Dearborn natives launching sci-fi/comedy pilot in L.A.

Photo by Dylan Perlot. Dearborn natives Michael Renda (left) as Buster and Joe Wakefield (second from left), screenwriter and co-director, are driving forces behind “Bunkmates,” the pilot episode for a science fiction/comedy anthology series called “The Little Places.”  Also shown are co-director Fernando Rivera (third from left), Jacquelyn Palmquist as Dr. Juliet Pendleton, and Mark Nager as Todd.

Photo by Dylan Perlot. Dearborn natives Michael Renda (left) as Buster and Joe Wakefield (second from left), screenwriter and co-director, are driving forces behind “Bunkmates,” the pilot episode for a science fiction/comedy anthology series called “The Little Places.” Also shown are co-director Fernando Rivera (third from left), Jacquelyn Palmquist as Dr. Juliet Pendleton, and Mark Nager as Todd.

By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers

LOS ANGELES – Dearborn natives Joseph Wakefield and Michael Renda hope “Bunkmates,” a sci-fi comedy pilot for “The Little Places” finds a media streaming site fan base so they can create more episodes.

Wakefield, 28, who is about to graduate from the Los Angeles Film School, wrote the screenplay and co-directed “Bunkmates,” his thesis film, which features Renna, 27, in the lead role of Buster.

Wakefield said “Bunkmates” is about two very different people who are locked in a bunker for a year to see if they can learn to cooperate as part of a scientific experiment. The knowledge gained from the experiment’s success or failure may help the human race survive an imminent takeover by a superior alien race.

The scientist conducting the experiment, Dr. Juliet Pendleton, played by Jacquelyn Palmquist, attempts to see if two polar opposite personalities can learn to cooperate and coexist. She chooses Buster, a beer-drinking, red-neck hunter, played by Renda, and Todd, a neo-pagan, wine-drinking vegan, played by Mark Nager, as her subjects.

Wakefield said he wrote the part of Buster with Renda in mind.

“There was this character he always used to play while doing improv in Mary (Bremer Beer’s) class, a hilarious redneck character,” Wakefield said. “So all through the writing process I had this character in my head when writing the personality and mannerisms that make Buster such a fun and interesting character.”

Renda and Wakefield met through the Dearborn Youth Theatre, and performed in many shows together, including “Peter Pan,” “Li’l Abner,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Grease” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

“We attended Dearborn Youth Theatre for many years,” Wakefield said. “Some of the best times in my childhood, I don’t mind saying.”

As boys, Wakefield said he and Renda made short films together with an old movie camera and Halloween costumes.

“Mike and I made more than one short film together,” Wakefield said. “’Friday the 32nd and a Half,’ ‘Operation Save the World,’ and some other silly sketches from sixth grade all the way through high school.”

Wakefield, a 2005 Edsel Ford High School graduate, attended the acclaimed film program at Dearborn High School during his junior and senior years.

“Dearborn High has one of the best high school film programs in the country,” Wakefield said. “For my senior year in 2005 I was the lead actor and co-writer of ‘Exposing Joe,’ a drama set in Detroit.

“Each year they always do one big movie, and that year it was mine.”

Renda, a 2007 EFHS graduate, took advantage of the growth of Michigan’s tax incentive-fueled film industry to launch his professional acting career.

Renda graduated from Second City Detroit’s conservatory program for comedy improvisation, and studied at the Michigan Actors Studio for three years, with training ranging from stage combat to Shakespeare.

He studied voice and movement at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, and completed a year-long intensive for the Eric Morris Technique, an acting theory that recognizes actors’ emotional blocks, tension, and insecurities that prevent them from achieving a fundamental state of being, and works to clear these blocks, at the Detroit Performance Workshop.

The supporting role of Peanut in the 2012 movie “Crave,” directed by Charles de Lauzirika, and filmed on location in Detroit and Chicago, earned Renda his Screen Actors Guild eligibility, while his voice-over work for Detroit Red Wings radio spots for the National Hockey League earned him membership in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

When Renda moved to Los Angeles in April, Wakefield, who moved there in 2012 to study screenwriting and film production, said he was delighted to have Renda play Buster in “Bunkmates.”

Wakefield has worked both on- and off-screen in the film industry, and has worked as a background extra in dozens of films, but said he prefers screenwriting.

Wakefield said “Bunkmates” is being funded through a crowd-funding effort, indiegogo.com/projects/bunkmates-art-department-budget#/.

“Our mission is to pitch this film to Netflix, Hulu, Crackle or any other new media streaming site,” Wakefield said, “with the intention of creating more episodes and more content for the story to further evolve. We love what we do and we are passionate storytellers at our core.”