‘Blue Mountain State’ has had a long strange journey as a comedy series. The franchise launched as a television show in 2010. The comedy served as Spike’s first original scripted series, and despite it’s late night time slot, it went on to air for three seasons before it’s untimely cancellation in 2012. However, when the show moved to Netflix, it began to garner more attention. It’s unique brand of comedy quickly earned the series a dedicated cult following. Eric Falconer, the creator of the series, launched a crowdfunding campaign in early 2014 to help finance its feature-length film. The project closed on Kickstarter at over $1.9 million in funding with the backing of 23,999 rabid fans. Armed with a cast of beloved, over-the-top characters, the stage was set for a triumphant return. However, keeping “Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland” on the rails while bringing it from script to screen was an adventure unto itself (and that is putting it mildly). Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the driving forces behind the film, Alan Ritchson, Chris Romano and Eric Falconer, to discuss their epic journey in filmmaking!
“Blue Mountain State” had a roller coaster ride from the time it debuted to the release of “Blue Mountain State: Rise of Thadland.” What is it about the show and its characters that resonates with the fans?
Chris Romano: I think people come to show to because of the characters themselves. I know when I find myself getting sucked into a series it is because it has great characters. I think that is what initially sparked people’s interest.
Alan Ritchson: I also think there is a wish fulfillment aspect of the show and with this movie, especially the movie. The movie, at its core, is a giant party movie. I think “Blue Mountain State” has always provided fans with a sense of escapism and wish fulfillment. When the series first came out, it debuted during the recent recession. A lot of the TV shows that were coming out at the time, like “Better Off Ted,” “Fired” and “Canned,” were all about people losing their lives. We came out with this big, crazy show that was about football, college, girls, parties and fun, which was something people really responded to. I think the movie, “Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland” is that times 10! It is a giant, wish fulfillment, party movie and I think that is something that is largely missing from cinema and television today. I think people really respond to it for that reason.
The process of making this film a reality was fan support through Kickstarter. What were the pros and cons of the process?
Alan Ritchson: Right off the bat, I can say you are speaking in past tense, as if that was an experience that we had. In reality, it is an experience we are still having, if that gives you any sense of what that has been like for us. The pros are that we had confirmation that our fan base was there and were behind us. They wanted this so bad that they were willing to pre-pay for it, essentially. The cons are, and unless you do a Kickstarter campaign you can’t know, how challenging it becomes. We have essentially had to become a full-time retail, manufacturing and fulfillment store with little more than the three of us and a couple of our most faithful assistants. It is an incredibly challenging undertaking and it is still going on today. It has been really, really tough but it helped us get this movie made in a way where we could tell the story how we wanted without studios or financiers involved to say, “No, we aren’t going to shoot that.” It is the best and worst of that world.
Making a film under any circumstances is a huge task. Were there goals you had for this film when entering into the process?
Alan Ritchson: I think we wanted to tell a story that both satisfied the craving for more of these characters, like Romanski mentioned, for the fans. One thing that was always really important to us was that we make a movie that grows beyond the existing fan base. This is a movie we want everybody to be able to enjoy, anyone who wants to sit back and be entertained by a bunch of crazy characters in a crazy party movie. That is who we made this for. We did have to make some tweaks to the film here or there. We wanted to bring down the football element just a little bit because internationally people don’t relate to American football in the same way we do here. There is a little less of that in the film, which also makes it a little easier to produce because it is tough content and expensive content to shoot. We also have a lot of content behind us that people have responded to and characters, moments and lines the people love and we wanted to give them more of that. With this film, we were able to bring the best of the show to film. We hope that in doing that we are satisfying the fans that exist but will bring in a whole new legion of people who love comedy.
Did you have a direction in mind when you decided to go the movie route? Was it a no-brainier or were there a few concepts thrown around?
Chris Romano: We wrote quite a few different versions of this movie. It changed quite a bit, so we sort of had a direction but we also had to write toward the amount of money we had to work with.
Eric Falconer: We had definitely written our green version of the script and were working on that. We did the budget for that script and it came in at about $18 million. At that point, we had only raised about 2 million. We really had to rework things and make sure that every penny went on to the screen. The money was definitely a big factor in how we approached it. One of the ways we landed on the giant party movie idea, rather than some other ideas, was really the money as well. Most of the movie takes place in one location, the massive party, and we were able to shoot that out and spend the money in one spot, as opposed to moving our crew back and forth between locations. In doing that, we were able to spend the money we saved on extras, props and cast to blow out the heart of the movie.
