For those who drink it on a regular basis, there’s nothing quite like a warm cup of coffee. Even better, there’s nothing quite like good company to share it with. While many coffee shops are filled with both of those crucial elements, New York’s Birch Coffee (on 21 East 27th Street in New York City) has served as the main backdrop for an ongoing series of in-depth conversations with some of the world’s most fascinating people; folks who just happen to be among their most loyal customers.
Those chats form the basis for the talk show STAY REGULAR, produced as branded content by Birch Coffee, and now streaming its third season via its official web site and Vimeo pages (see links below). Over the course of its three seasons, STAY REGULAR has featured memorable interviews with actors, writers, artists, musicians, chefs, businesspeople, and even a First Daughter (more on that ahead).
Seasons 1 and 2 of STAY REGULAR have included talks with acclaimed guitarist Kaki King, actor Frankie Faison (THE WIRE, BANSHEE, THE GOOD WIFE, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and HANNIBAL, just to name a few), actor/comedian Greg Barris, Emmy and Tony award-winning Broadway/film/TV/music producer Scott Sanders (THE COLOR PURPLE), interior designer Jeremy Floto, and model/chef Danushka Lysek, who’s appeared on Food Network shows CHOPPED and FOOD NETWORK STAR.
STAY REGULAR’s third season kicks off with Chelsea Clinton (daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton). Additional episodes feature rapper/DJ/longtime New York school teacher Rabbi Darkside, renowned restaurateur Abhishek Honawar, luxury watch designer Jonathan Ferrer, and Hayley Foster, whose company Foster Inc. helps women entrepreneurs successfully grow their own businesses.
This latest season of STAY REGULAR concludes with an interview with Grammy-winning violinist, producer and humanitarian Miri Ben-Ari. Known as “the hip hop violinist”, Ben-Ari’s collaborations with major pop music artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Maroon 5, Britney Spears and countless others, plus her contributions to various charities, has brought her admiration and acclaim throughout the world.
Produced by actor/writer/director Benjamin Kanes (through his production companies SightSense Productions and Vision Pictures) and Birch Coffee co-founders/series hosts Paul Schlader and Jeremy Lyman, STAY REGULAR began brewing (no pun intended) thanks to a conversation Kanes had with Lyman about the possibilities of bringing together some of Birch’s regular guests in a series of off-the-cuff filmed interviews; talks that would all take place amid the busy atmosphere of a coffee house.
“One day, Jeremy told me he wanted to start interviewing some of the regulars who come in the shop, because there were so many fascinating people who came through the doors on a daily basis,” remembers Kanes, who praises Schlader and Lyman’s dedication to their customers, and to the success of STAY REGULAR’s concept. “Jeremy and Paul are terrific guys. They really care about people and want to touch people’s lives in a positive way,” he says.
No matter if you’re drinking a cup of joe, or talking to a friend while doing so, the atmosphere of a coffee house is a critical part of the experience. That’s especially true of STAY REGULAR, where each of its interviews is filmed amid the bustling activity of an actual functioning coffee shop. It’s an element that gives STAY REGULAR an undeniable sense of realism; something that cannot be scripted or recreated on a sound stage.
“We differ from other interview shows in that we truly are unrehearsed and exceptionally candid. Anything can happen while we’re rolling,” Kanes explains. “The cafe is fully open for business – you can hear milk being steamed, and people having conversations over coffee in the background. Yet, it feels very personal. That’s what we wanted. No pretense. Nothing too planned or rehearsed.”
The relaxed vibe of its setting, and of the interviews themselves, makes STAY REGULAR unlike any talk show in existence. Yet, as Kanes remarks, the ultimate sign of its success is for viewers to come away learning more about those interviewed, their fields of expertise, and their personal perspectives on all aspects of life – and for each interview to be as enjoyable as possible.
“It was honestly an original, combined concept. We hadn’t seen anything else like it, and (we) didn’t have a specific affect we were going for,” he says. “(We) just knew we had something interesting and fun on our hands and wanted to share it with the world. The ethos behind every episode is simple – to inform, and entertain.”
For Kanes, himself a longtime actor, writer, producer and director, and whose most notable on-camera appearance is as the fully costumed superhero alter ego of Michael Keaton in the 2014 Oscar-winning comedy/drama BIRDMAN, STAY REGULAR is a true departure from his previous work. “As far as past projects go, I’ve done a lot of documentary work, but never a talk show,” he says. “There are similarities (to those projects), but it’s a whole different format.”
Along with the incredibly fascinating and insightful conversations presented in each episode of STAY REGULAR, its ability to maintain a lively yet entertaining pace is something that makes it a unique viewing experience.
While much of today’s online content has been known for its emphasis on telling stories within a brief period of time, STAY REGULAR fully takes into account the interests and demands of its audience without underestimating them.
“We want it to be personal and real, yet (we want to) keep it moving, (and) keep it fun, but without giving in to the common assumption that web content has to be short and erratic, (and) pandering to a low attention span audience,” says Kanes. “We believe our audiences are smarter than that. So we want to entertain them, but challenge them at the same time. It’s a tricky balance, (and) we’d probably be more successful if we changed the format a little, but that’s never been what any of us has wanted.”
The responsibility of keeping a loose, free wheeling atmosphere amid the chatter of a fully functioning coffee house falls on Kanes, who does his best to achieve that goal in every shoot. “My main goal as director/co-creator of the series while filming is that everybody (should) just be themselves and have fun,” he says. “We chat before we start filming, but not like pre-production B.S. We just chat and get to know each other, and then the conversations move to the table, and we start rolling cameras and there you have it.”
