By Cory Willey
MONTEREY — Steve Butler never set out to become a TV show host, nor a business owner, but five years into making and hosting “The Garage with Steve Butler,” he is partnering with local businesses and local media professionals to keep this labor of love going.
“We are trying to create a local business and make it grow and have a national PBS show,” Butler said in an interview at his Monterey home on Monday.
For the past six years, Butler has been hosting and self-funding the production of “The Garage with Steve Butler”—a do-it-yourself style woodworking show based out of his garage—using a volunteer crew from a local community access television facility in his former home of Uxbridge, similar to CTSB in Lee.
Twenty-two episodes later, the show is broadcast on over 580 public access television stations across the United States, as well as in some international locations, such as Cape Town, South Africa.
With the help of the National Educational Telecommunications Association, Butler now has the opportunity to have the show broadcast on up to six PBS stations across the U.S. He has a 13-episode season shot and nearly ready for air, however the episodes need to be brought up to certain audio and visual standards in order to be broadcast on PBS. The costs for the required closed-captioning alone can cost over $100 per episode, Butler said.
Butler has therefore turned to online crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo in an effort to raise at least $21,000 to cover the costs of production for the TV show and the hiring of a local crew here in his new home in the Berkshires. Donations come with certain perks, ranging from a signed poster of the show to projects from the show, depending on the size of the donation.
Butler has already tapped Great Barrington-based companies Stitch Productions and What’s Heavy Technical Video Services Inc. to assist with the production. Stitch will handle the audio engineering and What’s Heavy will handle the graphics, according to Butler. In order for the show to continue past the season he has already filmed, Butler is additionally seeking to hire a full-time camera person and a producer for the production.
“If we have the funds to hire a proper crew we are off and running,” Butler said.
A woodworker and artist originally from Toronto, Canada, Butler came to the Monterey with his wife, Liesl Carlson, and their son, Quinn a little over a year ago.
This passion project, as Butler explains it, grew out of a hardship his family faced about eight years ago, at the tail end of the Great Recession.
Butler had been working as a wood-crafting teacher at the Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton, New Jersey, for about six years when the recession hit. The tough financial times led the largely state-funded school to make cuts. Butler’s position was among those cuts and, since his employment included a housing stipend, he and his young family lost more than a major source of income.
“In one fell swoop we lost our job and our house,” Butler said.
So he, his wife and their newly born son moved into a rental home with a single-car garage in Uxbridge, just on the border of Rhode Island.
Sleep was elusive for Butler during that difficult time. Up late one night watching television, Butler said he saw a commercial from his local community access TV station, calling on residents to create their own program. Butler saw it as a way to showcase his talents as a furniture designer and woodworker and possibly drum up some commissions from local people.
“I thought, ‘Hey, I’m going to make these projects anyway, they’re in my sketchbook, let’s stick a camera on my bench, film it and hopefully someone will hire me to build them some furniture,” Butler said. “I wasn’t creating a television show, this was a vehicle to create some employment for myself as a woodworker. Six years later I never did get a commission but the show kind of grew. Next thing I knew it was on every cable access show in Massachusetts.”
The show additionally airs on the Rhode Island PBS channel every Saturday at 2 p.m.
The 22 episodes that followed were all filmed within the garage at his home in Uxbridge.
“It’s not a set, that’s just my stuff,” Butler said.
Though those first few episodes were “really crude” according to Butler, they established a foundation for the show. In each episode, Butler takes viewers through the creation of a different woodworking project, from small objects such as tea lights, to the larger projects such as a shaker bench or a foosball game.
“For the most part they are things that are technically and economically accessible to most people,” Butler said, adding that he keeps it that way because he had to keep it relegated to materials he himself could afford as well.
Each episode features short informational side interviews which allow Butler to utilize his teaching skills. The show also incorporates a third passion of Butler’s — music. A guitarist himself, Butler sought to score the show with the same music he listens to, primarily rockabilly and surf music.
“It’s a labor of love,” Butler said. “I love teaching and I love making and it includes the music I listen to, so it just kind of found this natural rhythm.”
This labor of love hasn’t come without a cost however. As a public access program, “The Garage with Steve Butler” doesn’t make any money, and comes with certain costs one might not expect. Butler said he has to self-fund the download of each episode by public access stations. That alone has cost over $4,000. Butler has been able to cover these costs thanks to the support of his wife, who he said has been very supportive of both himself and the show over the years, and the family’s savings.
However, with costs mounting, Butler believes this is the breaking point for the show. PBS, Butler explained, can provide the platform, but the station is not funding the production. If he can accrue the funding necessary to package each episode properly and get it on the PBS stations that are already lined up to broadcast it, Butler believes it could lead to sponsorship and further episodes, which would require the permanent, professional crew he is seeking.
“The Garage with Steve Butler” IndieGoGo campaign is open for the next month and has so far received $3,840 from 16 backers, according to the project’s page.