What Shooting The Home Town Pilot Was Really Like For Erin And Ben

Erin and Ben Napier's life as a newlywed couple began like many others: they graduated from college, got married, and decided to start their lives together in a place close to their hearts. After settling in Erin's hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, the Napiers quickly established their careers and offered up their skills for the betterment of their forever home. They started their renovation journey with their 1925 craftsman cottage, poured themselves into community projects alongside their friends, and documented their busy lives using social media.

Little did they know that the fruits of their labors would catch the attention of HGTV executive Lindsey Weidhorn, who had been endeared by photos of the couple's cozy cottage after it was featured in multiple articles and posts online. Weidhorn dug deeper, following Erin on Instagram for months to scope out their talent and get a feel for her and her husband's personalities. After concluding that they possessed all the qualities necessary to make their show a success, she contacted the Napiers via email, and the rest is history.

Before they knew it, HGTV had ordered a pilot for Erin and Ben's renovation TV show. Just a few months later, they stood in front of countless cameras and crew members as they felt their way through the new and exciting experience. Since the opportunity came out of the blue for them, filming the pilot for "Home Town" had its fair share of twists and turns.

They were surprised by the offer

Erin and Ben Napier never thought they would find themselves in the thralls of TV stardom, and the vote of confidence from Lindsey Weidhorn seemed like something the couple couldn't have imagined in their wildest dreams. They hadn't returned to Laurel seeking fame, but their enthusiasm for restoring the town and leaving their mark on the community had garnered recognition online. 

Erin described their utter surprise regarding the offer from Weidhorn in a blog post shared to her stationary and event business' website back in 2016: "Late at night on July 27, 2014, Lindsey emailed us and said, "Have you ever thought about doing anything on TV? Would you be interested in that?" to which we responded, we've absolutely never thought of that, but we are interested if you are interested. I mean, hello!"

Erin recalled how Weidhorn saw so much potential not only in the execution of their cottage renovation but in the couple's infectious affection for their town and the people in it. In the same post, she said, "[Weidhorn] felt like Laurel was special. Something about our little town gave her a gut feeling that she needed to reach out, that something was here for her, and something about our small town life could make people all across the country nostalgic for a place they've never even been." After the successful "Home Town" pilot premiere, Weidhorn's gut feeling proved incredibly accurate, and Erin and Ben Napier took their first steps toward becoming one of HGTV's favorite couples. 

They got the production team from Fixer-Upper to film it

Though Erin and Ben Napier have many notable talents, TV show production didn't necessarily make the list when they first stepped onto the scene, and they couldn't have created the pilot without some pretty serious help. 

According to its website, RTR Media is a female-owned production company based out of Canada that specializes in the reality and lifestyle genres. Though the company is well known for producing the first and second seasons of "Fixer-Upper" starring Chip and Joanna Gaines, it is not its only claim to fame. RTR has received three Canadian Screen Awards for best lifestyle producer, and their team is responsible for producing shows such as "Renovation 911" and "Flip or Flop: Fort Worth." After seeing their incredible work in Waco, Weidhorn encouraged the Napiers to contact the company, hoping they would agree to produce the pilot for "Home Town."

The request was a long shot because, according to Erin's recounting of the event in a Lucky Luxe blog post, RTR had been planning a much-needed break for their exhausted crew after a grueling two-year filming schedule. However, against all odds, RTR agreed to help the Napiers film their pilot. Erin credits the company's acceptance to the video message, letters, and gifts from the people of Laurel that sweetened the deal. 

They relied heavily on RTR Media to guide them through the process

Erin and Ben Napier had no prior experience with TV before the filming of the pilot, so they heavily relied on the guidance of the RTR team throughout the entire process. Despite having just come off a difficult filming schedule and missing out on a balmy summer break in Canada to work through a muggy Mississippi summer, the production team coached the Napiers through their TV debut with commendable skill.

In a blog post she wrote for Hooked on Houses in 2016, Erin gave a heartfelt shoutout to RTR, saying, "It takes an army to cover all the bases of filming a major network pilot, and we felt like we were in the absolute best hands from beginning to end with our production company, RTR Media out of Canada, and our crew, who were such pros and artists."

The team's artistry wasn't only relegated to camera angles and logistics. Erin credits the company with making her and her husband's jobs easier, especially when it came to getting comfortable talking to the camera. She says, "We were very lucky to have such smart producers who know the right way to ask a question to get a halfway interesting response," in reference to frequent "On The Fly" interviews during filming.

Their goal was to show the importance of small town life

Erin and Ben Napier's mission with "Home Town" was to shine a light on how fulfilling life in a small town can be. They emphasize that you don't need to live in a big city to enjoy a rich culture and a deep sense of community. The message seemed to resonate with viewers of the pilot, and when asked by CBS about why fans of the show like them and Laurel, Mississippi, Erin answered, "It's a happy place ... And I think they see something universal that maybe applies to where they're from, too." 

Since many people in the U.S. live (or at least grew up) in small towns and are often told that they must leave to find fulfillment, shows like "Home Town" provide a refreshing reprieve from the negative narrative surrounding that way of life. "It's a renovation show on paper, but it's a show about finding your place in a small town at its heart," Erin wrote in a blog post for Hooked on Houses.

Erin elaborated on her disdain for the derogatory talk surrounding small-town life, telling CBS, "I don't like being told what I can and cannot do. I don't like to be told that you cannot have a professional art career in Laurel, Mississippi. I don't like to be told that the place where I'm from is dead. It is interesting and it's creative, and it's unusual. And I wanted to share that with the world." 

