By Shawn Perry
Whether or not you ever cared about the Spike TV Original Series Blue Mountain State, the recent success of its Kickstarter Campaign to fund a movie represents another major step forward in the relationship between fans and producers. So while Veronica Mars may have done it first and Community will likely do it again soon – what Blue Mountain State accomplished they did as a team so you should care, brobeans.
"They've got the guns but we've got the numbers," screamed Jim Morrison on the song "Five to One" by the Doors. While the lyrics are open to infinite interpretation, to me, it is a battle cry for the inherent power of true society to win out against all forms of dogma and cultural imperialism. The right team will always win, even if we're not 'the right,' because our voice is the loudest and "we're taking over."
Back when this song was written in the late sixties Morrison could have been referring to any number of shifting public opinions or social issues. If the Lizard King were alive to sing it today however, the lyrics could easily refer to the current state of media. It does not require a long memory to recall the last time a popular television show was cancelled for reasons that had nothing to do with quality and were beyond the control of its fanbase. Whether it was hindered by a bad time slot, poor promotion or was simply on the wrong network the story of a good show failing for the wrong reasons is as old as pop culture itself. But as I type this in 2014 that story is changing, and it brings me to the subject of this piece, that is; during the past month the power of numbers prevailed and fans helped give new life to the cancelled Spike TV Original Series: Blue Mountain State.
During its three-season run on Spike TV, Blue Mountain State brought a hilarity and a touch of surrealism to the timeless story of college football players drinking, getting laid and not going to class. The comedy featured an excellent cast and garnered a small but loyal following based on the merits of its smart writing, inspired storytelling and balls-to-the-walls debauchery.
Although BMS was not a critical darling like some other recently revived shows, as the New York Times and Variety can corroborate, it was cancelled despite having a growing audience with an unfortunate preference for streaming the show on Netflix. While the show experienced significant gains in ratings over its first two seasons on Spike TV, it dipped to about 900,000 in Season 3 and that was all she wrote for the Mountain Goats.
Alan Ritchson, who starred on the show as surrealist blonde jock caricature Thad Castle, shed some light on the show's cancellation in a recent interview with Den of Geek.
We were surprised as much as the fans were. We were told we were coming back for a fourth season and not only that but we were told [Lionsgate] was working on a deal to do two seasons back to back. All of a sudden the next phone call we got was it was going to be cancelled.
While the program did not deliver huge ratings for Spike TV, in all fairness, it is not as though the network is known for its rich satirical comedy. Fans were much more likely to stumble across the program on Netflix than in-between episodes of Cops and Catch a Contractor. This is an unfortunate predicament for new fans, as Ritchson explains:
Since the show went to Netflix the audience grew in the millions worldwide. People have a strange misfortune of discovering the show and falling in love with it and finding out it is no longer being produced. We get requests all the time to revive and [the movie] felt like something within our means.
In my opinion, the show did not fit on Spike TV but it was a perfect match for Netflix. Similar to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League, each episode requires little or no prior knowledge to enjoy and the show as a whole lends well to binge marathons but also holds up well to repeat viewings. The humor and creative energy of the cast and crew is palpable throughout the entire run of the series, which can largely be attributed to the management of showrunners Eric Falconer and Chris 'Romanski' Romano.
In a manner that is thematically similar to the nature of the shows recent revival, there is a special sort of synergy that occurs when everyone on a production has the freedom to be heard and contribute. As Ritchson explains, the collective unity and team spirit on-set is what made Blue Mountain State a special show to work on and is also a big part of why every one involved was ready to come back:
It was not hard getting these guys back together for the movie. We put the calls out there and everybody was overwhelmed so that was the easy part.It's hard to put into words the chemistry we have. It's truly a family. It started with Romanski and Falconer, the showrunners. These guys put in a lot of effort without it looking like effort into creating a family. It was such an open environment creatively. I've worked on sets where if you stray from the lines you're getting pulled aside. It was the only set I've ever been on where nobody wanted to be in their trailer. It was like a frat it was so fun. It was totally a college experience and no one wanted it to end. Every night we'd go hang out and we'd be inseparable. I attribute that to [Romanski and Falconer] and I commend them for that because it's something that nobody does and that chemistry was tangible it was almost like its own character on our show.
