By Peggy Mackenzie
“Lights! Camera! Action! No, wait. The lighting angle is wrong. Could you make it look like you’re pounding that nail again? …ok, ok, once again …Action!”
Construction projects are not immune to delays, but when erecting a barn while cameras are rolling, delays of another order arise. So goes the latest project on the site of Montwell Park in Lewisburg.
The barn-raising project is a collaboration of many partners volunteering their time and labor for the common good of the community. On a nominal budget, the goal of Greenbrier Restoration Project (GRP), the non profit organization behind the development of Montwell Park, is to create a community center, which, among other things, will be the new home for the Lewisburg Farmers Market. The plan is to be open by the first of May.
Lending a helping hand, Mark Bowe, a Lewisburg resident and business owner, offered to raise the structural frame at no cost – and film the event for national television on the just debuted TV reality show, Barnwood Builders. The barn erection project here in Lewisburg, Bowe said, is an opportunity to film a non-profit project in which the whole community can participate.
The timbers for the project were found by Florian Schleiff, who serves as treasurer of GRP, in a 200-year-old barn used for storing apples in Pennsylvania. He bought it, had it disassembled, and shipped to Lewisburg. The used hardwood timbers are aged, and look it, but that’s what Schleiff wanted for the community building to be sited behind the log building that used to be called Fort Savannah.
The TV show’s co-executive producer, Sean McCourt, says,”We at Silent Crow Arts are passionate about making TV shows we can be proud of.” Barnwood Builders just debuted its first season last Sunday, at 9 p.m., on DIY Network, McCourt said. The program will run each Sunday evening for the next nine weeks. The Barnwood Builders show uses no fake storylines as a “reality show” format. “This is a documentary about men who work hard, and love each other,” he says.
The show, which was leaked to an affiliate network and aired last fall, received an “amazing response,” McCourt said.
“We are in our second season right now, which normally wouldn’t be happening. Usually, the second season is not approved until after the first one runs. The leaked preview showed how much interest viewers had in the kind of work these men are doing, which got us the approval to begin the second season so quickly,” McCourt stated.
The filming is scheduled to run through the week despite rain and flooding. Lewisburg farmers provided the film and construction crews with delightful eats during the project, and The Hub youth center yielded a cozy place to sit down and relax between takes. With only four days to complete the segment, filming will proceed no matter what. That’s the way it works when schedules must be met.
Bowe, whose company, Antique Cabins & Barns is the backbone of the TV show, is pretty familiar with schedules, having worked with his crew for 18 years taking down old barns and reusing the wood from abandoned structures to create beautiful, rustic homes that feature naturally aged authenticity. The crew is comprised of five guys (plus Bowe) – Johnny Jett, Sherman Thompson, Brian Buckner and Tim Rose, with the recent addition of new member, Graham Ferguson.
The show focuses on how the job is done, the value of preserving aged hardwood, the background of the original structures, and the creation process using recycled materials. Each episode features a major project, which involves taking something down, putting something up, or moving a disassembled structure from one place to another. There are no fights or phony dialogue, just real men on the job.
Filming the crew at work changes their building process mostly by adding time to each job, Bowe says. The clients still get what they asked for, and, “we still breathe life into these old structures, just on camera.” Bowe says by now, he’s learned what camera A is looking for, what camera B needs, and what the story arc for the segment is, all while keeping an eye on directing the progress of the job itself. “This is a 360-degree set and requires a lot of coordination and attention for everybody,” said Bowe.
The risk of a reality TV show, Bowe confides, is to trust the people behind the cameras and in the editing of the story segments.
“They have the power to portray us any way they want to. Silent Crow Arts is unusual for this kind of TV show; our drama is what every construction crew deals with – heat, rain, snow, insects, snakes, and long distances.” And as guys familiar with hard work, they thought they’d show the filming crew how “real” men worked – from dawn to dusk. But, from the first day, they learned the film crew was up an hour before them and were still working an hour after they left.
“Those guys work! “ Bowe enthused. “We found we had a common goal – a blend of making a building – and a damn good TV show!”
The exposure on national TV has been good for business, he went on, bringing opportunities to find structures and making it easier for sellers to contact them. “The negative part is that people think because we’re on TV, we must be rolling in money. The truth is, we’re craftsmen and we still have a business to run.”
Locally, Bowe has been crafting structures from old barns for years, and now that his company is nationally known, he gets hundreds of offers to take down barns from all over the country. But, he says, he’d rather leave the barns in West Virginia intact as much as possible. While there’s virtue in recycling old hardwood, if too many rustic structures are cleared, it tends to denude the landscape of our Appalachian heritage.
For Bowe, an important effect of television exposure is that, as a West Virginian, he has been given an opportunity to represent the state as an ambassador, and he hopes to demonstrate how resilient, resourceful, hard working, and kind West Virginians are.
“I’m tired of being on the top of the bad list and at the bottom of the good list in America,” he said.
“We West Virginians can always figure out how to make things work when we’re miles from nowhere. If we don’t have water on the job, we go find a stream, and bring water to the job. If we need a beam to prop up something, we go out in the woods and chop one down, and haul it to the job.” That, he stated, “is huge for me.”
“If I’m going to do something, it makes sense to do the best I can, not only as a craftsman but as a West Virginian.”
He said he’d previously been approached to do a TV show, and a couple of years ago he and his crew did a pilot for another production company on another network. The objective for the pilot was to create arguments between the cast members and to generate crises with things going wrong on the job. But that just didn’t resonate with Bowe. “You’ve got to live with yourself after it’s over and done with.”