Given the fact that its primary location is a coffee shop filled with customers and baristas, STAY REGULAR provided many challenges during production of the show’s interview segments. From trying to deal with the constant flow of chatter throughout the cafe, to making every episode visually interesting and smoothly organized, Kanes and his team would do their best to make the job of putting it all together an efficient and successful one.
“Ambient sound in the cafe is tough. Sometimes there’s a rush of business right in the middle of an episode taping and you can clearly hear it on all the mics. The editing process is very time consuming. I mean, just working in that tiny space is really challenging,” responds Kanes. “We set up 5 cameras, stills and dedicated audio in a tiny nook in a crowded cafe. Everything about production is challenging!
Yet, like the guests that come in and out of Birch Coffee and places just like it, Kanes and his team knew they had to blend in with the rest of the crowd. “I mean, we filmed the hell out of it – 5 cameras rolling, plus stills. But we try to disappear into the background, so it’s like the audience has just sat down at the same table and shared a cup of coffee with these folks,” he adds.
With an impressive list of guests whose stories and outlooks on life are as different as their professions, STAY REGULAR’s group of interviewees is just as familiar to Kanes, Schlader and Lyman as to the many who visit both locations of Birch Coffee on a regular basis. “Each guest is either a regular at one of the shops, or a close friend of one of the primary people involved (myself, Paul, Jeremy) and each guest has some love for, and perspective on, the coffee/tea culture,” Kanes explains.
Appearing in STAY REGULAR’s season 3 premiere, Chelsea Clinton is truly no stranger to the cameras, herself being the daughter of a former President and a potential President-elect. Yet, she’s also a familiar face at Birch Coffee. Having never met her in person, nor having paid much attention to her in the news, Kanes was instantly won over by Clinton’s personality and perspective on a variety of subjects.
“Chelsea has been a regular at the 27th St. shop since it opened 6 or 7 years ago. She is a gem in every way,” he says. “She blew me away. I mean, regardless of anyone’s political views, she is just a super cool, super smart, funny, down to earth, and incredibly interesting person. She also seems to fall on the right side of just about every issue.”
While many independent web series producers would do anything to get a major celebrity/political figure to appear on their shows, Kanes feels that each of those qualities made a tremendous difference in all aspects of the episode’s production as he and his team worked with Clinton during the interview. In fact, he explains, Clinton’s knowledge and grasp on major issues also captivated him – both on the set and in post-production.
”I think the fact that she was willing to do a show like ours, a very candid, open format, indie talk show, speaks volumes of her integrity and genuineness,” he says. “I learned a lot editing her episode too. I found myself getting caught up in what she was saying, and taking a break to Google stuff. She’s just cool, and real.”
Over the past few years, branded online content – web series, short films and other videos produced in cooperation with both big and small consumer brands and companies – has become a significant part of the new media landscape. Produced in partnership with Birch Coffee, STAY REGULAR achieves the dual objectives of reaching its target audience, and making them more aware of the company’s own brand of java.
It’s a collaboration that Kanes hopes will continue to pay off throughout every episode and every season of STAY REGULAR. “Hopefully, the series has helped boost Birch’s brand quite a bit. I mean, I’m not a guy who particularly wants to win if it means someone else has to lose, you know. I like win-win-win situations, and that has always been the approach of STAY REGULAR,” he says, adding that such a situation is also ideal for him as a filmmaker.
“It should be something SightSense and Vision Pictures (my production companies) are proud of, something Birch is proud of, and something each guest who comes on the show is proud of. That’s the idea,” adds Kanes. “And, if part of that is cross marketing, and cross promotion that helps any or all of our brands along the way, that’s great. I mean, I haven’t met a single person in relation to this show that I didn’t become very fond of as a direct result.”
As evidenced by its already thriving branded content partnership with Birch Coffee, it’s entirely possible for current (and future) web series creators to achieve the same success that Kanes, Schlader and Lyman have had as they joined forces to make the past three seasons of STAY REGULAR possible. Based on their experiences creating the series, as well as the hard work they put in to making each episode over its 3 seasons, Kanes has this advice for anyone who wants to follow in their footsteps.
“My advice is to come up with something that is interesting to you,” Kanes advises. “Don’t try to guess at what people will want to watch. Create what you find to be interesting (and by interesting, I mean, that can be – exciting, funny, scary, sexy, thought provoking, suspenseful, etc.) but do what you love and find to be interesting first. Then, find an original way to do it, and get help from people who are good at the things you’re not, so you can do it really well.”
While Kanes, Schlader, and Lyman hope to continue its distinctive series of conversations through further seasons of STAY REGULAR, Kanes hopes for STAY REGULAR to make just as much of a tremendous impact on its viewers as it already has on him, his partners/friends at Birch Coffee, and the diverse array of people from many walks of life who’ve taken their time to talk about themselves, their lives, and life itself – all while sitting down to enjoy a warm cup of coffee.
“I think there is so much (that) people can take away from it,” Kanes says. “I mean, every episode is like a free master class in life. All of these people are fascinating and successful and unique in different ways and in different fields. We’ve had designers, writers, actors, producers, healers, musicians, entrepreneurs, chefs, magicians, etc. If you can’t learn something and find something you enjoy in this show, I don’t know what to say.”
NOTE: Kanes says that STAY REGULAR is not currently closed-captioned, but that he and the producers hope to add that feature to the series for its fourth season.
To watch the season 3 premiere of STAY REGULAR, featuring Chelsea Clinton, watch here:
ON THE WEB (Birch Coffee): http://birchcoffee.com/stayregular