Old House, New Episode

Posted in Vol 13 No 1 by bsaab on February 19, 2010

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Photo by Joan Wickersham

Photo by Joan Wickersham

The event: Filming an episode of This Old House, the Emmy-winning PBS show, now in its 30th season.

The project: A budget-sensitive set of improvements to a 1915 Dutch Colonial in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. The owners are Gillian Pierce, an assistant professor of rhetoric at Boston University, and her husband, fiction writer and essayist Bill Pierce, who is also senior editor of AGNI magazine.

Today’s plan: To film the laying of a new patio outside the kitchen door, and the installation of wood flooring in the new upstairs study and library.

8:00 Bill and Gillian and their son Liam eat pancakes in the dining room, an oasis in the midst of renovation-gutted limbo. Bill’s parents have come from Pennsylvania to help with the patio in today’s episode.

8:10 Liam leaves for school. “You’re going to have a patio when you come home, buddy,” his grandfather says, “and you don’t even need to do any work.”

8:27 Outside, the landscaping crew lines up six-foot granite slabs to edge the patio. Producer Deborah Hood talks to director David Vos and cameraman Dino D’Onofrio about keeping the painters, on ladders painting second-floor window trim, out of the patio shot. “For continuity. Because painting was Show 11 and this is Show 12.”

8:45 A truck shows up to deliver poplar for door casings. Two men get out and begin unloading — but the crew is ready to film the opening shot in the driveway. “So the truck’s got to get out of here,” Deborah says.

8:50 The truck is gone. David has been planning the shot with program host Kevin O’Connor and production coordinator Heath Racela. “OK, so Kevin, run up Pork Chop Hill; Dino, pan the hole; and Heath, it looks like a bus stop with everybody just hanging around — give ’em all something to do. OK —” he cues Kevin “— ‘Here at this Old House’ —” Kevin continues, running up the hill, “— we are down to the last six weeks of the renovation of our little Dutch Colonial.” Meanwhile, David watches Dino’s camerawork on a monitor, muttering, “Shot of the gambrel.”

8:52 David to Kevin: “Go again.” And, to Dino, “It’s all about the gable.”

8:53 Dino pans down the gambrel roof and over to a large hole at the head of the driveway. Kevin: “We’d pulled up the blacktop, but then the homeowners threw us a curveball. They didn’t know if there was money for a new garage, but then decided there was, so last week we tore down the old one —” (David muttering to Dino, “Get the hole, the hole, it’s all about the hole.”) “— and we want to deal with that without disrupting the work that’s already been done to prepare for the patio.”

9:08 David and landscape contractor Roger Cook run through the next shot with Kevin. David: “Say that we wanted to grade away from the house, for drainage; but the land slopes up, so we graded sideways. And we’re using these concrete pavers that look like brick, but they’re cheaper, more uniform, easier to install. And they’ve got these chamfered edges — why?” “No trip factor,” Roger explains. “And the snow shovel rides right over.” “Right. And make the point that they’re modular, easy to work with, and they come in a blend of colors, so they look natural.” Meanwhile another member of the crew sweeps the new mahogany back stoop, cleaning it up for the shot.

9:26 “Action, please.” Kevin kneels at the back step. Dino, backing with the camera but mindful of the steep drop just behind him, says, “I can’t get world enough — I mean, wide enough to —” “Isn’t that ‘To his Coy Mistress’?” David asks Bill, who is standing nearby. “‘Had we but world enough, and time,’” Bill quotes. David smiles. “Yep, that’s the general production lament.”

9:28 Between takes, noise of men sawing boards to frame the new garage foundation.

10:06 Roger, Kevin, and Bill rehearse measuring the depth of a screed rail in the bed of sand that will underlie the patio; it must be precisely 2″ below grade. “Kevin, give me a scoop of sand,” Roger says. Kevin mimes the action but won’t actually pour the sand until they’re shooting.

10:25 Screed rails laid, the crew begins dumping wheelbarrows full of sand, which Bill rakes smooth. Dino moves sideways, changing his vantage point; onlookers scramble to get out of the shot. David murmurs to Dino, “Detail, man, detail.” Then: “Stop. Whose phone is that?” No one confesses.

10:31 They start filming and the phone rings again. It belongs to one of the painters. David goes over to the ladder. “Can you stop that, please?”

10:50 David: “OK, now Roger, you want to talk about how it’s important not to have voids. If you have voids you’ll have dips — no, don’t say ‘dips’, say ‘settling’ — and then your property values will go to hell.” Roger rehearses in his animated on-camera voice, “Now the reason I’m so picky about these little voids is…”

10:52 Filming again. In his on-camera voice, Bill asks Roger, “What about voids?” David interrupts. “No, Bill, don’t lead the witness.”

