“Blue Mountain State” didn’t get a lot of love during its run on Spike TV. The raunchy comedy series about students at a fictional college football powerhouse in the Midwest was unceremoniously canceled in 2011 after three seasons on the cable network.
But something funny happened to “Blue Mountain State” on the road to becoming a TV trivia note. Netflix licensed the streaming rights to the show, and it suddenly became a cult sensation.
“Spike had a hard time figuring out how to get people to watch the show or even find their channel,” said Alan Ritchson, who starred in the series as Thad Castle. “Netflix brought us to whole new huge audience. Even though we weren’t making the show any more, everyone was treating us as if they just discovered who we were and what we were doing.”
Eager to capitalize on the momentum, Ritchson and series creators Eric Falconer and Chris “Romanski” Romano approached Lionsgate, the production company behind the show, with the idea of turning it into a full-length feature. But the bean counters were none too impressed.
“They ran their metrics and decided that it wasn’t worth their time to make this movie, initially,” Falconer told VideoInk. “And I think the big reason is we never had the data to back up what our fan base actually looked like. Because the only data we had was the Nielsen numbers from Spike, and we were on Tuesday nights at 11:08 p.m. Our audience is young and most of them watched on their phones or their computers, so it wasn’t a true representation of what our fan base looked like.”
So the “Blue Mountain Team” took matters into its own hands and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the film in April 2014.
The campaign was successful, and today Lionsgate is releasing “Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland” direct-to-digital, allowing fans to join the Mountain Goats football team for an all-new feature-length round of binge drinking, partying, sex and gridiron antics without leaving the comfort of their homes.
Jump-cutting to the end result makes it sound the journey from crowdsource to premiere was a casual red carpet stroll, but it was anything but.
First of all, as the “Blue Mountain State” team is quick to admit, they were pretty clueless about running a Kickstarter campaign.
“It was literally us running it from our living rooms,” Richson said. “We had people here and there who were friends and relatives that were helping us, but for the most part it was just us trying to figure out how to gain the most attention we could through the social media sites we already had, and we created a whole new Twitter for ‘Blue Mountain State,’ the movie. If we had to do it again, I would’ve brought in experts all around.”
“My girlfriend was having a baby in our house, and when the Kickstarter happened, she was in labor,” Romano added. “I was checking Kickstarter, going ‘Are you doing okay? We’re up to $125,000. Is the baby coming?’ It was crazy.”
The “Blue Mountain State” Kickstarter offered rewards ranging from a PDF of the shooting script with a thank you tweet ($10) and a “Jerking Off/Not Jerking Off” door handle sign ($25) to a speaking role in the movie ($10,000). The most popular item was the $50 BMS t-shirt package, which snared 9,596 backers. But the most daunting for the filmmakers was the $75 personalized Vine from a cast member, which attracted 477 backers.
“We could debate whether or not this was genius or a huge mistake,” Ritchson said. “People were like, ‘Oh, man, I can get a t-shirt or I can get my favorite character give me a shout-out in a video for $25 extra dollars. Yeah, I’ll do that one.’ So it increased our average [donation], but I spent three hours a day for three months, while producing the movie and doing everything else that goes into it, just shooting Vines, and we’re still to this day are working on fulfilling everything. If I had to do it all over again, I’d probably find different [rewards] to create less work for us.”
The good news is that the Kickstarter was successful. It raised $1,911,827, demonstrating there was a rabid audience hungry for more “Blue Mountain State,” which in turn proved its worth to the investment community. Unfortunately, the investor who pledged to put up the money to round out the film’s budget didn’t come through.
“We were deep into production,” recalled Ritchson of the moment when the financing fell through. “We went back to Lionsgate and said, ‘Guys, either this whole thing falls apart… or you guys are interested,’ and they really saved us. They very quickly closed the distribution deal and gave us the financing we needed just as our money was running out.”
Falconer says that, if the movie performs well, they’d like to make several sequels or bring the series back. “That’s sort of our end game,” he said.
In the meantime, Ritchson claims to be relieved that “The Rise of Thadland” is going direct-to-digital instead of opening in theaters.
“I’d be sick to my stomach right now if I we were about to have a theatrical release with $30 million in P&A,” Ritchson said. “Today, we live in a world where you can risk little or nothing as far as your P&A and recoup very quickly if you’re a success. I think filmmakers are waking up to that.”