Premiering tonight [July 31, 2018] on NBC is a six-episode crafting competition show, “Making It.” The executive producers and hosts are Amy Poehler and well-known celebrity woodworker Nick Offerman – and two of the eight contestants are themselves woodworkers as well.
Khiem Nguyen, cofounder with his wife, Amanda McKeever, of A&K Wood and Design in Austin, Texas, admits that “I just really wanted to go out to meet [Nick and Amy]. I’d followed Nick’s woodworking previously and definitely wanted to have a chance to talk to him about woodworking.”
Khiem did get that chance after he and Amanda received a callback from an open casting they attended in Austin – at that point, the show’s producers had been unsure if the series would be a team-focused or individual event, so Khiem and Amanda had applied together.
Nicole Sweeney, a San Francisco-based woodworker, had her own support squad as she applied to be on the show. “We have this little ‘family’ in San Francisco. We call ourselves the ‘Maker Family,’ and we kind of supported each other through being freelance artists and all the hard parts of working for yourself. One of them sent an email and was like, ‘Hey, look at this cool opportunity. We should all apply. Wouldn’t it be cool if one of us went to Hollywood?’”
Looking to push herself outside of her comfort zone, Nicole said, “I had absolutely no expectation of getting it, but just the art of applying for the show was a big step for me. Then it just snowballed, and I got a callback and then another interview, and then it became real, and then I got on the show.”
The competition premise of the show is that, in each episode, the eight contestants work on a “faster-craft” timed challenge and a “master craft” challenge based around a weekly theme.
“The set was pretty aggressive with how much stuff was available for everyone to use, so that kind of pushes people to explore different things a little bit, just because of what was available,” Khiem said. “I definitely tried to try new things, while still trying to stay with something I could stay fairly comfortable doing since it is a competition.”
It wasn’t, however, a cutthroat competition, from Nicole’s description of the tone set by hosts Offerman and Poehler. “They’re super down-to-earth, super sweet, super kind and they really cared and made the show really lighthearted and fun. I think competition naturally can divide people, and they made this a competition that actually brings people together and celebrates the community of art and artists and making things with your hands.”
That’s important to Nicole: “I’m meant to make things with my hands, or move through space with my body as some sort of art form,” she said, a conclusion which led her into woodworking after studying architecture (too much sitting behind a computer) and determining that she wouldn’t be able to reach the level she would like as a professional ballet dancer.
So, after working for Anthropologie for three years creating window displays, “I basically quit my full-time job and turned my dining room into a woodshop, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
Khiem’s entry into woodworking also came through a different original interest. In his case, it was photography. An emotional attachment to photographic negatives “kind of evolved into me wanting to make cases to hold the photographs, to kind of make them a little bit more special. That’s when my introduction to woodworking started, and it just kind of transformed into me doing more woodworking than photography.”
These days, the business Khiem runs with his wife produces furniture, casework, tabletop and kitchen items – “we’ve been doing a lot of knife covers for chefs around Austin,” he said – with a particular affinity for the Mid-Century Modern design style and work in the style of George Nakashima.
As for Nicole, her work right now primarily focuses on wall art hangings in a particular style of design, as well as some tables that incorporate her designs into the façade. “It’s very like M.C. Escher, kind of tessellation-y patterns. Sometimes when I try to describe it to people, I kind of feel like I’m a puzzle maker in a way. I have all these tiny little pieces and then I just like making patterns and abstracting patterns and making pieces that people look at and it kind of makes them stare for an extra second and be like, ‘whoa, what is that?’”
Her participation in the show, she said, has caused her to reflect even more upon who she wants to be as an artist. “They’re not going to put us on TV to be these big, dull duds,” she said. “They want us to show our personalities and they want to bring out what they see in us. Nick and Amy really instilled this in each and every one of us: that we were chosen for a reason, because they believe in us as artists and they believe in our stories.”
Although she noted that reality TV can come with preconceived negative connotations, Nicole said, “This show was so insanely different in the sense that it literally was about celebrating artists and telling our stories. All the contestants, we adore each other.
“There was the time constraints and everyone wants to do their best and there’s the pressure of reaching your own personal goals and obviously we all want to do well, everybody is striving to win, but I think when it came down to it, we were all so insanely grateful to be there and have this experience that it was really just like a personal journey. And then getting to meet other people and work next to a bunch of amazing artists was a bonus.”
Making It airs Tuesdays from 10 to 11 p.m Eastern time, from July 31 to September 4.