Having the ability and capacity to take the bull by the horns and create your own original content is more often than not, entirely exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. However, multi-hyphenate Crystal Hunt, has done just that – and there doesn’t seem like there’s any way of stopping her, nor should you. A fan of classic television shows like The Golden Girls and I Love Lucy, Crystal is in the business of making TV audiences happy. After appearing on Queens of Drama to pitch and develop her own original series, which didn’t get picked up immediately, she did get a second chance to finally make her TV series Mood Swings.
I had the opportunity to speak with Crystal about her show’s journey, her acting background as a successful soap actress and what she’s learned from her many years in the industry that has helped better serve her writing, producing, and as an overall leader on her TV show Mood Swings.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: Congrats on producing your own TV show. That's quite an accomplishment. Can you tell me about your journey from the story conception to getting your show produced?
Crystal Hunt: Well, it was a show concept of treatment I had to create while I was a part of the storyline on Queens of Drama on television. I was like, ‘Well, obviously, I know what I want to write.’ And then it just came to be that when I was going in to negotiate for my second season of Hilton Head Island on Pure Flix with David White, he was like, “So whatever happened to that female comedy show you had pitched on Queens of Drama, did anything ever come of that?” I said, “No, thankfully I've been working. So, nothing really has come of it to date, but I'd like to at some point,” and he’s like, “I know we’re not here to talk about that but I’m sorry I put you on the spot, but would you mind giving me a rough pitch?” [laughs] And I’m thinking in my head like, ‘How many years ago did I pitch this?’ I have to pull out story and characters out of my like extended hard drive storage in my brain, like where you have to blow the moth balls off and everything. And I did and he’s like, “Great. I love it. Let's do eight episodes.” And I’m like, “Wait, what?” [laughs] “You know, it's not written, right? It’s just a treatment.” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. As soon as you wrap season two, let's just go straight into beat boarding all the episodes out and then go into writing all the episodes, and then we'll shoot by the fall.” I’m like, “OK, let's do it.”
Sadie: That's incredible. And so, from there did you have a say in putting together your own writer’s room and casting and everything in between?
Crystal: Of course. Now, the writer’s room, obviously, when you're dealing with a budget, your writer’s room is very minimal. So yes, I wanted the writer of the Golden Girls who I'm friends with to write it, but I realized, it is not possible at all for a union comedy writer to write eight episodes in that short of a timeframe. So, I realized very quickly that I was going to have to find another girlfriend that also has written to help put our female brains together and help generate as much female content to collaborate with him. So that it wasn't like he was having to pull from the wild blue yonder. He does have a lot of daughters. [laughs]
Sadie: [laughs] It's very different writing female characters if you're not a female.
Crystal: I gotta tell you though that it is scary how some men just get it. They just get women. However, there is nothing that can compare to being a woman. Because you know the little random crap that happens in life that you would like, you know, you'll stop for a minute in the day and be like, ‘God, if anyone saw this, never in a million years would someone believe this.’ But I mean, it's just part of being a female. [laughs] I think it made it a lot easier to sort of have us all sit down like generate beat boards for each episode and then just kind of have at it. And he would always sort of rein us and when we were getting a little too outlandish or off topic, even though we found it funny. [laughs] He’s like, “The key to writing these things is to be funny in telling stories. You don't want to go off of story to tell something funny. You have to stay on topic, while making it funny.” And I’m like, “Crap!” [laughs]
Sadie: So, was writing always something that you thought of doing? I know your background is mostly as an actress and a successful actress at that.
Crystal: Thank you. No, I had not thought of it. Although I've never been opposed to it. And honestly, until you're in a position where craps gotta get done, and nobody's gonna be able to pull ideas or visions for what you have of these characters, and how they interact with each other better than what's going on in your peanut than yourself, then you kind of have to figure it out, you know. I was filming season two of Hilton Head Island, I was actually watching every single possible MasterClass, including Judd Apatow’s MasterClass on comedy writing. I was doing everything possible taking notes so that I at least could educate myself as much as possible.
Sadie: Your background too in acting, it's such a very overdramatic form of storytelling and then jumping into comedy.
Crystal: Well, Sydney White was pretty comedic. That had a lot of comedy. And I would play the very charactery character in that. I was glad to be able to bring up the soap stuff, because I was interested shooting that while I was on Guiding Light. Because yes, when you're just doing soaps, it's really hard to prove to people that you can actually be funny too. But to me, I like the things that take me away from like life you know what I mean? Like they kind of teleport you to somewhere else, and you can sit back and just enjoy it. And that to me, like that's whether it's you know, a documentary for me, or watching my Golden Girls or I Love Lucy, it's like mindless stuff that just takes your mind off of anything else that's going on in life. And there's no way you don't come out of watching an episode without being in better mood. So, to me, that's always what I wanted to create content in.
Sadie: It helps you escape life's realities, which is nice. It's always nice to have that.
Crystal: Oh, yeah. I mean, don't me wrong. I love my life. And it's a good reality to have as well. However, you know, that's not to say that, if that's at all times in life, and that's not to say that everyone's that way, so you want to put a smile on people's faces. And there's a reason why all those shows were so successful for so long.
Sadie: With your acting background as well, do you think that helps better serve your writing, especially in writing for these characters and the character creation for your show?
