It was the best. We got our good friends, Andy, Liz, Dave, and Lee to meet us out at Taylor’s Mistake beach for a mock-ride. We basically rode the same 200 meters of trail a couple of times (yes, Scott with very broken ribs). We then cruised over to the beach for some beers and post-ride merriment (this part- very real!). Getting our friends on the silliness and fun of our “big TV shoot” was the best.

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I felt like we really got a chance to show the crew who we really are and in the end they finally had a beer with us.

As I said before, and despite any sarcasm or snarkiness used to spice up this post, I really really enjoyed the HHI filming experience. Although it was disappointing not to see it air the first time (with a group of friends, mocking us) it will be fun to randomly flick on HGTV some day and see our silly selves up there mountain biking and drinking beer in Christchurch, New Zealand. And if I ever hear when Season 80, Episode 12- Risking it all in Christchurch- A City in Repair is re-airing… I’ll let you guys know!

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L – R: Zack, Scott, me, Camera John, Director John, and Grant.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Gail Hodges August 18, 2015 at 3:54 am

    Your dad forwarded this to Gary and I and we both enjoyed it very much and hope to catch the episode sometime –

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