Behind the Scenes with Huell, part II

Observations from Ryan Morris, Huell’s assistant

Huell wasn’t into “Where Are They Now?” segments, though we once discussed interviewing fitness guru Jack LaLanne to see what we could only assume would be a closet full of spandex bodysuits. Huell disliked celebrity, although another ill-fated idea involved interviewing Nick Nolte about his beloved pet crows at his Malibu ranch. For every show we produced, Huell had a dozen more unhatched concepts. At times, his ideas were so seemingly random they begged the question, “Is he for real?” Then, I’d be looking for Jack LaLanne’s home number.

Only on rare occasions was I present for shoots. Interviewees, especially those not “camera ready,” are often thrown by big crews or lots of assistants milling around in the background, and Huell would never pay people to do that anyway. Huell made people comfortable in order to get the most authentic interviews possible. It was always just Huell and the cameraman (who handled double duty on audio via headphone monitor). It should be noted that Huell used very few cameramen. He and the cameraman would say very little to each other, instead using a kind of shorthand to keep things moving.

The word “perfectionist” doesn’t even begin to describe Huell’s meticulous work ethic. I realized this early on in the job, when he spotted me tying my shoelaces and asked, “What are you doing?” in a tone that said, “Look who didn’t come prepared today.” I blamed it on his background as a U.S. Marine. I’d just give him a look. He would laugh. Thankfully, our relationship loosened up appreciably over the next eight years.

After filming, Huell would return to the office with labored breathing, still amped from the intensity of shooting what might appear to be a simple segment. Without even a moment to catch his breath, he’d have me booking not just the edit days but the air dates as well. I kept these dates on a huge, magic-markered wall calendar, graffitied with endless schedule changes. We’d spend hours plotting episodes for every night on every individual television station for the maximum possible effect…


to be continued…