The Brief Life and Sudden Death of The Baristas — or, How Not to Make a Web Series

Five years ago, the first episode of The Baristas debuted.

We weren’t sure how long it would last. The production was beset with challenges even before it began. In my blind optimism, I hoped it would last for at least 100 episodes.

Instead, it ended after 20.

Here’s the story of the brief, grueling, yet strangely fulfilling run of a web series most people didn’t discover until it was already gone.

Also, if you were a longtime fan of the show, or of its predecessor, Something to Be Desired, then there’s a surprise for you: at the end of this post, I reveal for the first time ever how The Baristas would have ended if we’d filmed a second season.

But First, Before The Baristas…

… there was Something to Be Desired, a Pittsburgh-based dramedy about life after college.

I launched STBD in 2003 as an experiment, but by virtue of its committed cast, its continually increasing audience and its recognition from the emerging video industry — including a 2008 Yahoo! Video Awards nomination for Best Web Series — we kept the show running for six years, until I moved to Baltimore in 2009 and the show came to an impromptu end.

STBD began as the tale of a group of DJs at a struggling radio station. When we lost that location during our fourth season, the story’s main focus split between two new workplaces: a publishing company called Vanity Press, and a cafe called Affogato. The specifics of the workplace were usually incidental; the real story of STBD was the way people form bonds and communities when they’re stuck together, trying to keep each other sane (or drive each other crazy) as they figure out adulthood.

But STBD was actually my second series idea. I’d originally wanted to do a show called The Baristas, about the lives and loves of a cohort of coffee shop regulars and the charmingly complicated staff that served them. The problem was, I couldn’t find a coffee shop to film in. So I created STBD instead.

Then, in our fourth season, we planted the seeds for what would eventually become The Baristas.

Affogato was a hip little coffee shop in Pittsburgh’s Bellevue borough. Its owner, Victoria, had been introduced to me by her boyfriend at the time, who was a fan of STBD. She allowed us to start filming in the cafe when it was closed, so we worked the place into STBD as a recurring location.

Affogato became the show’s home-away-from-home during its final three years, because it provided a narratively convenient place where the show’s wide array of disconnected characters could believably come together. By the show’s sixth and final season, Affogato had become our primary location, and its staff — only one of whom, Dierdre (Lacey Fleming), was an original STBD cast member — had begun driving the narrative more than they were ever intended to.

We didn’t know it at the time, but our sixth season episode “The Red Scare” is actually the prototype for The Baristas. It differs from most STBD episodes in several key ways: it all takes place entirely inside Affogato, it’s a bottle episode (meaning it doesn’t connect to the show’s ongoing narrative in any way), and it’s the first (and, to my recollection, only) episode of STBD that doesn’t feature any of the show’s original first-season cast.

It is also, I think, one of our funniest.

When I moved to Baltimore, STBD ended and it seemed like the continuing adventures of those characters had come to a close.

And then, one day, I learned about Kickstarter.

Other People’s Money

In 2010, I was invited to take part in a Maryland Film Festival panel about independent production techniques. The other two panelists talked about how they’d used Kickstarter to raise the money to produce their films. I’d never heard of Kickstarter or crowdfunding, and I’d never felt like I needed it before. STBD had been a labor of love, where we worked with zero budget and no one got paid.

But the idea of crowdfunding a show that everyone would feel a personal connection with intrigued me.

I knew many of the STBD cast members were still interested in creating something, and in keeping their characters alive. I contacted a few of the actors whom I knew I would need to include in a spinoff if it was going to be viable, and they were all interested.

So, I did a Kickstarter to raise the money.

The good news is, we made our goal!

The bad news is… boy, did I not plan this out properly.

We raised over $3,000, which might seem like a lot for a production that never had any cash before. But when you factor in the travel expenses for me to drive back and forth to Pittsburgh to shoot the episodes, plus all the equipment and props and food we had to buy, we burned through that $3,000 well before we finished our first ten episodes.

