On Saturday, April 8 we hosted Luis Fuerte talking about his brand new book, Louie, Take a Look at This!, which focuses on his time filming California’s Gold with Huell Howser! He was joined by Patt Morrison of the L.A. Times and writer David Duron. The house was packed and we had a blast. We were lucky enough to snag a few minutes with Luis before the event began to get a few questions answered.
Which memory of Huell is the most vivid or potent to you? Do you have a favorite?
I think just the first time I heard Huell Howser, when I heard that real Southern accent, it really caught me by surprise because I had never been in the South. I had never known anyone from the South, so I had seen maybe a little television but to hear Huell’s accent and expression that really told me what a folksy guy he was. He had this way of making people feel at ease.
Was he a little different on camera in your presence? As opposed to off camera.
He was pretty much the same because if there were people around he was always on, like he was this folksy kind of guy that loved to be around people. I was totally the opposite – I was quiet, shy, behind the scenes doing my technical thing trying to create stories. But Huell…there were times when he was quiet, he was tired I suppose.
What was your first meeting like?
KCET- I worked there at the station. All of a sudden I heard this real twangy Southern accent, really heavy, so it caught my attention. I saw him talking to people, and I saw how easy going he was with them, and he made people feel at ease. They would just love to talk to him.
You traveled together for quite some time, and that can cause some friction. Any major disagreements?
Well, when I first started with him, he came to me with the idea of doing California’s Gold, he had talked to other cameramen, but he liked the way I would shoot so he asked me about being a cameraman on it. And so I did, and once we got together to start the show, they called me from his office and his secretary says “ I don’t know how to tell you this, Huell wants you to come and pick up the car and have it serviced”, and I said “ Let me have Huell’s phone number.” So I called Huell, and said “ Huell, what’s this? You want me to take your car to have it serviced? And he says “ We, it’s our car we drive it all over California”, and I said “ Well, I hate to tell you this but that car is not parked in my driveway so you’re either gonna have to get another cameraman or make other arrangements”.
He was very quiet for a moment and then he said “ Ok, I’ll take it in.” and basically that was it. He never crossed that line again, and we got along very well.
Really? In twelve years? That was it?
Yeah…well, I was always a vegetarian type guy and he, on the way back from our shoots up North, he loved to go to In N Out and I hate hamburgers. He would buy this huge triple decker and I would carry my little snacks for health purposes.
You truly get to know someone when you drink with them, and when you travel with them. What was it like with you two in each scenario?
We had our quiet moments, little conversations that would last a minute. I would take a nap, or he would be on the phone. Other than that, it was our quiet time. We got along very well.
As far as drinking, we didn’t socialize together. Once we were done working, I would go into my room and he would go into his. I would get ready for the next day, and he would go out and eat or drink and I would have a couple of beers and get ready for the next day – in bed by 9:00 pm. Once in a while we would be someplace – like there was a shoot in El Centro and he looks at me and says “Well, what do you think?” and I said “ Well, let’s go to a bar, have a beer, and talk to the bartenders…they always have stories.” So we did, once in a while we would socialize and have a beer or two, and that would be about it.
What were your favorite places to visit, and how did it differ from Huell’s?
There’s so many in California. I love the Eastern Sierras and those long pine and little towns to me were just fabulous, Oroville… just a great little town in California.
Huell liked the big cities – San Francisco he loved. We did a lot of shooting and traveling to San Francisco. I liked the quiet areas where we could fish and hike (which I still do). I’m not crazy about traffic or crowds. He had this love for California – he called it his adopted state. He was talking to a Gentleman one time, and he says
“ I’m a Californian!” and the Gentleman said “ You don’t have a Californian accent” and Huell asks “ Well, what is a Californian accent?” The diversity here doesn’t allow one.
Any quirks you never noticed you had?
I was always prepared, I prepared the night before. I made sure that everything was charged and ready to go, and clean. I don’t know if that came from me being a boy scout, sea scout, explorer – but my thing was always to be prepared, and always early. I was always the first one there, and of course – the producer always comes in, five minutes before we leave.
Was it just you two traveling? Or did you have a back up crew?
It was just Huell and myself- I’m the crew. He would say that at times. He would say Huell and the crew and the crew and me!
We knew how to read each other so well, and if he saw me… once in a while if you look at the shows, he’ll look out of the corner of his eye and he’s looking at me to see what I’m doing. And if I’m moving around it’s because I’m making an adjustment of the background, or lighting, something like that.
How did your perception of traveling, or your style, change after your show?
I traveled so much, not only with Huell but I would also travel with the LA Philharmonic, I speak Spanish so I would travel with some Spanish companies, and other producers. I would be hired to travel all over the place. It got to the point- especially after 9/11 – it was very difficult with equipment and things like that because I carried one big case for my equipment. Then they open it and rip through everything, and then try to put it back… it was just becoming a nightmare. So, finally I said I’m done. Now I travel on vacation with my wife and we travel to Cancun or the Eastern Sierras and spend time up there. Mammoth, I used to Ski.
How was every shoot different?
The stories were different, the terrain was different. Huell never wanted to know too much about the story itself. The producers would set up the interviews, location, and all that and so he didn’t want to know too much. He always wanted to be spontaneously surprised and that’s where he comes up with “oh my god!” or “that’s amazing!” and all these little things. It could be a flower!
How did his death affect you?
It really caught me by surprise. He was four years younger than I am, and it totally shocked me.
How did you find out?
I was at an engineers party at KCET and I decided to go up and visit the producers from Huell’s office and one of the boys told me he was getting sick and they were starting to close shop. A few months later I get a call from the producer that Huell had passed away. So I was really shocked. I thought he would live forever. He was always on the go, a happy-go-lucky guy. I think we was around 68 when he passed, so that’s still pretty young.
What is the most important thing you took from that experience?
I think it taught me to – because I was very quiet and shy- it taught me to learn and speak up when I needed to. Correct things in order to make them work. Because Huell is creating a story and I’m trying to keep it together technically with light, with camera, with all this stuff. So it taught me to learn to speak up and to make things work for the editor because once the story gets into editing and you don’t have the material, then it comes back to me. The crew, haha.