11:01 David: “OK, now let’s get the whole chorus together.” A procession forms: Bill, Bill’s parents, a family friend, all carrying pavers. David: “Oh, that was sad. That was like a dirge. An open-casket patio laying. Roger, talk about grabbing different colors to mix up the shades. And Bill, talk about who you’ve indentured here to help you.”

11:04 As filming continues on the patio, work is happening off-camera: guys working on garage foundation footings, guys sawing trim, guys painting.

11:15 David talks to Dino and Roger about a close-up. “The anatomy of a paver. I want to learn about chamfering.”

11:20 David: “Take it again. Roger, you said ‘uniform spaces between the patio,’ when you meant ‘uniform spaces between pavers’.”

11:22 David: “Now we’re going to talk about laying the pavers. And let’s have a student do this, not a master.” He nods at Bill’s mother, Peggy, who steps into the shot and crouches, holding a paver.

11:23 On camera, Roger says it’s important to drop each paver in from above, rather than dragging it through the sand. Peggy drops in a paver. “Stop,” David says. “Let’s start with Peggy dropping it in — work first, then talk.”

11:58 Filming of a teaser, to be used in the middle of the episode. Roger: “And later on, we’re going to be laying a new patio in the backyard.” David: “Smile even more, Roger.”

12:06 David, Roger, Dino, and the Pierces’ friend Neil plan out a sequence of cutting some pavers in half, using a guillotine splitter, to fill in the periodic gaps in the herringbone paving pattern. With the camera rolling, Roger and Neil crouch by the guillotine. “Neil, I need you to do something for me. We’re going to cut some pavers in half —” David: “Stop. You’re repeating yourself — you’ve already said we’re going to cut them in half.” Roger resumes. “What I need you to do for me, Neil, is split some pavers. The pavers measure eight inches, so we’re going to mark them here at four inches.”

12:12 The pavers are split, the guillotine scene is shot. David: “Now let’s satisfy ourselves. Let’s plunk ’em in.”

12:13 Roger, Neil, and the Pierces practice plunking the half-pavers in, but then have to pry them out again for filming.

12:30 In the driveway, a production assistant talks with master carpenter Norm Abram, who will appear in the afternoon’s indoor flooring sequence. They discuss possible stain colors for the front door of this season’s other This Old House project, a house in Roxbury. Bill’s parents, who are big fans of Norm’s (Bill Senior is an avid do-ityourselfer) come over to introduce themselves and have a photo taken.

1:20 After lunch, the rest of the pavers are laid. Roger, on camera: “So what do you think, Bill?” Bill: “I think it’s time for a chair and a beer.”

1:30 David, to Kevin: “OK, now you’re going to come in and say —” “‘Wow. Look at that. You guys sure made short work of that.’” “Exactly.”

1:50 The landscaping crew dumps bags of polymeric sand on the patio surface, while Roger explains to David what the sand is for: it will keep the pavers from shifting, and keep down weeds.

1:58 On camera, Roger explains that the polymers will harden when wet, binding the pavers together.

2:06 Gillian stands ready to operate the power compactor, which will firmly pack the sand between the pavers. Roger, on camera: “Now what we’re going to do, using this power compactor —” David: “No — talk about what we’re going to do first, then about what we’re going to use to do it.”

2:25 Roger blows away excess sand with an air gun. The next step is to wet it. Roger: “We don’t have a nozzle for the hose?” Another landscaper answers, “Nope, we’re going to do the homeowner thumb-spray.”

2:40 The Pierces stand with Kevin and Roger on the wet patio, hosing, smiling, and filming the episode sign-off. Roger: “That’s it, Bill, I just want you to dampen that polymeric sand…”

2:41 They do several more takes, hosing, smiling, signing off. David asks them to try it one more time. “Those are the parts, guys. Now do it like you love it.”

3/10/10 Editor’s note: The architect for this project is H. P. Rovinelli Architects of Boston.

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2 Responses

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  1. Letters « ArchitectureBoston said, on November 30, 2010 at 9:44 am

    […] note: The architect for the project featured in "Old House, New Episode" [The Lurker, Spring 2010] is H. P. Rovinelli Architects of […]

  2. Franci & Kevin Johnson said, on January 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    We purchases a older home in Golden, CO., because we were looking for good schools for our younge children 2 and 6 years old. Later we found the home had major structural prolbems, black mold, and numerous other prolbems. We have spent our money with a attorney for the last 13 months. The attorney just contacted us to let us know they don’t think they can do anything to help us now that we have paid them what we had saved. If you know of anything we can do please let us know as soon as possible.
    Thank you,
    Kevin & Franci Jojnson

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