(Blogger’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about the experience Dana and I had filming with HGTV’s House Hunters International. The show, depicting our experience of buying a second home in Ecuador, should air in late August or early September. Here’s the link to the first post in the series: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-1bh)
Linda Benya’s spent her entire career telling stories. And for her, telling stories about others people’s’ adventures around the world keeps life exciting, and fulfills a real artistic talent.
And it doesn’t hurt that she’s always been a big fan of House Hunters International, a show for which she directs more than 20 episodes a year.
“Even as a director, I still approach the show as a fan. I think I’ve always had a real wander lust for meeting people and going places in other countries and learning just what you can get for your money,” Linda said. “I love going into people’s homes and seeing how they live. And that’s the appeal for everyone who enjoys the show, I think.”
A graduate of New York University Film School, Linda worked both on and off camera early in her career. She worked on Animal Planet’s “Dogs 101,” “Cats 101,” and “Pets 101,” as well as “Selling New York” and “The Martha Stewart Show.”
She’s produced shows with the likes of Dancing with the Stars’ Tom Bergeron and hosted on camera with Jeff Probst.
It was at the conclusion of filming a “Dogs 101” episode that she struck up a conversation with a videographer who mentioned he was flying to Columbia on assignment the next day.
“I asked him what he was up to and he said he was heading out for a shoot with House Hunters International. I told him I loved that show, and he said I’d be great.”
Even so, her career went on and Linda said there was a time when she spent six consecutive months working an “office job” for “Selling New York.” For someone like Linda, six months in an office is a long time.
“After those six months, I looked at myself in the mirror one day and said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I’ve got to get back out into the field.”
The rest was history, and that moment led her to a steady opportunity with House Hunters.
For Linda, directing House Hunters International is a job that fits her professional talents, creative personality, and her interests in pushing her own comfort zones.
“There are a ton of responsibilities with this. You fly into a country where you’ve never been, meet up with some freelance assistants you’ve probably never met and you don’t know the culture. You hit the ground running and are required to keep an American schedule in a different culture and that almost never works,” she explained. “And it’s your job to be the creative manager in capturing all this reality.
“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s never boring.”
One of the most challenging aspects of filming a show like House Hunters International is that the scenes aren’t filmed consecutively in the sequence that television viewers may see. It’s all about logistics, efficiency and a clock that never stops ticking.
“We’re weaving in and out of a story and really flying by the seat of our pants, but it’s the challenge that makes it fun. I love the challenge that we inevitably have, and I love working with a team.”
Linda uses both her technical and artistic sensibilities in laying the groundwork for capturing hours of video to hand over to producers who create this relatively brief show.
“This doesn’t just happen. There’s a lot of time and work that goes into a 22-minute show. On TV it looks like we just stopped by and captured a moment of your life, and that’s exactly the way we want it to look, but in reality, there’s a ton of work that goes into one of these shows,” Linda said.
Pulling the whole thing off is an art form, she said, and requires huge attention to detail.
“You have to be keenly aware of everything that’s happening around you, and you have to know how to key in on what makes it special.” But she’s also very much a manager of personalities. “You have to sincerely like people, and there has to be a genuine curiosity somewhere inside of you. It helps a lot if you get excited about learning and discovering new things.”
As director for the show, she’s required to be a subtle micro manager of details without getting in the way of the story.
“My job is to make sure we capture moments. We don’t make those moments you see on television. We simply capture those moments, and if we do it well, it’s a really entertaining show.
“I’m the band leader and I set the tone. I always tell myself, never to let anyone see me sweat. It’s about being decisive, firm and never letting anyone see whatever internal struggle you may be dealing with in the moment. Then at the same time you balance all that with letting the story play out. Gut instincts are important, and you have to know when one thing is less important than another. The work in putting a show like this together is a constant struggle and decision-making process about what’s most important, and how can I accomplish all I need to get done within all the challenging parameters that we’re working within.”
In the last year, Linda’s directed more than 20 shows with four days of filming each show. She’s been in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Argentina, Sweden, France, Germany, Malaysia and Mexico.
She said she finds some common characteristics among participants who go on the show.
“Everyone has a different reason for why they set up shop in a different country, but I think more than anything, they all have a sense of adventure. Whether it works out or not, you definitely can’t do something like the people do on the show without having a real sense of adventure and learning.”
Just the same, Linda said House Hunters has a common appeal to those who enjoy watching.
“I think people love the show, because to some extent we all have a voyeurist nature. It appeals to a sense of adventure and education, especially about how people live in other places. It gives you a realistic look into the lives of people who are choosing to live differently, and that appeals to a lot of us.”