August 28, 2013 - The owner of Baldwin Café Dave Chapel dropped the keys into actor Neil J. Patterson's hands and said go for it.
Eleven episodes later, a series was born at the Baldwin Café. At the counter, behind the counter, and in the intimate relationships formed working at a diner, the half-hour series The Baldwin Café will take you deep within a typical café's chemistry.
"It's like life," Patterson said, "Some things are very hysterical, some things are not so funny, and some things can be touching too, little turns of fate, and twists, there's a lot to it," he said.
It's not about dressing coneys in red and yellow chili—although the famous Baldwin Café coneys do make it into an episode—it's about the day to day idiosyncrasies, the jokes and wit that drive the diner, and the conventional and nonconventional behaviors of the people you are more or less forced to be with—your work comrades or the regulars.
The 'dramady' series is made entirely by Michigan actors, actresses, producers and directors, with Pure Michigan written all over it.
Last summer Michigan filmmaker Michael Sneed, director of A Grain of Sand, went to his previous actor Patterson with his café idea, knowing Patterson's longstanding relationship with the Baldwin Café.
Patterson has known café owner Chapel since kindergarten, and has been a regular customer since its opening in 1976.
They made a deal that if Patterson makes sure the restaurant is clean and ready to open Monday morning, he and the crew could film Sunday nights after the real cooks and servers leave.
"The people here ate it up," Patterson said, referring to the current cooks and waitresses. They have already seen the first four episodes, shot last summer, with another seven wrapping up this summer.
Filmmaker Sneed and Patterson co-produce it, they both act in it, and Sneed has been writing episodes on a rolling basis.
"The jokes, the very sophisticated jokes that Michael Sneed comes up with in his writing," Patterson said., "You look at it on the page, and you're like, 'oh ya, that's kind of funny'. But then with his direction, and when you're doing it live, it just brings the script to life," he said. "I've heard that saying before but I've never really experienced it until doing this series."
Patterson plays Burt, the shifty café owner.
"It's kind of fun playing a character that's not so savory," he said. "My character wants to be a big shot, but he's really not," he chuckles. "He's fun."
Burt and his head waitress, Candace, don't get along too well.
"She's like the waitress who knows a lot about the world, knows a lot about people," he said, slipping into character. "She's probably not the most articulate person, but she's probably the smartest one in the cast."
Candace is played by local Lake Orion actress Caroline McClure, who along with Patterson and Sneed has spent all of her time and energy bringing this series to life.
"He thinks he's the brains of the operation, but really she is," McClure said. Her character Candace tells another fellow waitress that men are only after one thing, "It's in their D and A."
"So she says things like that, everything is backwards. She's probably one of the most challenging roles I've ever had because it's very difficult for your brain to learn those kinds of lines. That one was pretty easy, but others have been very difficult to learn because people don't talk like that."
McClure said the crew is now just waiting for someone to pick the series up.
"I would hope that the Lake Orion community would be really proud that a couple of people from Orion Twp and Lake Orion were able to do this and make a success of it. I think that it really proves if there's an idea worth pursuing, pursue it, because you never know. The characters came together like they were meant to be, and that really doesn't happen a lot."
Apart from Burt and Candace, there is a 21-year-old mafia/princess who's married to a 53-year-old mob boss. An ex-prostitute trying for a different life, a cook smitten with the already-married Candace, and many more characters.
"That's the cool part about it. You can have anybody pop into one episode or a couple of scenes, or if you want you can have them come back, or make them regulars," Patterson said. "We have a huge cast."
You might even see some of your neighbors pop in throughout the series.
The episode packed with coneys is also packed with people, some probably from the area, Patterson said.
Sneed and Patterson, out of Legend of the Hawk Productions and Zzyzx Productions respectively, expect to have the series run on public broadcasting stations, TV 20 and/or TV 50 by fall 2014.
They are currently looking for commercial sponsorship, and are confident it will get on TV.
"I can see it going places," Patterson said. "If we have to, we may need to get a space and build a set—that's what I hope for," he said. "I can't wait to see what he (Sneed) comes up with for the seasons' ending clincher."