They weren't expecting some of the unwritten rules of filming for TV

When the filming began, Ben and Erin Napier were taken aback by some of the rules that came with being on camera.

Erin recalls some of the surprising wardrobe rules for filming in her blog post for Hooked On Houses, "There are a lot of wardrobe restrictions! You can't wear clothes with thin stripes or small check patterns (because it creates a crazy psychedelic effect on film), words/logos (without permission from the business, etc.), or white."

But clothes weren't the only aspect of filming that caught the couple off guard. The tiny microphones attached to the stars to capture dialog throughout the show are constantly recording, and they don't stop until the cast and crew call it a day. Speaking of dialogue, Erin and Ben quickly discovered that nothing on the show would be scripted. Erin clarified, "When you talk to the camera about what's going on, they're called 'on the fly' interviews, or OTFs. We did an OTF after every scene, no matter what. There is nothing scripted about shows like ours ... they asked us questions and we answered 'em on the spot." Getting comfortable while talking to the camera was quite an adjustment, as the pair struggled with stumbling over their words and had to repeat themselves repeatedly for different takes. 

They spent weeks trying to make everything perfect

Erin and Ben Napier spent months pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into the project their pilot was centered on, but they weren't only doing it for the unlikely promise of fame. They worked tirelessly to create a beautiful and meaningful home for their first guests on the show: Ross and Laura Tew, who were trying to build their lives and grow their family in Laurel — just as Erin and Ben had not long before them. 

In a Lucky Luxe blog post, Erin elaborated on the hard work and dedication the team put into that perfect first impression, "For eight weeks, Ben was busy building 3 custom pieces of furniture for the house from reclaimed wood ... while I was getting inspired by Ross and Laura's personal history and family story and designing a home that felt like their past and their future with plenty of Laurel history stirred into the mix." She went into further detail about her role and all those involved in the process in a different post for Hooked on Houses, saying, "I do paintings to show them our design ideas, and then we gather a team of local expert craftsmen, architects, and builders and make it their dream home." 

They were determined to help the Tews find what they had discovered in Laurel just a few years prior.

They filmed the pilot in the middle of the Mississippi summer

Summers in Mississippi are not for the faint of heart. With temperatures averaging in the low 90 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels above 70 percent, it stands to reason that filming the "Home Town" pilot was a sweaty event, as most of the material for the show was compiled during June and July. As stated earlier, the Napiers' new wardrobe restrictions proved to be a little bothersome as they were required to give up their go-to summer garments in exchange for items that were more TV friendly.

Erin recalled the difficulty of complying with the film crew's dress code to the blog Hooked on Houses, when she wrote, "The 'no white shirts' issue was the toughest for us during the Mississippi summer when literally the only thing in my closet is white linen and Ben only wears plain white v-neck t-shirts. It's like his uniform." She explained that white fabric tends to wash people out on camera, and it doesn't seamlessly hide the small microphone the cast must wear while filming. Regular viewers of the show may have noticed that Ben has since adopted a new uniform of gray or navy t-shirts.

It was difficult to keep their energy up at times

The filming schedule was brutal for Erin and Ben, who were entirely new to the world of entertainment and production for TV. "We quickly realized that there's so much you don't know as a viewer of a TV show," confessed Erin in a blog post for Hooked on Houses, as she described her and her husband's filming experience.

Erin revealed that a challenging phase in the project regarding energy levels was actually "real estate day." She wrote, "Real estate day, when you show the homeowners houses, is EXHAUSTING. It's hard to be really enthusiastic while discussing (and repeating) design ideas for hours on end."

Beyond the tight timeline, the couple also had to concede to the impact that the weather had on their energy levels. Since so much of "Home Town" was filmed outside, the cast and production team had to toggle with constantly shifting natural light to ensure that each shot can be used in the final cut. In a TikTok posted by HGTV, Erin and Ben explain that the weather, especially sunshine (or lack thereof), impacts their energy and what they can and cannot film on any given day.

Erin had to stand on a crate when she and Ben interviewed together

For the Napiers, the filming process was full of interesting bits of behind-the-scenes TV magic that the average viewer would never think of as being a necessary part of the production. Being completely new to the world of entertainment, they relied heavily on the knowledge and guidance of their film crew, and they were surprised to learn some of the seemingly unconventional methods employed to ensure a perfect shot.

In a blog post she wrote for Guideposts, Erin said, "We were too busy learning new things, like how not to stumble over words when speaking into a camera and how to say the same thing a million times for different takes. Or discovering that I had to stand on an apple box next to Ben because otherwise he was just too tall for the two of us to be together in one shot."

Erin explained the production trick further in a blog post for Hooked On Houses, "Because Ben is 6'6" and I'm 5'5", I had to stand on a crate called a 'half apple' so we would fit in the frame together nicely in every OTF. There's a formula for who stands on which side, and you never deviate from it."

They didn't really think the pilot would get approved

Erin and Ben Napier had a blast filming the pilot, but they admitted that they didn't think it would actually get approved by HGTV and end up on TV. They relished the project as well as their time with the production team, but they simultaneously kept their hopes and expectations low. At that point, the loveable Napiers still weren't convinced of their star power. They believed that, if anything, the process of creating that first episode of the show would just be an exciting experience, even if the footage never saw the light of day.

Erin recalled their mindset in an interview with CBS News when she said, "We made the pilot and assumed it probably won't be on TV, it was just for fun. And then it was on TV, and it was 2.2 million people watched it."

In true "Home Town" fashion, the Napiers announced and celebrated the approval of the pilot to their friends, family, and community at the 5th Annual Magnolia State Bank Chili Cook-Off, according to The New State of Jones.