From Flying to Flipping
A conversation with Jon Pierre and Mary Tjon-Joe-Pin
Welcome to the Quarantine Creatives newsletter, a companion to my podcast of the same name.
Out of the Woods?
I have spent more than a year now talking to folks from all across the entertainment and media industry about how they have adapted to COVID on set. I’ve heard about reduced headcount, lots of masking, actors responsible for more hair and makeup, and no crew lunches.
As the world is opening back up, I am also in the middle of producing my first big job since the shutdown. Even after hearing so many stories about working during COVID, I don’t know that I know what policy is best for safety.
Here in Massachusetts, workplace COVID protocols have largely expired. In most stores and other businesses, there’s a strange hodge podge of masked and unmasked employees and customers (I know, it’s been like that everywhere else for a while, but we’re just now starting to remove the masks up here).
Our community spread is at the lowest point in the pandemic and vaccination rates are some of the highest in the country.
There is no law saying my crew needs to be masked at this point, especially if vaccinated. Yet, what’s the best way to protect them? Should I mandate testing, and do I have the budget in this project to account for that? Is testing even needed if the team is vaccinated? Should I still be hiring a COVID Officer, or will that job soon become a strange relic of this era?
With so much changing over the last few weeks, it’s been really hard to keep up, and without the governance of a large corporation dictating best practices, I am left to my own devices at the moment to try to navigate this brave new world.
I know many of you reading this have either had to set these policies or been subject to them, and I’m curious if anyone has any thoughts on how best to keep my team safe while still being practical.
On Thursday, I spoke with Jon Pierre and Mary Tjon-Joe-Pin, a married couple from Houston, Texas who gave up their full time careers a few years ago to become house flippers. Their new show Two Steps Home premieres on HGTV this week. Here’s the trailer:
The entire series was shot over this past year, while COVID protocols were still very much in place. This of course affected life on set, but Mary also described how the challenges of filming during the pandemic extended beyond the TV show:
“We all have been quarantined from our families during that time, so when the holidays came up we had to be mindful of that because there’s a lot at stake. It’s definitely been a year of tremendous sacrifice to make this show and to keep everybody healthy. It’s been a very unique experience.”
Previously, Jon and Mary starred on the HGTV show Going for Sold, but it wasn’t always clear that a career in home improvement television, or even renovating houses, was inevitable. Jon described how the network inspired a big life shift:
“I was in the oil industry with my family, we had a family-owned business. I worked in it for 15 years and it was just getting to the time to find something else. Go on to the next journey. We watched a lot of HGTV at that time and I was just like Man, this flipping thing, we can do this. This is something we can do.”
Jon was also very honest about all of the challenges that come with flipping, like giving up a steady income and really being mindful of finances:
“When you’re flipping, especially for us, we didn’t have some huge bankroll that we could just flip eight houses at the same time. Whenever you’re investing in a house, it’s your money going into it and there’s nothing replenishing it. And then when it sells, yeah you make money, but now you have nothing else that’s helping you make money so you have to put that money back into the next house. It’s feast or famine. You either have a whole bunch of money or you don’t have any money. And you’ve got to figure out how to make it between those two times.”
Mary had a career as a flight attendant, which she also set aside in favor of house flipping. It has taken some adjusting, but she talked about how working on homes had perhaps always been inside of her:
“I’m not traveling all over the world, but I get to go into people’s homes. Even when I was a kid, when I would go and ring people’s doorbells to want to rake their yard, I used to love when they would open their doors and just smelling the different scents that were coming out of people’s homes. I love looking in people’s houses, and it’s the same thing now. You never know how it’s going to manifest into itself. You just have to allow things to happen and see what comes of it.”
Jon and Mary also had the opportunity to head to Wetumpka, Alabama this year and lend a hand on Erin and Ben Napier’s series Home Town Takeover (if you haven’t heard my interview with Erin and Ben from last summer yet, take a listen!).
One of the projects that Jon and Mary were involved with was a renovation for Lt. Ella Roberts, a police officer in Wetumpka. Mary described for me what it was like working alongside Lt. Roberts’s fellow officers on cleaning up the exterior of the home:
“Those men love her. They captured it, but there was so much emotion and love there for her. It was real. Those men, they showed up, they were so happy to be there and to do that landscaping with us. They’re like It’s the least we can, she’s like our mom, she takes such good care of us. You just want to be around a person like that.”
Jon and Mary mentioned that filming for the series took place around the election of 2020, at a time when the nation felt very divided. I noted that it felt meaningful at a time where Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are seen as rhetorical opposites to see a Black female police officer represented, and to see her White male colleagues show up to help with the renovation. Jon had a very thoughtful response:
“There’s always two worlds. There’s the world in general, like what we see on TV and what we see on the news and stuff like that, and then you have your own personal world and how your interactions go with the people that are in your actual world. And so one of the things that I took away from going to such a small town, where their world is even smaller, is that their interactions with the people around them, it gave us a new sense of authenticity. There was an authenticity whenever you would interact with them because their world is so small and because they’re basically around the same people all the time. It really brought to the forefront for me of like yes, there’s all these huge issues going on in the greater United States of America, but whenever you have the opportunity to take in and be present to what’s happening right in front of you, you can see that there is actually good across racial lines, across economic lines, across town sizes. When you have a chance to take in the fact that the person in front of you, you can judge them for who they are and treat them as an equal human being right in front of you, then it gives you a whole new sense of what it means to be authentic and what it means to be genuine to another human being.”
The entire conversation is really authentic and honest and worth a listen. We also get into fun territory, including talking about Jon and Mary’s quarantine project last year- installing a stock tank pool! Don’t forget to look out for the premiere of Two Steps Home on June 16 on HGTV too.
With things ramping up for me personally right now, I am planning to take another short break from the podcast. I hope to resume new episodes soon and will keep you all posted!
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If you’ve missed past issues of this newsletter, they are available to read here.