That's a Wrap (Our Time as Reality TV Employees)

Having never been considered for reality TV stardom, Marisa, the #littlefrenchiesmurfs, and I really had no idea what to expect going into last week’s adventure with House Hunters International. When we left for France in August, a couple of close friends had suggested we apply to the show (which we shamefully had never watched), so we rightfully obeyed. We figured it was kind of like applying to community college - as you met certain criteria (in this case moving abroad while needing to obtain adequate shelter), you were pretty much guaranteed to get in.

We learned this week that most people actually don’t make the cut, which made us feel even more honored to have gone through the experience. Tonight, in true Smurthwaite fashion, I asked for highlights from our five days of filming. Not one person mentioned the lights, or the cameras, or the thrill of being on TV in some distant future (FYI - 6-8 months is the average lag between shooting and airing, so set your DVR’s now for mid-October 2016). Instead, what we all loved most about the experience were the people we came to love behind all the lights, cameras, and action:

Risa, Director: 

“Are you sure Benny will be okay all alone?” was Risa’s first questions when she and Marisa connected on Filmday Eve (we couldn’t bring him to our Day 1 shoot). Turns out she has three dogs of her own, one of which she adopted and brought home from Panama to NYC while shooting for HHI.

Like most pet lovers, Risa’s ability to love naturally radiates outward. For example, the #littlefrenchiesmurfs learned quickly that if they wanted any “snackys” to make a bee line for Risa and not Maman and Papa.

A couple of favorite Risa moments:

  • On our last house tour, she and Luc (our “realtor”) had an artistic difference about a meowing menace (i.e. cat) that she was convinced was starving. Instead of arguing about whether to feed it, she just made Marisa, Luc and I reset the scene multiple times so she could keep sneaking cat food to it every time we walked out of the room.

  • Monday, while traveling home, Risa sent a special note to Noah – the “blossoming artist,” as she refers to him. It was a quote from Pete Docter, (director of Inside Out) from the Oscars last night and it made her think of him: “Anyone out there who's in junior high, high school, suffering, there are days you're going to feel sad, you're going to feel angry, you're going to feel scared, that's nothing you can choose. But you can make stuff. Make film, draw, write. It'll make a world of difference."

It just goes to show you how much Risa cared to connect with our family, which really means the world to us.

Matt, Cameras

A self-admitted problem solver, it didn’t take much time for the #littlefrenchiesmurfs to recognize that Matt was the man with all the toys. In their little heads you hear the gears clicking: cool cameras = cool electronic equipment, cool electronic equipment = cool games. He didn’t fail to disappoint them with a barrage of iPhone apps that kept them (and Luc) giggling like little schoolboys. 

Matt was calm, positive, and always made me feel like I was excelling in my newfound calling of TV actor. He even involved me in shot sequence discussions (which he knew I would like coming from my creative director background). Favorite Matt moments:

  • He had me at hello the minute he pulled out his new toy, an Osmo Camera from DJI, to film the #littlefrenchiesmurfs and friends playing soccer. (I’m now trying to figure out how to get one myself)
  • His “self-talk” which Risa insisted was incessant, but only came on strong when the house tours got tough. We had one day where we had back-to-back tours, which doesn’t happen on most HHI shoots, and everyone was wasted by the end of the day.

James, Sound

James is the quintessential lovable Londoner with a dry sense of humor that paired well in any setting. Marisa loved how polite James and Matt both were and commented more than once how nice it was to have such good examples for the #littlefrenchiesmurfs. James is also a pet lover (two cats back home that he and his wife like to dress up around the holidays) and the boys cozied up to him at lunch the minute they heard “Playstation” and “Nintendo Wii” come out of his mouth.

One of James’ greatest talents during our time together was his ability to capture the boys’ attention in a way which made them feel he genuinely cared about them. Favorite James moments:

  • The “decision scene” was saved until the 11th hour of the last day (the team graciously let us attend Church in the AM which we so appreciated) and the littlest boys were in meltdown mode. At one point, James had Oliver and Eliot come try on his amazing headphones and had Marisa and I talk to them through our mics. They both squealed with delight to hear what James hears and it distracted them enough to carry us through to the end.
  • On our last house tour, James needed to stand in for Luc for a second and it made Marisa laugh so hard that he finally had to turn his back in an effort to break her laughing fits. It didn’t work, but it made for a great memory.

Kevin, Fixer

Until six days ago, I had no idea that a “fixer” was even a recognizable profession. Now I don’t know how a production would get on without one. Kevin is Cannois (meaning he’s from Cannes in Southern France) and basically made sure everything was where it needed to be and everyone was where they needed to be every minute of our five days together. His unofficial title was “Eliot’s best bud.” Eliot insisted that he sit next to Kevin at every meal and was always asking if Kevin could come play.

Although it was his job, Kevin was uber-sensitive to our every need. When Marisa had dry eyes, he ran to the pharmacy for contact lens juice. When the boys needed to be quiet, he took them outside to climb trees and jump on trampolines. He even endured Benny with a horrendous allergy to animals. Favorite Kevin moments:

  • On the morning of day 1 during our intro interviews, Eliot really wanted to play an obscure French board game whose instructions had long escaped the box. Instead of giving up, Kevin just made up funky rules so he and Eliot could play together. Eliot was sold from that minute on.
  • At every lunch, Kevin would go painstakingly out of his way to make sure everyone got precisely what they wanted (including my herbal tea at the end of every meal) as quickly as possible. As soon as he sensed we were close to being done, he’d promptly head outside to “do a time-lapse” with Matt (i.e. take a smoke).
  • On Day 1 Kevin was asking Marisa about our beliefs. After explaining some of the basic tenets of our faith. Kevin responded, “I think I’m a little Mormon too!” 

Luc, Realtor

Some of you HHI fans will recognize Luc from previous episodes. He informed us early on that this was episode #10 for him. We suggested he begin wearing a very random yet distinct item of clothing for future episodes, so instead of calling episode 11, he could say it was the “beret” episode… or the “leather pants” episode. Unsurprisingly, Luc was high-energy all day, every day and had a boyish innocence mixed with accomplished overachiever that was magnetic in its delivery.

The greatest thing about Luc was his sincere approach to life. He’s lived in a number of cities around the world, met all kinds of people, and truly feels a deep obligation to create a better life for himself, and more importantly others. Favorite Luc moments:

  • On our double-header house tour day, Luc had listened to some quality easy rock on the way to the shoot. The result was him breaking out in “Forev-ah Young… I wanna be… fo-ev-ah young” at random intervals during the day.
  • As mentioned above, Matt introduced Luc to the iOS app that can change your face into a gorilla or disco star or Leonardo diCaprio over one of our lunches. From that point on, anytime I caught Luc giggling at his iPhone, I just knew he was doing the disco star setting. 

In the end, the #littlefrenchiesmurfs decided they could each be like one of our new friends: Sammy could be Matt, Oliver could be James, Eliot could be Kevin, and Noah got to be Risa. They said I could be like Luc. They also decided that Noah and Sammy would head to London next to visit Matt and Kevin, Eliot would go visit Kevin in Paris, and Oliver and Maman would head to NYC to stay with Risa.

Needless to say, we’re feeling lucky to have so many amazing role models in the life of our little boys; new friends from new places that have demonstrated to them once again that this earth is filled with amazingly caring people.