Since the series ended, the popularity of Blue Mountain State has continued to grow along with demand for a revival. Ritchson, Falconer and Romanski wanted to make it happen and were eventually given a deal for the rights from Lionsgate. The team then launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund a film so that they could finish the story of Blue Mountain State in a way that will satisfy both themselves and their fans. As Falconer explains on the campaign website, the film will be a love letter for their fans:
Making Blue Mountain State was one of the greatest experiences of my life. If you had fun watching it, believe me, we had just as much fun making it. When the show was canceled unexpectedly in 2012, after only three seasons on the air, I felt cheated. For you and for us. College is supposed to be four years. We needed four seasons to complete the show. Since the day of our cancellation, we've been trying to figure out a way to make a BMS movie. "We" being myself, my co-creator Romanski, and our amazing cast lead by Alan Ritchson, who played Thad Castle on the show. Our goal is, and has always been, to make a movie that will satisfy our fans. Our fan base is fiercely loyal, and we couldn't imagine making a movie that wouldn't honor that.
So now here we are, on Kickstarter. We're on our own. No studio backing us, and no distributor attached to the project. Some people might look at no studio and no distributor as a negative, but I see it as a positive. No studio and no distributor means we, as creatives, are free to make the biggest, craziest, most outrageous movie possible. We're free to make the Blue Mountain State movie that we, and our fans, want to see. I truly believe that with your support, we can make something special.
Since launching last month, the campaign has exceeded its goal and become just the third Kickstater to gross over 1.5 million dollars. Along with a number of hilarious videos to promote the campaign, the producers rewarded each of their backers with unique prizes, such as; custom beer pong accessories, autographed jerseys, a cookie race (if you don't know watch the show) and tickets to the world premiere of the film along with access to a private after-party. The most unique reward was an on-campus party with the cast and crew for the college that raised the most money for the film. The winning school was Arizona State who raised just under 18,000 for the film – which is about one year's tuition. I doubt anyone on the guest list will mind the irony.
Personally, it warms my sophomoric little bro-heart to see this movie getting made. Not only that, but since the campaign reached its goal it was announced that the film will be directed by Jay Chandrasekhar (Beerfest, Supertroopers, Community) who is a great choice in my opinion because he has a brilliant mind for comedy and directed five of the series best episodes including my all-time favorite: "Marathon Monday."
We are all fortunate to live in a time where fans and producers can work together to see a vision realized. The advent of the Netflix model is giving way to a new era of media where discovery happens at whatever time and place is convenient. So-called niche properties no longer collect dust in flea market baskets and in the memories of crestfallen fans that cannot find a DVD collection without Japanese subtitles. While Kickstarter is creating an avenue through which fans can directly contribute to the production of the content they love and be recognized and rewarded for it. While many will still scoff at the notion of crowd funding, arguing that it is an unfair position to place on fans, I argue that getting to party with the cast and crew of your favorite show in exchange for fundraising sounds a hell of a lot better than asking everyone you know to turn on their spare televisions so your show can get a ratings boost, as Ritchson explains:
It's exciting to be able to live in a world where we are in direct contact with the consumer and giving them what they want. We want to make a love letter to the fans. We looked at other options, but creatively, working with private investors is demoralizing. It's always going to be something other than what you had in mind. We wanted to make a strong campaign and we've been overwhelmed by the support. With the heat that [the Kickstarter] has created, the conversation [about the future] is changing. If this campaign is any indication, there's more to have here.
It is fitting that a show founded on the conviction that every member of a production has a voice worth hearing should have a fan base filled with voices of equal measure. While only a few backers will have the honor of being included in the film's credits, it is clear to me that this film will be the product of the fanbase as a whole. Moreover, to borrow once again from Morrision's immortal refrain, BMS: The Movie will stand as testament to the fact that while companies like Spike TV and Lionsgate may have the guns, thanks to Netflix and Kickstarter, the fans have the numbers and we are taking over. Come on.
Shawn Perry is a comic book and film enthusiast striving to be here now. He currently resides in East Hartford, Connecticut. Tweet him @thesperry, follow his blog at http://shawnsthoughtsonstuff.blogspot.com/ and email him at Shawn.Perry88@gmail.com.