Trowel Talk: How is "How It's Made" Made?
We’ve all watched and enjoyed the Discovery Channel television show “How It’s Made” and maybe even had a passing thought about how great it would be to have such a program showcase and explain to the general public what it is we do. This column is devoted to two brothers, Davide and Angelo Aternino of Mouldex Exterior Mouldings Inc. of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, who took that idea and made it a reality.
Davide and Angelo’s mother and father were immigrants from Italy who came to North America to build a better life for their family. Upon arriving to our shores, his father spoke no English and quickly found work as a painter among the Italian community. Their mother was employed in various factories as well as at a local hospital. As time went on, they opened and operated a pizzeria for several years until, once again, they returned to painting as the family began to grow. They raised five children, instilling in each a work ethic and a hearty amount of respect for establishing and staying focused on one’s goals as a means to success-in life and in business. This advice was not lost on the Aternino brothers and has been a hallmark of their entrepreneurial spirit.
Gettting StartedThe first step was to get the producers’ attention. Davide did this by contacting the company through an online forum that can be found on the Science Channel’s Web site (see online resources). He spelled out the basic facts of what their company manufactures, how the work is performed and asked for information to make a formal request to produce a show on this product at their facility.
Getting ApprovalThe producers didn’t respond to the request very quickly, in fact it was months before he heard back from them. When he did, they wanted him to prepare a detailed outline of the steps required to manufacture the molding from a single large block of foam. He assembled a narrative for each step accompanied by photographs of the process. At first the producers were reluctant: they weren’t sure there were enough independent aspects to the process to fit their footage requirements. But Davide persisted in his pitch, noting the process really was both modern and similar to the one used for centuries with a template “knife” spreading the material to any desired shape. He tied in the ancient usages of molding and columns to this modern day architectural design feature and eventually after three more months, the show’s production company said the magic word, “Yes.”
Preparing for FilmingThe next step in the process was preparing for the film crew to arrive. To make an interesting and informative experience, the producers needed to film the manufacturing process from many different angles, which can require multiple “takes” of the same procedure. They needed to film everything in as short a time as possible. In Mouldex’s case, they did all the filming in a single day. To prepare for this required having several pieces of foam staged in each phase of the production process. For each shape that was filmed, there were five duplicates ready at each stage, five raw foam shapes for every piece seen, five with mesh ready for applying the mud, five prefabricated with the mud already set and ready for a second pass; and of course, being ready to switch things out at a moment’s notice in the event a run didn’t go exactly as planned or something went wrong with the camera, lighting or other equipment … you get the point-always prepare for Murphy’s Law.
Lights, Camera, Action!After months of back and forth Q&A, after more months of anxiously hoping for approval and after even more months waiting to be fit into the program’s schedule, the producers and film crew arrived at the Mouldex facility and turned the place into a movie studio for the day.
A film crew of four (including the show’s producer, a camera man and two assistants) rolled up and unpacked their equipment. As the assistants set up the lighting equipment, the producer, camera man and the staff from Mouldex took a drive to get still shots of architectural molding that had been installed and finished on many Toronto area projects using Mouldex foam shapes. These still images would be used as inserts into the film as leaders and trailers to give the viewer a reference on what these things are and how they are used. People see finished architectural shapes every day, but few know how they are made, which, of course, is the whole point of the show and why it is so immensely popular.
Before filming actually began, the staff at Mouldex had to walk Director Gabriel Hoss through each step of the process. Other than the still pictures provided by the Aterninos, this was the first time he had seen the facility and its equipment. They intentionally filmed the process in sequence which helped with editing later on when they got back to the studio. Everyone was excited to be involved in the shoot, the employees actually performing the work were a bit nervous but the director and crew quickly put them at ease and the atmosphere was light and friendly.
Normally when the crew shoots on location they go out and grab fast-food to keep things moving along; not this time. The Aternino family made sure the crew felt welcome with a fresh spread of Italian meats, olives and cheeses. Breaking bread among the cast and crew helped everyone relax and made the afternoon shoot go just that much better. When shooting wrapped, everyone again enjoyed the Aternino hospitality at a Maple Leafs hockey game.
The ScriptOne of my favorite parts of this show is that they do such a great job of voice-over narration. It’s done in such a way that the layman can understand the process even if they’ve never seen or heard of the product before. This process involves both the owner of the company and a writer from the show. Together they analyze every frame of the final draft footage and engage in a dialogue about what they are seeing. The writer absorbs the technical nuances from the owner and translates them for the general public. One example would be a Q&A about why the hot knife machine cuts shapes from various directions, which they explain in the film as a procedure that saves on material and reduces waste.
After months of the process of applying to be on the show, 10-plus hours of filming, dozens more hours of setup time and several sessions back and forth with script writers paired with a great attitude and a lot of patience by the owners of Mouldex, all of that work resulted in five minutes of very informative television. The finished TV clip can be found on the links in our “online references” below.