In fact, we never had any money left to create the giveaway perks that our backers were due. This was a huge logistical fail on my part, and one that’s made me feel embarrassed, ashamed, and reluctant to ever crowdfund anything again. Nor did any of the cast ever get paid, even though that was my intention. Suffice it to say that this was a hard but necessary lesson in how NOT to manage a production. (It also meant we had no money left to promote the show, which hurt our ability to pick up new viewers on Blip TV, our primary distribution platform [which has since shuttered].)

Beyond the budget and travel logistics, we also had two huge functional hurdles to clear in producing the show: time and reality. And in the end, that’s what did us in.

But we’ll get to how it all fell apart soon enough.

First, let’s look at how the cast came together.

Writing and Casting

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For a show called The Baristas, I knew I needed five main “behind the counter” characters who would anchor the series. They would be the narrative axis around which the show would revolve. From there, I would populate the cast of regulars who would complicate the situation, and whose own stories would run parallel to the main characters’ arcs.

I knew we had Dierdre and Sam (Shaun Starke), who’d been the cafe’s baristas on STBD. Now I needed three more.

Sam was a sixth season addition to the STBD cast, intended to replace Tim (Ryan Ben) and Brent (Josh Hansen), the other barista characters who, in reality, were both graduating from college and moving away from Pittsburgh after season six. (This is why the final season of STBD is so Affogato-heavy. Unlike some of the other characters’ more abrupt departures from the show, we had a full year to make sure Tim and Brent got a proper sendoff.)

As for the regulars, we were already well-stocked with STBD faces.

Sam’s girlfriend Astrid (Laura Lee Anderson) would be returning, as would cafe regulars Glenn (Rick Hertzig) and Amy (Heather Beschizza), Vanity Press mainstays Rich Mathis (Erik Schark), Gloria (Teresa Trich), and Tabitha (Courtney Jenkins), and original STBD stars Leo (Will Guffey) and Dean (Shaun Cameron Hall), whose participation helped ensure that The Baristas still felt grounded in the world of STBD.

I knew I wanted some new faces at Affogato as well, to allow us to tell new kinds of stories and make sure the show felt significantly different from its predecessor.

To fill out the rest of the cast, we held an open casting call at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. Instead of casting for specifically defined roles, I prefer to see how an actor’s look, personality, directability, and natural instincts fit with those of our existing cast. Then, unless I need a specific role filled in order to execute a plot point, I’m free to create the roles around the actors, rather than vice versa.

For this audition, Erik and Courtney managed the logistics while I filmed the performances. The actors were asked to read a generic one-page scene opposite either Erik or Courtney, and then to improvise a new scene with Erik or Courtney based on a prompt: you are in a store that sells time machines; one of you is a salesperson and the other is a prospective customer. Go!

(This, by the way, is the same technique I used on past STBD casting sessions. My shows end up being collaborative and semi-improvised anyway, so monologues have no place in my audition process.)

After the auditions, Erik, Courtney, and I discussed who we’d seen, who we thought would be a good fit for our ensemble, and who we needed to see more of before we could make a decision.

The good news was, I knew I had two of my three new baristas already.

Joel Ambrose had a quirky, offbeat energy that I knew we could channel into something interesting and unusual onscreen. I had planned to create a granola crunchy mountain biking hipster activist barista character, and while Joel wasn’t the type I’d originally envisioned for that role, I revised it with his input into a character we literally never had on STBD: the happy pragmatist. (Or, as Joel remembers me explaining it: “You and Gary will share one thing in common, and that’s something all the other characters don’t have: an inherent niceness that’s sure to rub everybody else the wrong way.”) In a fictional world filled with sarcasm, we needed an antidote. And thus, the character of Gary was was born.

I also knew we needed a female barista who was the polar opposite of Dierdre, who’d become a crowd favorite during her six years on STBD. Lacey Fleming played Dierdre as a badass loner whose prickly isolationism masks her latent den mom instincts, so I was looking for someone who could do the exact opposite: a high-energy, aspirational, physical contrast to Dierdre’s leather-goth fuck-off vibe.

