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Idea Factory shines on ‘Crash Week’

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Next time you’re watching a reality TV home-improvement show, pay attention to the house, the street, the neighborhood on your screen. You just might recognize it.

That’s because the Idea Factory, an independent TV production company based in Sacramento, has three hit shows on the DIY Network. And it’s about to add a fourth show to that lineup, when "Bath Crashers" begins airing Monday.

To debut the show, DIY Network has scheduled "Crash Week" — five nights of back-to-back shows from all four series, running from 8 p.m. to midnight, Monday through July 9. The other shows are "House Crashers," "Yard Crashers" and "Turf War."

With "Yard Crashers" launching the high-energy franchise only four seasons ago — the production company’s first show for DIY — people might think the Idea Factory is an overnight success. That would be a mistake, say company founders Peter Holmes and Bill Swan.

"We’ve worked long and hard to get here," said Swan, Idea Factory’s creative director.

The pair already had years of television experience when they started the Idea Factory in a small rental house at 30th and G streets in 1998. Swan started his career at San Francisco’s KQED TV and traveled the world shooting sports and documentaries before relocating to Sacramento in the 1990s. The two met at KCRA, where Holmes was a senior producer known for his brilliant and innovative ideas, Swan said.

"He’s quite the creative genius," Swan said. "He just snatches ideas out of thin air."

In fact, Holmes — Idea Factory’s executive producer — came up with the idea for "Yard Crashers." The 30-minute show tails host Ahmed Hassan as he recruits do-it-yourselfers at home-improvement stores, then follows them home with camera and construction crews to make over their yards. Holmes molded the show to fit Hassan, a charismatic Bay Area landscape designer.

Hassan also hosts "Turf War," the digital cable network’s only hourlong show. It pits two sets of neighboring homeowners and landscape experts against each other to see which team can come up with the best backyard transformation in two days. Hassan and the crew filmed this season’s finale on Memorial Day weekend in Orangevale. The contractors were Fore Seasons Landscape of Roseville and Moss Landscaping Co. 

Hassan is a licensed contractor as well. He said he likes doing the show because it puts a spotlight on contractors.

"We’ve spent our lives doing this. We’re sort of self-made heroes," he said. "I have autograph cards, and I’m a frickin’ gardener."

At one house, drills and electric saws whined in the driveway, and the smell of flying sawdust mixed with that of wet concrete rolling past in wheelbarrows to the back yard. The plan: to create an outdoor room featuring a giant, see-through fireplace and backyard kitchen with a wine bar. At the other house, crews set to work creating a partially underground wine cave and swinging bed. DIY provides $10,000 for each yard, but pro-bono labor and extra materials may leave yards worth up to $30,000 or $40,000.

Seventy to 80 landscapers and other contractors worked in front of cameras and microphones. Hassan managed the teams while field producers Nate Schemel and Jackie Taylor, and their technical crew — about 20, all from the Sacramento area — shot it all. The "Grape Escape" episode is set to air July 26.

"Our job is to try our best to capture chaos and attempt to control chaos," said Schemel, the show’s producer, who grew up in Rancho Cordova. "It’s kind of like the ocean: Never turn your back on it."

Working on the show for the "dirtiest network in television" is hard but fun, he said. That reflects the Idea Factory’s culture and the process used to make all four of the shows. Some of the shows are shot in other cities. "Bath Crashers" is filmed in Sacramento and Minneapolis, home of the host. Freelance producers and technical crews who work with the Idea Factory on location in Los Angeles and elsewhere talk about how much fun it is to work on the shows, Swan said.

"At the end of the day, it’s just a ball," he said. "You work your butt off, though."

Holmes and Swan have been working six- and seven-day weeks and many nights at home for more than a decade. The floor of Swan’s office, sandwiched between two editing suites, holds a box that hasn’t been unpacked since they moved their headquarters to a tree-shaded office park on American River Drive two years ago.

They say their skills and personalities have allowed them to collaborate well, from brainstorming to pitching their ideas to DIY Network and other TV executives.

"In the pitching process, it helps — because one of us is on," Holmes said.

Their first show was the low-budget "Sacramento Bee High School Sports Show." They had their first HGTV special within a year of starting the company. They later created on-line programming for Scripps Networks channels such as HGTV and the Food Network. But they did other work that wasn’t as glamorous.

"We started the way all production companies start, which is essentially anything you can get your hands on," Swan said. "We were never in a position to tell anybody no."

The company has grown from just Holmes and Swan to 25 people and a core of 10 to 15 local freelancers.

"These people are warriors. They do whatever it takes," Swan said.

Now, nearly all of the company’s shooting is done in the field, rather than in a TV studio. The company’s headquarters doesn’t even have a studio.

"The world is our studio," Swan said.

All four of the shows are based in Sacramento, which means they’re all shot here at least some of the time. "Turf War" is shot here solely. Turns out, Sacramento is a good location. Homeowners aren’t jaded about being on reality TV the way so many are in Los Angeles. The city’s wide variety of architecture, trees and plants gives shows in which locations aren’t revealed a diverse look without the high cost of travel.

"The nice thing about Sacramento is you can make it look like Anytown, USA," Swan said.

Downsides include limited opportunities in broadcast TV and a smaller pool of talent, Holmes said.

The last three months has been extremely busy preparing for Crash Week and the launch of "Bath Crashers." Twenty shows went out the door in June alone. All along the way, there have been "naysayers" who said an independent TV production company couldn’t succeed in Sacramento, Swan said.

"The hard work pays off if you stick to it," Holmes said. "It’s been a long haul — but a good one."

Crash Week
Premiere: Monday – Friday, July 5 – July 9, 8 p.m. – 11 p.m. ET
8 p.m. – 9 p.m. ET – Turf War
9p.m. – 10 p.m. ET – House Crashers (Two back-to-back episodes)
10 p.m. – 11 p.m. ET – Bath Crashers (Back-to-back episodes)
11 p.m. – 12 a.m. ET – Yard Crashers (Back-to-back episodes)


Photos of finished yards and Bath Crashers host Matt Muenster provided by the Idea Factory. All other photos by Suzanne Hurt, a staff reporter covering business and development for The Sacramento Press. 

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