An Interview with Director Celia Jaspers, on HGTV’s House Hunters International
Celia Jaspers is a long-time director, writer, producer, and editor working in television and film. She has worked on a variety of reality projects including The Amazing Race Asia, Real Escapes, Remarkable Vets, Country Calendar, and HGTV’s acclaimed series House Hunters International.
In our interview below, we discuss creative balance, style, and what it’s like filming on an international scale. She recently completed her short film Milk, which tells the story of a little girl (played by Jaspers’ daughter) buying milk for a stranger at a café when he can’t afford it. It’s a simple story about genuine, “just because” kindness with a brightness characteristic of Jasper’s work.
Andrew Cheek: First, could you describe briefly what you do?
Celia Jaspers: I’m a director, producer, and sometimes an editor! Depending on what show or project I’m on, those roles can vary. But simply, when my director hat is on, I direct the camera and technical crew, understand technical requirements and gear decisions, direct the onscreen talent and make creative choices in the field to realise the script or outline of the program.
As a field producer, I’m also thinking of logistics, schedule deliveries, budget, if something needs to be spent or fixed, release forms and contracts, and any legal issues as we film. I’m also responsible for delivering the entire project to the post production team. As a series producer or showrunner, I take over all responsibility of the entire project from green light to on air delivery. So I’m very experienced in all those fields, and I find they work seamlessly together as all decisions affect both roles equally.
It’s something I really love doing too, and I find it very efficient if I can be both director and field producer simultaneously. Series producer and director can be a bit of a handful though, so it’s only a certain type of project that requires that kind of high level multitasking!
Andrew: What were some of the challenges that came with working on the show’s international scale?
Celia: House Hunters International is a massive show with some outstanding logistical challenges across many continents, time zones and languages. The production team back in the US do all the hard prep work, and I arrive a day before the shoot to take over delivery in the field. Languages are always a bit of a challenge working on the ground, but also really enjoyable. I only speak English fluently, but I enjoy learning a few quick phrases and polite words to say thanks to locals as we move through their city. I love working out how much things cost and navigating foreign cities with fresh eyes! I don’t tend to suffer from jet lag too much, so I love to land and get exploring while acclimatizing. We haven’t missed any flights or lost anything major yet, but officious customs officers are probably the biggest drag, especially when there is no actual reason to hold up our camera equipment. The camera and sound teams travel with all their own equipment which is usually up to 10 bags in total.
One trip to Fiji we arrived at midday, hoping to get to the resort and enjoy a few hours of free time, but we were literally held waiting in the airport for 4 hours while customs took all our gear into a locked room and then walked away. It was totally pointless and rather disappointing that’s for sure!
Andrew: Could you discuss the creative interplay between directing a show or film and writing, editing, and other cinematic disciplines you’ve worked in over the years?
Celia: I think I’m a better director now than I was at 20 for exactly the reason of being skilled in other disciplines. It allows me to understand and foresee issues from my crew, hopefully before it happens, as I’ve been in technical roles as well as production type roles. I love knowing all that I do, so I can better support my whole team and in turn have more fun time to make good creative choices, while not wasting it on avoidable mistakes.
As a writer, I think like a director, so I keep it simple and cut out superfluous dialogue or setups, knowing it’s harder to shoot. As an editor, I also have acute awareness of what’s likely not to make the cut. That makes me pretty efficient across film and tv production, as I have learned not to overshoot or spray it down as some directors do. Working in network television for many years, I’m also used to network executives’ feedback and am pretty pragmatic about changes that need making.
But more importantly, I anticipate what they’re likely to pick up on as I know we are making it, particularly in TV, for the audience. So you have to leave your ego out of it, and do what’s best for the show and network first. As a filmmaker however, certainly at an independent level, I am far more free to express my own taste and style as the film is all about that sensibility, not being steered by an executive too much. However, I know this does change the more commercial you become of course!
Andrew: Would you say you direct in a particular style? How does that style adapt and change depending on the genre or audience?
Celia: That’s a hard one to be objective about your own style. I know I can pick other people’s work quite quickly, you can tell their writing or editing style, or even shot choices. So presumably I have a tell too! But my conscious style is bright and peppy. I don’t languish too long, and I like to tell the story efficiently and enjoyably for the audience. There’s nothing worse than a storyline you can see coming from a mile away, but it takes an eternity to get there!
For the television work, I certainly have a method in the field that is recognizable to my crew. I do enjoy helping the reality non-actors become the best they can be on screen. I love making them feel comfortable and supported so they can be truthful in their on-screen moments. I smile a lot too! During interviews, I find people always tend to smile back which is nice! And as a photographer and camera operator, I am always hunting for cool angles or interesting setups to assist the DP so we can deliver the best content as quickly as possible.
Andrew: What were some of the motivations behind your new short film Milk, which depicts an eight-year-old girl buying milk for a man in a café when his card gets declined?
Celia: Milk is a very special little tale. It’s not long, but it really packs a punch as the exchange of kindness over self is so relatable to most people. I hope we’ve all had the experience of helping someone without an agenda, or the gesture of topping up someone’s change, or paying for a coffee “just because.” I know I have done this many times and as New Zealand was coming out of lockdown in mid 2020, the spirit of kindness was swirling strong around our country.
As I was driving back from the very shop featured in this film, I was struck with the idea of a simple moment that would make a nice feel good film that we could achieve for no budget and in a short filming time. My daughter plays the principal role, and it was a great parenting moment explaining every nuance and line of the script to her so she could better learn compassion and kindness to a relative stranger.
Andrew: Cinema is such a versatile, encompassing art. Do you consciously draw from other mediums for inspiration?
Celia: Not consciously, but I do love photography and painted art. I will often see an image and start thinking about a story around that image. I used to have a location book in my bag when I was very early on in my career, and I would constantly drive around drawing shots or taking photos of potential locations, imagining the scene in these spots. I guess I always had a cinematic bug in me, because everything was about the film first!
Andrew: What advice would you give to aspiring film-makers, especially now with the coronavirus pandemic limiting travel and congregation?
Celia: No matter where you are or what your conditions are, just create. My first proper short last year was made in lockdown at home with my non-actor kids and husband using my bits and pieces camera kit at the time. I did all the roles myself, but it was fine. So literally just do it. Someone gave me that advice lately, and I’ve been in the business nearly 30 years! But they were right.
Don’t worry about the how, just start and things will unfold as they’re meant to. It’s never been easier to film or edit or even find music, so there’s no excuse really. Keep it simple, tell a strong story well and don’t get too complicated. I’d much rather watch 3 minutes of well crafted, engaging story, then 15 minutes of… well you know what.
Andrew: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Celia: I’m excited for the future right now. New Zealand is in a unique position to travel and film relatively freely, so while we’re all landlocked here, we will make the most of it and take any opportunities that come out of this fraught time.
I’m excited to make another short this year, a much stronger narrative and delightful story. And have the ultimate dream of becoming a feature director. I have spent my entire working life on this goal and won’t give up until I’ve given it my best shot!
- Thanks for reading! For more from Celia, check out House Hunters International on HGTV and explore her wonderful portfolio here
- Images provided courtesy of Impact24 PR, Celia Jaspers, and Inspire Photography