We were at the end of the audition and I didn’t think I’d found that actress yet. And then Jillian Vitko — literally the last actor we saw that day — walked in.

Jillian’s side reading was fine, but then we switched to improv and she took her scene in a completely different direction than anyone else had. It wasn’t necessarily “funny” so much as it showed her ability to be inventively quick-thinking and vulnerable at the same time — and, more importantly, it made me as a viewer of her performance curious about what she’d do next. For me, evidence of sharp instincts means more than almost anything else during an audition, and when you find an actor that you want to see more of as a viewer, you know you’re on solid footing. With that, we’d found our Madison.

But casting the last barista was out of my hands… and up to our Kickstarter backers.

Those who had donated to our Kickstarter campaign above a certain dollar amount were entitled to a certain number of votes in the casting of the final barista role. Erik, Courtney, and I decided which actors and actresses would get that callback, and then we arranged a day to screen test them in a faux scene that we filmed at Affogato. Some of them had already shown such strong instincts that I knew I’d find a role for them in our cast regardless, but all of them were in the running for the final behind-the-counter spot.

As it happened, Will McMahon won that spot due to a quirk of the voting process: while most backers felt obliged to spread their votes out among the actors they liked, one of our backers went all in on Will and gave him every single one of her votes, which tipped the scales definitively in his favor.

Here, for the first time outside the Kickstarter voting experience, is Will’s callback screen test, which was almost entirely improvised.

Putting Will behind the bar turned out to be the catalyst for the entire plot of The Baristas.

We already knew that Will had great comic instincts because he had given us the most laugh-out-loud funny improv portion of the initial audition process (in which he responded to Courtney’s distrust of his shady time machine salesmanship with the retort, “I’m an Internet-accredited doctor who’s about to send you back in time! What’s not to trust?”) so we knew we were going to cast him in some capacity. Having him behind the counter meant we’d have a lot of time to develop a character around Will’s naturally manic energy and his endearing combo of “puppy dog meets bull in china shop.”

But until that point, I wasn’t sure what the inciting incident of the show would be.

Sure, we had a cafe. Sure, we had baristas and regulars. But why were we telling THIS story, in THIS place, at THIS time? Casting Will gave us our answer.

During auditions, we noticed that katie mo goff bore a striking resemblance to Laura Lee (Astrid), so the plan to introduce her as Astrid’s sister Aubrey was already percolating when Will won the backer vote. Because katie mo is tiny and Will is statuesque, casting them as a couple seemed like a perfect contrast in both personality and physicality. It also gave us a chance to have two dueling couples on the show.

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Since Sam and Astrid are always evading adulthood, I decided that Aubrey and her boyfriend would be doing the exact opposite: getting engaged. And since Sam is the boyfriend who never does what Astrid wants, it made sense for Aubrey’s boyfriend to be willing to bend over backwards for her… which created the narrative excuse that we built the show around: Aubrey’s boyfriend loses his job while she’s planning their wedding, and he’s desperate to do whatever it takes to ensure that she can still have the wedding of her dreams… even if it means working at the same cafe Sam manages. Doing this would smash his optimism against Sam’s curmudgeonliness on a daily basis. And it would give katie mo, whose comic timing as the genially abrasive Aubrey was a much-needed catalyst for the show’s conflicts, a reason to join the core cast. This created an ideal good cop / bad cop quartet.

And that’s how the character of Ben, who was cast by a quirk of the fan vote, tied the whole show together and created its theme.

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Speaking of Themes…

The theme song of The Baristas is Never Listen to Me by Portland’s alt-rock heroes The Thermals. I struck a deal with their label to use the song in the show at a discount, with an additional payment to be made if the series ever went to DVD. It never did… but that licensing deal still cost me a couple thousand dollars, which I wound up paying out of my own pocket.

Clearly, if there’s anyone I never listen to, it’s my financial planner.

