As longtime fans of the HGTV reality show House House International, our family was thrilled to be cast in Episode 1 of Season 136. It aired on January 8th 2019 in the United States. Click here to read about the casting process and the background of our son’s decision to move to Europe in order to pursue his career as a writer. Here’s a look behind the scenes of our four-day shoot in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. No spoilers here! You will need to watch the episode for more details including which apartment we picked.
Meet the House Hunters International Team
Leopard USA has produced hundreds of episodes of HHI and has up to four crews working somewhere in the world at any given time, according to their website. Our New York-based director, Risa, is one of their best. Along with UK-based videographer Phil and audio master Ray, this experienced three-person team felt like a much larger crew for four grueling days in the August heat.
Assisting them was Masha, who had made our successful casting pitch in New York and came along on the shoot. HHI obtained all of the needed filming permits from the city and even flew a drone for some spectacular shots. Our Slovene TV production “fixer” and driver took care of any logistical red tape and made sure we always had plenty of water and some amazing food. We really enjoyed getting to know everyone during the meal breaks.
On the evening before we began shooting, we took a family walk around Ljubljana and bumped into Risa and Masha in the summer crush of tourists on the Triple Bridge. They recognized us. Talk about being prepared!
Our House Hunters Real Estate Agent
We met Matija Tomšič for the first time at the delightful Šuklje wine bar on Ljubljana’s riverfront, one of my favorite places to taste Slovenia’s excellent vintages. The twenty-something real estate agent spoke excellent English and was eager to present a professional image by wearing a proper business suit, despite the sweltering heat. Risa dispatched our fixer to the store to buy more camera-friendly and comfortable solid-color cotton dress shirts.
We managed to shatter a wine glass as soon as we started the “meet and greet” scene where the house hunters explain their wish list. Matija could be counted on to deliver an epic eye roll every time the three of us disagreed about the must-haves:
Andrew: a small, affordable place with a nice kitchen on a high floor for privacy.
Terry: historic charm and a great view with a second bedroom for visitors.
Bill: central old town location but with lots of indoor and outdoor space to spread out, just like back home in the US.
HHI Ljubljana House #1
House #1 was a centrally located modern renovation in a high-ceilinged art nouveau building that recalled Ljubljana’s days as part of the Austrian empire. It had a view — mostly of a parking lot. We entered through a noisy constriction site on Dalmatinova Street, which was torn up as part of Ljubljana’s sewer renovation project. Andrew objected to the price, but Bill and Terry liked the high ceilings and updated appliances.
HHI Ljubljana House #2
House #2 in a vintage Yugoslavia apartment block had the view Terry wanted, but was small and only partially furnished with a funky retro kitchen and bathroom. However, the price was right!
HHI Ljubljana House #3
House #3 was a short bike ride away from Ljubljana’s central pedestrian district, where cars are not allowed. It was a luxurious and spacious renovation that ticked a lot of the boxes for Bill and Terry — for a price that was more than Andrew was willing to spend.
Andrew, Bill, Matija and I also had to make sure we entered and left every location in exactly the same order, so there would be continuity for the editing process. Risa has a natural gift for coaxing a bunch of non-actors to deliver fairly convincing performances without uttering the forbidden word: BUDGET. Overused in past episodes, it has been mostly banned from new episodes of the show.
HGTV Trip to our Slovenian Roots
On Day 2, we rented a car to follow the production van out to the countryside near Kresnice, the town my grandparents left more than 100 years ago. Read more about my roots in this post.
Fortified with a hearty lunch at a traditional Slovenian gostilna, we kept driving on winding backroads. We had arranged to visit Matjaz Anžur, an actor, historian and craft beer producer who shares my grandfather’s last name and is perhaps our distant cousin. He warmly welcomed us and shared his enthusiasm for Slovenia’s authentic Slavic pagan traditions. It was challenging for the crew to grab the required sequence of shots with clear audio as we moved around Grad Šenturjeva Gora in the fading afternoon light. We were more than ready to sample the Volk Turjaski beer!
Shooting the HHI Decision Scene
For the decision scene, HHI hired one of the boats that tour Ljubljana from the river. Although I’ve been coming to Slovenia since 2009, I had never taken the river cruise before. We weren’t there to admire the view or marvel at how it only takes a few minutes to cruise out of the city into the marshy countryside at the foot of the Alps. It was the end of Day 4 and we had to wrap things up, despite everyone being a bit ragged and Bill’s voice almost gone. The low-angled afternoon light created a video production nightmare, causing Risa to cry out at one point, “I’ll pay a million dollars if somebody can move the sun!”
Overall, I have to praise the professionalism of the international crew. “Where there’s a Phil there’s a Ray,” became the motto as the Brits managed to keep their good humor throughout. Ray was especially patient, no matter how many times we had to take the wireless microphones on and off and conceal the wires beneath our clothes. At House #1 Masha took a flyer down a stone staircase and nursed a sore elbow for the rest of the shoot.
We felt we were in good hands with people who cared about quality and wanted to keep the audience guessing until the very last moment of our decision. We are thrilled with the episode; the team spirit we felt during the entire shoot comes through in the final edited show. Thank you, HHI, for the opportunity to share our family’s story with a worldwide audience.
FAQ about House Hunters International
Did we get paid? House Hunters is a reality re-enactment show that pays a small, one-time “thank-you” fee to the participants. They paid for all meals and even a party with some of our Slovenian friends in the house we picked.
Did they provide hairstyling and makeup? Nope, we were on our own for that!
When and where will the show be on? The premiere on January 8, 2019 could only be seen on HGTV in the US. I have no idea when it will be shown in Slovenia, but someone who appeared in another episode said it wasn’t shown on the Travel Channel here until two years later. HGTV also has episodes on their website and an app for mobile devices, but they are blocked in Europe. Bootleg episodes sometimes appear on You Tube.
Is Your Family Really That Crazy? There’s a lot of conflict in our family, for sure, but also a lot of love. We also give Andrew his personal space a lot more than you might think from watching the show; it was his place and we just chipped in for the rent instead of paying hotel prices when we visit.
Terry’s Travel Tips: The crew stayed at the historic Grand Hotel Union, a good choice in the central pedestrian zone if you’re planning to visit Ljubljana. Click here to book your reservation. And if you book on AirBNB you might get to stay in one of the places we didn’t pick. Click here to make your first reservation on AirBnb with a 30 euro discount! To explore the rest of Slovenia, it’s easy to rent a car at Ljubljana’s airport or train station, but you’ll save money by booking in advance with Auto Europe. Don’t forget to compare the deals on CheapOAir to the airline websites when booking your next flight.
Shameless plug: The motivation for this house hunt was our son’s decision to settle down in Slovenia to pursue his career as a writer. Check out his books here and thanks in advance for leaving a kind review on Amazon or Goodreads.
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