Mark Clement, Carpenter
This Philadelphia remodeling contractor has carved out a niche doing the dirty work on several reality TV shows
What’s the reality of reality shows?
I can’t speak for every show, but for us, it’s intensity. Little sleep. Piles of work. Huge personalities. Hundreds of questions from production and crew about everything from infrastructure to trim details. Plus constant surprises because deadlines are fixed. They are like boulders—not moving.
What reality shows have you been part of?
I’m a remodeler and the co-host of the MyFixitUpLife radio show with my wife Theresa, and I’ve been on set at Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Restaurant Impossible, Going Yard, Fix This Yard, and Food Network’s Save My Bakery. I’ve worked on these shows in a number of capacities: sometimes as a carpenter, other times as a contractor or project manager.
What was your favorite?
I don’t know that it was my favorite, but the playground we built for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in Joplin, Mo., after the 2011 tornado touched me on a lot of levels. We had 105 hours to build a wood playground that was 80 ft. long, multilevel, trimmed, and painted. We had only seen the site from Google Earth, and we’d never dug a footing hole in Missouri before. (It’s mostly rocks with some dirt in between.) I’ve never seen so many people work so hard, be so kind to one another, and pull together for a common goal. The original idea of working in 12-hour shifts instantly evaporated, and we pulled 18-to- 20-hour days. In some senses, it’s what shelter and home improvement are all about. Save My Bakery was also up there. We’re proud of it.
How did the professionals interact with the volunteers?
On the playground build, we became friends with many volunteers. Once they got wind of what we were building—we were nearly a mile from the seven houses built for that episode—they sought us out. Navy Seabees and grandmothers came en masse and, without complaint, did what needed to be done.
Do they really complete these jobs in the time they say?
The story line of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is that the house is built in seven days. In reality, the cycle time is 105 hours. And the house is delivered with forks in the drawers and toilet paper on the roll. You don’t see that on TV, but it’s real. Restaurant Impossible delivers on the timeline they state. Save My Bakery gave us 48 hours, and because you can’t run a tablesaw next to a TV camera shooting a scene, we actually had to find ways to deliver in less time.
Another part of the reality is that these projects truly change people’s lives. The tears that you see on camera aren’t made up for TV. With Save My Bakery, we still hear from bakery owners whose projects Theresa designed.
You must go in with a firm plan, but how does that hold up to the realities of a TV shoot?
We always have a plan, and we use benchmarks to determine if we’re on track. At the same time, there are so many variables (unknown floor damage, electrical issues, working around the camera, etc.) that being too granular with the timeline doesn’t pan out. In Joplin, our plan didn’t even last 10 minutes. We were supposed to build over an existing tennis court that was to be removed as we arrived. And they did remove it, only to find another one right below it. On Save My Bakery, our team is so good and their personalities are so well-suited to high pressure that even when plans changed—or it snowed 12 in.— we took it all in stride.
Are there lessons you’ve learned from TV that you’ve applied to your own contracting business?
We used a box truck to transport the tools on Save My Bakery and, not kidding, we set up a working shop for five people in about 30 minutes. Rolling benches for miter saws and tablesaws also housed impact drivers, circular saws, and so on. Benches on wheels meant a nearly instant setup. Plus, we were a mobile supply shop, stocked with nails, screws, and so on. We couldn’t run to the hardware store at 2 a.m. As much as us hands-on guys sometimes bristle that it could be done better, I was reminded that design drives the bus on home improvement. This is particularly so if you’re trying to stay on a schedule. Nothing slows a job as much as second-guessing the design. To minimize the importance of the design’s vision, no matter whose it is, is a mistake.
For more on Mark and Theresa’s work, listen to their radio show at myfixituplife.com.
Illustration: Jacqueline Rogers