Jeffery Hunt is the first to say that he is a lucky man, but he has also worked hard to become a much sought-after director.
Hunt’s direction of “Hawaii Five-0” episodes “Ka Me‘e,” from season two, and last week’s “Pā‘ani,” as well as his friendly connection to fans on Twitter, have made him a favorite with fans around the world. While his resume is vast and diverse — he’s worked on over 20 television shows including: “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Person of Interest,” “CSI: New York,” and “Fringe” — he is extremely humble when speaking about his life and his start in the television industry.
It all began with an invitation by his high school girlfriend’s dad, a lighting gaffer, to come to work with him on a non-union movie shoot.
“It was the like Moses parting the sea,” he said during a recent fan meetup organized by local blogger Amy Bakari. “That was it. I knew I had to do this.” Hunt was extremely candid about his teenage years and how he realized he wanted to not only work in television, but had found what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
“It was nice to find something (I wanted to do after graduation) because I’m dyslexic and I struggled really hard in school,” he said.
Hunt worked hard to learn all that he could working on sets as a set lighting technician and rigging technician, and then moved on to working as a Steadicam and camera operator on “CSI,” which he said was his “big break.”
Film and television writer, director, and producer, Danny Cannon, who was the executive producer of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” became Hunt’s mentor. He asked Hunt, “What do you want to do?”
“I want to direct, I want to tell the story,” Hunt said he replied. “And they took a huge risk and gave me a shot.”
He definitely paid his dues after years of working on smaller productions and cut his teeth directing music videos and commercials. Hunt has worked tirelessly to overcome his formative years of struggling in school and his dyslexic label.
“I pinch myself every morning and I can’t believe someone pays me to do this,” he said. “I barely graduated high school. It’s pretty wonderful.
“I mean, I couldn’t pass any test and I sat in the back of the class and said, ‘Please don’t ask me to read out loud.’”
When Hunt has an opportunity to speak to high school students and their special education departments, his message is, “You have to accept that this is what it is, and you may have to work harder in some things than others, but this does not mean in any way that success is not within your reach.” He said when he was in junior high, he definitely felt like success was not something he could have in his life. And now, not only is he the director he wanted to be, but he calls the likes of Peter Lenkov, J.J. Abrams, Gary Sinise and Danny Cannon his colleagues.
In January, when Hunt was here shooting “Pā‘ani,” he was gracious enough to meet with local “Hawaii Five-0” fans. We were all lucky enough to pick his brain about how he shoots a television show, and to get some behind the scenes background. Actor Dennis Chun, who had just spent the morning shooting the Pro Bowl scene from “Pāʻani” with Hunt, also joined in the fun, and gave me some of the insight I added to my review of the episode, “Playing the Game.”
Chun had only great things to say about Hunt.
“Jeff is clear and knows the story he wants to tell,” said Chun. “His professionalism and his commitment has inspired me to work even harder at my craft.”
And likewise, Hunt only had great things to say about filming “Hawaii Five-0″ and the show’s crew.
“They have the best attitudes; they will do anything I ask,” said Hunt. “I would take this crew anywhere. These guys are amazing.
“It’s a real team effort, all local hires, and with all sincerity — they are the best. They don’t whine or complain when I ask them to come back from lunch a few minutes early so I can get the shots I want or when I ask them to lay yards and yards of track (for the Steadicam]) to get a shot. They are awesome.”
It was refreshing to hear more about the crew and how Hunt loved working with them, as well as how great Alex O’Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, and Grace Park are to direct. Chun said he is a great director, and that he “appreciated Jeff giving me room to create, which is really wonderful.”
Hunt said, “If you pick the right locations and the right cast, the show should basically shoot itself. And you always have the right cast always on this show. I should just be there to guide it.”
From the response to his episodes, always action packed and well-shot, Hunt is a great guide for “Five-0.” He is always ready to give credit where credit is due, and was thankful to the Locations Producer Jeff Downer for knowing the perfect locations to shoot, and to Peter Lenkov, the executive producer and showrunner, for giving him room to direct and to create the kind of episode that Hunt envisions.
He also had high praise for Jeff Cadiente and his stunt crew for being willing to do all the crazy stunts Hunt wants done. For “Pāʻani,” the opening scene was a huge Navy SEAL-type invasion scene, and Hunt talked about how much fun he had shooting all the guns and action.
“You just trust that you have communicated what you want, and when you hire the right people, they take what you want and it just goes so much farther,” he said. Hunt said he did have had some “heart-stopping” moments with the stunt crew, like in “Ka Meʻe,” when the Joao Caegano’s character flipped over in a jeep while trying to escape from McGarrett. He said his heart just dropped when the jeep went into a ditch, but Cadiente and the stunt guy in the backseat, just bounced back up.
“And that’s the thing, about hiring the right people for the job, and about this crew — they make me look awesome.”
You can follow Jeff Hunt on Twitter.
Redux Side Note:
We are entering a few weeks of repeats. This week, “Lana I Ka Moana” aired during the regular Monday night timeslot.
Saturday, March 2, is a special rebroadcast of “Kālele” from season two, and Monday, March 4, is a repeat of “ʻŌlelo Hoʻopaʻi Make,” which was an episode that many fans missed because of it aired directly after the AFC Championship.
And don’t lose your head, but there is one more repeat on March 11, “Pōpilikia,” before a new episode airs March 18 — Dog the Bounty Hunter and his family guest star in “Na Kiʻi.”
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher who lives and works in Honolulu. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.