Filling in the Blanks

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The other roles on the show were created by means of matching actors to concepts I had in mind prior to the audition. As a freelancer, I spend a lot of time in cafes in real life, so I had a long list of “types” that I’ve seen who I thought would create interesting conflicts for our core characters, including:

  • a trio of bewitching “girl geeks” (Katie Kerr, Courtney Bassett, and Laurel Schroeder)
  • an overly-slick salesman (Chad Eric Smith)
  • a “fair trade” protester (Theo Mahoney)
  • a vendor from hell (Cindy Jackson)

… and several others.

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Hamilton Berube was cast as Gary’s boyfriend Scott, which was significant because we’d never had an obviously gay couple on STBD. Tabitha was bisexual, but that was only a plot point in one episode out of 100+. I felt like we needed to get better at showing a true balance of lifestyles on The Baristas. Unfortunately, Gary and Scott’s relationship never got the screen time it deserved — which is doubly frustrating because Hamilton was a gifted actor that we drastically underused. However, one thing I’m proud of in retrospect is that their relationship is probably the most stable one on the show. While everyone else is forever sniping and bickering, Gary and Scott are almost always on the same page.

Reggie

Aki Jamal Durham was cast as Reggie, another character who never quite got the arc he deserved. We loved Aki’s energy in the audition, but because he was slightly older than the other baristas, it seemed unlikely that he would be working alongside them unless there was a mitigating circumstance. We considered him as a regular customer, but I eventually came up with the idea of bringing Reggie in as a victim of the recession, a single dad in desperate need of a job. On a show already stretched for screen time, trying to add another character arc late in the game wasn’t my wisest move, but I still think Aki’s comic timing shined in the rare moments when Reggie had the spotlight to himself.

But the two ancillary characters that made the biggest impact on the show were never even in the original concept.

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Rich Mathis was the resident asshole of STBD, but his offensiveness was a mix of cluelessness and a petulant ego. What we’d never played with before was the issue of snobbish class difference. And after seeing Justin Mohr’s audition, I knew we had the potential for a character who had blatant contempt for the cafe and everyone in it… and yet who, for one reason or another, kept getting drawn back to it. But why would he even bother? That’s when I had the idea of creating the character of Ben’s best friend, Chase, an alpha male financial advisor who would never be caught dead in a worn-out coffee shop unless he had to be. Although Chase doesn’t appear until episode 2, his immediate chemistry with Dierdre — who rejects him, thus presenting him with a challenge he can’t walk away from — kicked the show into another gear. Chase became the closest thing The Baristas had to a lovable villain… until we invented Lorraine.

But we’ll get to her in a second.

Fighting the Calendar

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I originally intended to film the first five episodes all in one week, edit those, release them, and then come back to Pittsburgh and film the next five episodes in another week. Then we’d take a midseason break and produce the next 10 episodes based partly on the audience’s reaction to what we’d been doing so far.

Easy enough, right?

Well… no.

Not when you have to juggle the schedules of 20+ actors, all of whom have day jobs, real lives, and other commitments that only left so much time for each of them to film the show.

Nearly everyone was as generous with their time as they could be — and, in truth, they were far more giving of their time than they had any logical reason to be. I attribute that to the cast’s professionalism and the bonds we formed during filming, which made the downtime between setups seem slightly less hellish.

Jillian Vitko (Madison) and Justin Mohr (Chase) would frequently come to shoot their scenes at the cafe after working their day job AND rehearsing or performing in a stage play earlier that same day, so they were completely exhausted, and yet they gave every take 100%.

Other actors would show up on time, only to be stuck at the cafe for hours because they had more flexible schedules, so I’d route their scenes around the more limited availability of their costars. (As annoying as I know this was for everyone involved, it did have one upside: the cast spent so much time together that they actually grew to enjoy each other’s company.)

katie mo goff (Aubrey) eventually stepped up to help schedule the shoots, which took one obligation off my plate. This was a big change, because I never had help organizing STBD.

