The secret is out! My family appears in an episode of House Hunters International, the long-running hit reality re-enactment series, seen on HGTV in the United States and various other channels worldwide.
This adventure unfolded over 10 months of auditioning, episode planning and production. We were sworn to secrecy the entire time. The show premiered on January 8, 2019 in the United States. We’re the first episode of Season 136: Parent Roommates in Slovenia.
Without spoilers, here’s a peek behind the scenes of the casting process and the five-day shoot in California and Slovenia. You’ll have to watch the show to find out which place we chose for our son’s home in beautiful Ljubljana, the capital city.
Expats in Slovenia
It all started as a rather ordinary post on the Facebook Group for Expats in Slovenia:
Casting call for NEW expats living in Slovenia!
Have you recently made the biggest step in your life by moving to a new country? Then we want to hear your story! I am a casting producer for an international travel television show looking for energetic individuals, couples, and families who want to share their adventurous experience of moving abroad to a new country! Our show will not only document your move but will give you the opportunity to have fun and interesting experiences in your new country.
The post went on to specify that interested participants can be from anywhere in the world but must speak English to be eligible for the show. I figured it was worth a few minutes of my time to send a paragraph about my son’s move to Slovenia to pursue his writing career and our hunt for a place in Ljubljana where my husband and I could visit often. I attached a family picture and mentioned that we were huge fans of shows like House Hunters International (HHI).
“You figured it out!” said Jen, the casting producer, in response to my email. We set a date in mid-March 2018 for a detailed conversation about the application process.
HHI Casting Paperwork: Beating the Odds
The main purpose of the call was to prepare me for the next step: a detailed questionnaire about our family and Andrew’s move from West Covina, California to the capital of Slovenia.
It took almost a full day to answer all the questions. The completed form was 10-pages long. Single spaced. In addition to the details of our family’s reasons for moving, most of the questions seemed to be looking for conflicts in the family. Fortunately, with our family, that part was easy! Andrew wanted a small place he could afford to rent or buy on his own; I was hoping to spend a little more to buy or rent something more luxurious; my husband, Bill, was OK with renting but unsure about buying. Attaching a few more pictures, I hit “send” and hoped for the best.
I might not have tried at all if I knew the odds we were facing. I was later told that as many as 70,000 individuals, couples or families are part of the HHI casting process each year, although a smaller number actually follow through with the paperwork. Two weeks later I called to follow up. Jen had turned our story over to a new casting producer named Masha. Bill and I were visiting Andrew in Ljubljana when we met her over Skype during a casting interview. Our answers qualified us for the next round: the casting video.
Casting Video for House Hunters International
Trying our best to follow the detailed instructions from the casting department, we enlisted our Slovene friends Tina and Mateja to help us shoot the video in mid-May. We tried to cover all the main points of the family conflicts and what we were looking for. We did a video tour of our apartment. Of course, we also showed off some of the most beautiful locations around Ljubljana.
Unfortunately I can’t share the whole video without a huge spoiler alert, but here’s a clip that just tells our backstory. (And while you’re on YouTube, please subscribe to my channel for more fun travel videos from Slovenia and the world!)
Masha also conducted Skype interviews with each of us and edited them into the final casting video that she would present to the show producers. She did a brilliant job of convincing them to cast us! But there was one more obstacle to overcome.
Next, we each had to sign appearance releases to be on the show. Easy. Getting our landlord to sign the release for the apartment to appear on the show? Very complicated. Even though the release was translated into Slovene, our landlord had reasonable questions about such things as possible damage to the apartment and what would be covered by the production company’s insurance. After a bit of back and forth with the legal department and an assist from a local lawyer, we made the trip to a notary public to do the required signatures.
At this point, Masha handed us over to the producers who planned the four-day shoot in Slovenia, and the one day of shooting our “backstory” with Bill and me at our family’s home in West Covina, California. Never heard of it? Well, it’s an unpretentious suburb in the San Gabriel Valley about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. It’s well known to fans of the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” as the hometown of the main character who gives up the bright lights of New York City to pursue her childhood boyfriend in a place that is portrayed as Middle of Nowhere, USA.
Episodes of House Hunters International are 30 minutes long, or 22 minutes of content plus commercials. What you see are only the highlights of 4 or 5 days of shooting in two countries. Let’s begin with the backstory.
HHI Backstory in West Covina, California
We received detailed instructions on preparing our home — and ourselves — for the shoot. The guidelines for what to wear were exactly the same best practices that I teach TV news journalists and public relations professionals as a talent coach: Wear solid bold colors, not black or white. No patterns, prints or visible logos. Bill was dispatched to the mall to get TV-friendly outfits for himself, and some suitable shirts that we would take to Slovenia for the shoot with Andrew.
At this point I should mention that I had pitched HHI a mother-son story, but the producers insisted that Bill was an important part of the family conflict. Unlike Andrew and me, Texas-born Bill does not have citizenship in Slovenia or any ancestry there. But he cheerfully went along with his role as the dad, despite a throat ailment that made him lose his voice several times during the shoot.
We also had to get the house ready by removing any copyrighted art from camera view. My treasured vintage poster collection had to come down. The field producer explained that when protected images get in the shot and have to be blurred, it has caused a few viewers to wonder if there’s x-rated art on display in the home!
The producers planned a full day of activities for the West Covina shoot, securing the required permit from the city. HHI treated us and the entire hardworking crew to a nice lunch, a welcome break in a grueling day.
We had no idea that the production marathon was just beginning. I’ll describe our four-day shoot in Slovenia in another post. Click here to check out Andrew’s books, which draw inspiration from the lands his ancestors left more than 100 years ago. More about Andrew in this post.
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