Crystal: It did help with the character development. Where it really helped, because I did hire so many of my friends from soaps, was knowing too, how quickly we could shoot and how much content we could shoot in a day, because coming from a soap background, I knew what we were capable of. And I knew the days that we could really knock out a ton of pages and wouldn't be a big deal. And, you know, our director being from primetime television, he's like, “I don't know, I think that that's an awful big number there. You sure we can do that in a day?” And I’m like, “Trust me. If we don’t get it all planned out now, you're going to regret it because I promise you, I will have that finished by lunch.” And I did it! And he's like, “Crap, we really do need to come up with more scenes to shoot!” [laughs]
I do think soaps prepares you for the most intense sort of acting class that you happen to get paid for. Everything after that is really honestly, easy. When you can use that sort of mindset toward working on your own projects, you realize how much you can actually consolidate certain things and get more done. Get more bang for your buck, so to speak.
Sadie: I'm not too familiar with production on soaps. I would assume you don't have many opportunities for many retakes, because you're trying to get through a lot of pages in one day.
Crystal: Oh, you usually only do one take sometimes a couple. But it's not even the producers, like the seasoned actors have been there forever, they don't want to do more than one take either. So, if you screw up, you're going to hear like [heavy sigh] - I'll never forget that happened, like when I was a teenager, I was like, “Oh my god! I've got to get it together. I cannot let them down.” [laughs] It was all because like a shadow cast on my face. “Okay, I gotta learn how to feel the shadows so I can I walk out of the shadow and I get the shadow cast off my face.” And you recognize how to feel for it, because I don't want them to think I'm not professional. I gotta focus, I want them to be proud to work with me and happy work with me and not be like one of the young teenagers where they’re like, “Ugh, we have to work with her today.”
Sadie: I feel like just with you describing that it's kind of like theatre where you find your light and hit your mark and hope you don't screw up. [laughs]
Crystal: Very much so. And the biggest art is actually feeling a shadow. And when somebody is actually accidentally blocking your light a little bit and feeling that feeling of the shadow on your face. And trying to find a way to very just delicately migrate a little bit out of the way so that then you’re fully lit, so that you save that take.
Sadie: That is definitely an art form in itself.
Crystal: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, like One Life to Live, we would shoot like 60 to 80 pages a day. Frank Valentini, he is just a mastermind. I don't know how he does it, but he really does knock them out. And he’s shooting episodes out of order. So, you're having to get caught up and like, this is before you drown, this is before your pregnancy, or now you’re changing this outfit.
Sadie: The emotional highs and lows you guys must go through.
Crystal: Oh, yeah. But when you take a step back, if you were actually to be like a fly on the wall, you'd be like, “What on Earth are these people talking about? Is this real?” Sure. So, the scene you're doing right now is right after you have a nervous breakdown, but as soon as this sets over, we're gonna move to this set and it’s going to be right before you leave to have a nervous breakdown, so then we'll change wardrobe for that. [laughs]
Sadie: Mental gymnastics. [laughs]
Crystal: Exactly. [laughs] Only in soaps.
Sadie: That definitely helps serve you as well in producing this. Having that background, was there anything that you wish you had learned along the way before in creating and producing the series? Or was that just something you kind of gained from your years of work in the industry?
Crystal: I think everything I could have gained from soaps, and just other projects I've done I definitely absorbed like a sponge. But I think that there's certain things in in exactly what you're saying and, you know, in writing and whatnot, that you really aren't going to know. Sure, there's Cliff Notes, and then sure there's MasterClass, but there's really only so much pre prep you can do until you actually are like hitting the ground running. And I think that's the thing, especially when you're also having to act as well. You have to take all of those other different facets and then get them all resolved and make sure everybody's happy and everything's in order and everything's ready to shoot and have a good day and everybody's fires are put out and there's no more issues that need to be handled and then slap the script down and be like, “Alright, let's shoot this now.”
Sadie: That's a lot to carry on your shoulders.
Crystal: I didn’t really notice it honestly, until afterward, I'm not gonna lie. And our director was like, “I don't know how she did it!” He’s like, “Everybody from every department came to her to put out fires. Meanwhile, she's sick. She's got sinus infection from the fires that are going on. They're coming left, right and center. And next thing, you know, she's throwing her script down behind the chair and she’s like, ‘Alright, let's hit it,’ and she nails it and she's actually funny.”
Sadie: To add to your workload, do you have any aspirations in directing any of your episodes?
Crystal: At some point, maybe yeah, I think it could be cool. I think you get ideas of certain shots, that could be cool. And you have certain ideas of how things could look, especially if you watch other people's work and you'd like certain styles of different shots of directors that are notable for. I think that it'll definitely be on another season for sure.
Sadie: I assume there's a season two in the works?
Crystal: We're trying to figure that out actually, right now, because it's obviously so very weird. Everyone is filming but there's so many different parameters and whatnot. So, it's just a little funky. So, until we can figure out exactly what this new normal is. Nothing about our industry is uncharted territory. I've been a member of the Screen Actors Guild since ‘89, I was very young. [laughs] But, you know, it's just this has never been a thing we've ever been in, it’s unlike anything else. We've seen writer strikes; we've seen all that stuff. But this is just a whole other thing altogether.
Sadie: A whole new learning curve for the industry as a whole. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me. And best of luck your show Mood Swings.
Crystal: Thank you!
Watch Mood Swings on Pure Flix.