I also never had a crew on STBD. With the exception of the gent who filmed our first three episodes, I filmed the other 100+ episodes myself. But I knew I couldn’t do that on The Baristas, given our time crunch, so my friend and fellow videographer Mike Sorg became our primary DP, and aspiring filmmaker Kevin Hejna — whose friend Eric Williams was an old fan of STBD, and who suggested Kevin might be helpful to us — wound up being the enthusiastic jack-of-all-trades on our crew who would always figure out a way to get the shot no matter what was involved.

(Kevin also brought a bottle of champagne to help celebrate our wrap on shooting the first half of the season. Somehow, that bottle wound up being used as a prop in the episode, and then katie mo shotgunned the whole thing. I no longer remember if this happened in character, but it was definitely on-brand for the show’s production. Kevin, I still owe you a bottle of champagne.)

The Roof Is on Fire

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As I mentioned, along with the challenge of time, we also had to face reality. Affogato was a location that was graciously loaned to us by its owner… but it also came with a ticking clock.

When I first approached Victoria with the idea to film a spinoff there, she was fully supportive… with one catch.

“What would happen if I decided to sell the cafe?”

She had been considering getting out of the business, and she knew it would trap us if we started filming there and then the cafe switched owners mid-season.

I assured her it wouldn’t be a problem, because we’d be able to wrap our first half-season before she sold. I even worked that possibility into the show’s narrative, which sees Dierdre realizing that the cafe is in danger of being sold at auction due to its absentee owner’s negligence. That way, I figured we’d be covered either way: if Victoria didn’t sell the cafe, Dierdre could save it on the show. And if Affogato was sold, the second half of the season would be about the staff finding new jobs and rebuilding their community somewhere else.

We were fully prepared for life to imitate art, and vice versa… or at least we thought we were.

But on a production like this, nothing ever goes quite as expected…

The Back Nine

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As the production of our first eleven episodes was wrapping up, the question of whether or not Affogato would survive was still unclear, both on the show and in reality.

Victoria had agreed to sell Affogato to a vendor whose wife had always wanted to run a coffee shop of her own. One of Victoria’s requests during the sale was that we be allowed to finish filming the show’s first season there. The new owners agreed, since they considered a web series being filmed on the premises to be free publicity for the cafe. And we all agreed that if the arrangement was no longer convenient for them by the time our first 20 episodes were complete, we would find a way to close the door on Affogato and move the series to a new home.

At least, that was the plan.

What we didn’t count on was the new owners’ desire to remodel the entire cafe… while we were still filming.

Enter: Lorraine.

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When Robyne Parrish auditioned for us, we knew we’d found someone special. We just weren’t sure how to use her.

We considered introducing her as Rich’s femme fatale, a recent divorcee who was trying to run a real estate business using the cafe as her “office,” but there was no room to introduce that character within the first few episodes. Meanwhile, the likelihood of the cafe being sold in reality (and on the show) kept increasing, so I kept bumping Robyne’s debut further down the production schedule just in case we needed her in a different context.

This tactic came in handy.

When the cafe does finally go up for auction in episode 11, Dierdre and Reggie come very close to buying it themselves… but there’s a twist. And that twist turns out to be Lorraine,  a recently divorced client of Chase’s who’s looking for something new she can invest herself into. He convinces her to buy the cafe in a private deal before it goes up for auction. It’s his way of saving the day and trying to show Dierdre he’s not completely terrible… but it backfires, because Lorraine is a meddling psychopath with control issues, and she makes life a living hell for the baristas in the second half of the series.

The creation of Lorraine, who has no love for the cafe as it is and insists on making sweeping changes from the day she walks through the door, allowed us to incorporate the ongoing renovations that the new owners were doing to the cafe while we were still filming there — from removing the iconic library wall to repainting everything green.

There was just one problem we couldn’t work into the script: due to everyone’s conflicting schedules, we were filming the last nine episodes out of order, which meant that we had to keep track of which renovations were visible by which episode so it would all fit together when I edited them. Plus, I couldn’t get back to Pittsburgh for every shoot anymore, so Mike Sorg wound up becoming the de facto director AND cinematographer for long stretches of the back nine. Then he’d upload the footage to the cloud, I’d download it and watch it, and if anything needed to be reshot we’d have to hope that we could restage those setups before something else in the cafe had changed… which would necessitate even more reshoots.

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All of these complications came to a head in the show’s final episode, which was filmed over the course of multiple days, amid active renovations, in which certain key pairings of characters — like Chase and Madison, who by then had developed an ill-advised onscreen fling — couldn’t be filmed together because the actors’ schedules were completely incompatible. If you watch that episode, you’ll notice a lot more close-ups and isolated one-shots than we ever used in the more panoramic early episodes. That’s because Mike and I literally had to frame shots so tightly to avoid showing the remodeling inconsistencies that we didn’t always have room to put two characters into the same frame, even if we were lucky enough to get them in the same room.

And yet, somehow, despite all those pitfalls and roadblocks… the series actually does hold together and come to an emotionally coherent conclusion.

The fact that The Baristas is even remotely as good as we’d originally hoped it would be is a testament to the skill, dedication, flexibility, and ingenuity of the cast and crew, and while the show definitely has its high points and its weak spots, I’m still incredibly proud of what we were able to accomplish.

After our final episode was finished, we all thought we’d take a break and then return to continue the story in season two. We figured we’d iron out the wrinkles that had complicated our early episodes and keep getting better at the parts that were already working well. And the renovations at Affogato would have to end sometime, right?

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.

The End of an Era

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Shortly after we wrapped our final episode, the new owners of Affogato had to relinquish ownership… because they’d run out of money. I was never entirely clear on the specifics, but it seems that they’d overinvested in renovations and burned through their nest egg and their operating budget, which gave them no ability to keep the cafe open. So it shut down.

And just like that, The Baristas were homeless.

There were other options, including another cafe just a few blocks away. But, in a truly bizarre twist of fate, the owners of that cafe bought Affogato and closed their original location with the intention of relocating to Affogato’s larger space… only to learn that Affogato would require so much new construction to meet all the required specs and codes that they literally didn’t have the capital to keep the shop open either. So it never reopened.

Within a span of just a few months, Bellevue lost two of its three coffee shops.

(In deference to the third and final cafe in the neighborhood, I never asked them if we could film there. God forbid we be the reason Bellevue became coffee-free.)

The lack of a reliable location was the straw that broke this haphazard production’s back, and rather than continuing to string episodes together with favors and desperation, I decided to end the series.

After seven years, the saga of STBD and The Baristas had come to a conclusion.

… for now, at least.

Audience Reception

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Although STBD peaked in 2008 with weekly views in the tens of thousands, The Baristas never became a smash hit. But it did develop a small following… among actual baristas.

We got letters from coffee shop employees around the country who stumbled across the show and immediately identified with the characters and the situation: a makeshift community formed by  bunch of people who had nothing in common except for where they chose to spend part of their day.

The show even inspired one viewer to make a pretty drastic change to his life… so I like to think it was all worth it, even if just for that.

Several of the show’s fans asked me when it would continue. It never did…

… but there was a plan for a second season. And I’ve never explained it fully to anyone else — including the cast.

Until now.

What Could Have Been

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In the last existing episode of The Baristas, most of the show’s loose ends are basically wrapped up. Madison and Lorraine’s battle for control of the cafe comes to an end, and Sam and Astrid — who broke up at the season’s midpoint — realize they may still have feelings for each other, even though they’re both in denial.

But amid the sleep-deprived haze of the show’s last days of production, katie mo goff (Aubrey), Shaun Starke (Sam), and I spent several late nights at Eat ‘N Park (Pittsburgh’s 24-hour diner chain) concocting the possibilities of how we’d actually want to end the show if we could somehow pull everyone together and find a location for a second and intentionally final season.

And what we decided was this: if we had continued, season two would have seen Sam open his own cafe to compete with Affogato while trying to win Astrid back, all while following the buildup to the show’s final episode, in which Ben and Aubrey would have celebrated their outdoor wedding in Affogato’s back courtyard (if it had still existed).

How would we wrap all the plotlines up for good?

By borrowing STBD’s chief asset: some good old-fashioned sentimentality.

katie mo had the idea that, ever since she was a little girl, Aubrey would have kept a “dream book” filled with all the fabulous and fantastical plans she imagined for her future wedding. When Sam tells him that this book exists, Ben — who’s gambled away their wedding fund and has been forced to cancel all the perks they can’t afford, driving Aubrey to the brink of calling the whole thing off — goes hunting for it during Aubrey’s bachelorette party. He finds it in the attic of Astrid and Aubrey’s family home. Ben retrieves the book, and — with the help of everyone else on the show — uses Aubrey’s childhood fantasies to design his own zero-budget but heartfelt version of the wedding of her dreams.

“Oh yeah,” Ben says. “I found this too.”

And he hands Sam Astrid’s dream book, which was stored in the same place. Sam, who’s been pining for Astrid throughout this second season but can’t quite get past his own wounded ego to actually apologize for having been a dick to her for years and driving her away, is reluctant to open it… but eventually, when he’s alone, he does.

Inside Astrid’s book he sees all the drawings from her youth, and all the crazy offbeat things she imagined her wedding might be… but they’re crossed out. And the rest of the book is blank, except for one page at the end. It’s titled, “Everything I Need for the Wedding of My Dreams,” and it’s a list with only one word:

“Sam.”

This would have brought us to the end of the penultimate episode of the series, with only one more episode to go: Ben and Aubrey’s wedding itself.

Of course there would be complications and hijinks revolving around the old adage, “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” Of course everyone else’s romantic subplot would be resolved one way or another. And of course Ben and Aubrey would end up happy together… at least for one day.

But our grand finale episode also would have featured a very special cameo appearance.

JackDierdreLongtime STBD viewers will remember the first season of that series starred Dan Stripp as Jack Boyd, the show’s protagonist. Jack was the reason all the original characters met in the first place. And even though Dan Stripp left the show after season two, Jack and Dierdre had developed a will-they-or-won’t-they vibe in their scenes together, which even led to Jack making a random cameo appearance late in STBD’s run to keep that flame of uncertainty alive. This partly explains why Dierdre never really pursues a connection with any other guy on the show; beneath her icy demeanor beats the heart of a reluctant romantic.

GlennDierdreIn Jack’s absence, the character of Glenn (Rick Hertzig) became Dierdre’s semi-romantic foil. But Glenn is far more laconic than Jack, and Dierdre clearly feels differently about him, if she feels anything at all. In Dierdre’s final episode of The Baristas, she tells Glenn he should “go for it” — which could serve as advice for pretty much every character on the show, all of whom suffer from various degrees of emotional gridlock.

Which is how we came up with what would have been the final two scenes of The Baristas… and of the STBD world.

Last Call

At Ben and Aubrey’s reception, Aubrey would have made all the single ladies line up for her bouquet toss… which Dierdre would have caught, knifing her fist into the air and snatching it without wasting a drop of effort.

Seeing this, every guy in the garter line would have immediately fled the frame rather than risk having to inch a garter up Dierdre’s frigid leg… except for two contenders: Jack, who’s there as Dierdre’s bemused plus-one, and Glenn, who’s finally decided that he should go for it after all. They’d look at each other and introduce themselves, shaking hands and thematically uniting the beginning of Something to Be Desired with its spinoff’s own conclusion. And then they’d turn their attention to the task at hand.

Meanwhile, Sam would find Astrid, off to the side of the main event. This would be the first time they’ve spoken the whole episode, and possibly the whole season.

“Hey,” Sam says. “I’ve been thinking.”

“I guess that’s the ‘something new,'” says Astrid. “About what?”

“Something old,” says Sam. “And blue.”

They look at each other.

“You want to get a cup of coffee sometime?” Sam asks.

Astrid fixes his hair, which — for the first time in series history — is actually combed.

“Yeah,” Astrid says. “I think I would.”

And then Ben would toss the garter…

… and Jack and Glenn would glance at each other, and both jump for it —

and we cut to black.

What happens next?

Well… we would have given ourselves the next decade to figure that out.

*

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the web series that started on a whim, survived against all odds, and finally succumbed to the pressures of reality, would have ended if we’d had the means to see it through. That we never did is oddly appropriate, given the title of its parent series.

Thanks for reading, and for having watched us all those years ago — or for watching us now, for the first time.

Now, take my advice:

Go make something you love, and share it with the world.

You never know when life’s next renovation will throw off your perfect plans, so create something new while you can.

6 thoughts on “The Brief Life and Sudden Death of The Baristas — or, How Not to Make a Web Series”

  1. Here I am, having thoroughly enjoyed this article and wondering if I should comment here or on Facebook. I hate that Facebook has taken engagement away from comments on blogs, but I accept that lots more people can and will interact on Facebook. Anyhow, here I am.

    Thank you for STBD. Thank you for the Baristas. Thank you for giving Kevin a chance. I think it was an important gig for him. It’s taken him a while, but he’s finally becoming a known and respected name in the Pittsburgh film community. In fact, his films have been featured recently on WQED’s Filmmaker Corner.

    I had to chuckle at my description as “an old fan of STBD”. It’s funny to me because I never watched the show during its original run. Instead, I discovered it after it was over and binge-watched it before that was a thing everyone did with shows on Netflix. (I guess that’s another point in my favor as being some kind of reluctant king of the hipsters.)

    Sorry for relentlessly teasing you about the Kickstarter perks. I’m honestly not resentful about them, and I never was. I’ve just never been good at knowing when to stop beating a joke to death.

    Now I have a strong urge to watch all of STBD again. I’m not sure if I can endure the “Last time…Next time” episodes, though. ;)

  2. Thanks, Eric. By now, your binge-watching is “old enough” to qualify you as an “old fan” of STBD.

    You’re right about Facebook corralling all discussions into their own garden. I think that’ll pass in time, once Facebook is replaced by something else. If we’d leveraged Facebook differently, maybe The Baristas would still be around in some capacity. It’s still frustrating to me as a purist that you have to pay to play the publicity game on the web’s walled gardens… but there’s something to be said for playing that game well.

  3. Awesome read. I loved STBD (still have my shirt somewhere as well) and loved The Baristas as well. I only wish there was a DVD of both.. available for purchase. Hint? Hint!

    I felt as if I knew the characters. I was able to get invested in the stories. Reading this article brought back all the happy memories of the two series.

    Thanks so much.

  4. Justin,
    I got hooked up with STBD in mid season two, so a fairly old hat with your work. When STBD went blank for a time, it was like missing some good friends. The joint force between you, crew and the actors made everything flow and really come together. In fact, its funny that you should use the picture of Dierdre and Jack on his bed. I think that is the scene from which I often ‘borrow’ a line. “Nope, still broke” as Jack and Dierdre were deciding what to do for the night.

    The Baristas brought so much back and the introduction of the new characters felt seamless. Yes, the were new, but with Deidre, Leo and the Vanity Press gang, it worked and gained it’s own feet. I nearly fell out of my chair when Leo paid he old room mate rent debt to Dean, he said he was going to blow it on a hooker.

    You opened up the web to increased possibilities for long running series’. Even though I miss my ‘friends’ of STBD and Baristas, you likely changed the face of the web for many. You have likely, insert hopefully, heard of The Guild. Shows like that owe a lot to you and your faithful crew. All the hours, hard shoots, scheduling, hours in front of your computer, and even the parking tickets, paid off. Everyone enjoyed themselves in the end, especially your audience.

    So, thank you for your talent and efforts. I know you brought about a lot of laughs for so many.

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