You all tackled different roles in making this film, both in front of and behind the camera. What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
Eric Falconer: This is a movie where everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. We faced challenges from the absolute get-go. Even just trying to convince Lionsgate to allow us to make a movie was a challenge. They had closed the book on “Blue Mountain State.” They said that they weren’t interested in the movie, initially, because they didn’t have any data. All the data they had to go on for this movie was Spike TV’s Nielsen ratings, which are archaic and we were on TV Tuesday nights at 11 o’clock. I don’t think the ratings really reflected what our actual fan base was at the time. It was actually Ed Marinaro, who plays Coach Daniels in the movie, who hounded Lionsgate until they were like, “Ed. If you stop calling us, we will let you make the movie.” [laughs] They gave him a little piece of paper that said that essentially but it had no teeth. That is when Alan Ritchson took it and really ran with it. Alan was the biggest driving force behind this entire movie. With all of us, and Alan especially, it was like rolling a cubed Boulder up Mount Everest. The entire filmmaking process was so hard, it is hard to pick one specific thing that was the biggest challenge. It was everything from raising the money to, once the Kickstarter campaign was completed, our fulfillment company not coming through and the resulting lawsuit. We had our initial investor back out on us. We even had to change the state we were filming in because our script was so crazy it got rejected by South Carolina. Two weeks into prep, we had to pack everything up and move up to North Carolina where we were allowed to shoot our movie with a tax incentive. Every step along the way was a huge challenge, as you can see!
What were the highlights of bringing “Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thadland” to life?
Eric Falconer: For me it was the first day of shooting. That is when it became real. We had been talking numbers, Kickstarter, investors, travel and all kinds of things and then, all of a sudden, the cameras were actually rolling and the cast was all back together. We were finally shooting this huge crazy movie that we couldn’t believe we were getting away with! That was the highlight for me, the first day of shooting when Darin Brooks reprised the role of Alex Moran, Alan became Thad again and Romanski became Sammy again. To have all these guys together again making a project we were really passionate about was a truly incredible experience. It made all of these challenges worth it!
Alan Ritchson: For me, the set life was really rough. We were all wearing a lot of hats. We had a financier who we feel had misrepresented himself and never put the money in that he had contracted with us to do. He left us high and dry and spent a lot of our money. We, in desperation, had to turn to Lionsgate and they saved us. They saved this movie. They really had no stake in it. I called them and said, “We are in a really dire situation. We’re in one of those horror story moments that people talk about where a financier doesn’t put the money in when they said they would. If we don’t get money to finish this film right now, we are going to run out. Everyone will have to go home and we will not have a movie. We will never be able to bring it back because we have spent everything on our end already.” Lionsgate saved us. They basically said, “How much do you need?” They gave us what we needed in record time for a distribution deal and it kept us going. That experience on set was so unbelievably stressful! I was dealing with those situations while also trying to be Thad. You hear drug addicts about how they blacked out for three years of their life. I have heard that and thought, “How does that happen? You remember some of it!” I don’t remember much of set life on this film! It was all sort of black for me. Recently, we were putting the bonus and extra features together. We hired our editors and they were putting all of this really cool footage together from bloopers to outtakes. They were sending it to us to approve for the extras and I didn’t remember any of it! [laughs] I didn’t remember saying or doing any of this stuff! That encapsulates my experience! It has been such a whirlwind. Last night, at the world premiere in Los Angeles, was the moment I finally felt the fans finally got their movie. They have been waiting for this forever. It has been hard to get this to them and they have been more than patient in waiting. People don’t often realize how long it takes to make a movie and how long it takes to shoot, post and launch it. A lot of them think we are crooks and walked away with their money. It has been very frustrating on that front but here we were last night at the world premiere and all of our most dedicated fans showed up and applauded! They had a lot of respect for the film. It feels so real to me now. It is fan approved! They loved it and seeing them enjoy it was the quintessential moment for me in the entire process.
Seeing everything you went through, I have to ask, would you do it all over again? If so, are there plans for more “Blue Mountain State” in the future?
Chris Romano: Yeah! It may sound crazy but I would do it again! Obviously, now we are hip to the things that didn’t work and what did work. I would do it in a heartbeat! Getting together with these guys and making this movie was so inspiring. It is something we wanted to do for a long, long time. It is infectious and you just want to keep shooting more “Blue Mountain State.” After last night, these fans want to see more, whether it is a movie or TV. They are craving it. That just gets me excited to make more!
Alan Ritchson: The first one is the hardest in a lot of respects in life. This one was the hardest. We had to prove to a lot of people that there is an audience and a need for this content. Fighting for the fans is really what we have been doing for the past couple of years. Now that the fight is coming to a close and people can enjoy it, there is going to be new information about how big our audience has gotten because of Netflix. That is something we can’t measure because Netflix doesn’t share that information but we will find out pretty soon just how much we have grown in popularity based on the sales of this movie. We have a gentleman’s agreement with Lionsgate. They are really behind us now and have been great partners in this. Based on our conversations, if this film does well, we are going to find a way to make more, whether it is movies, TV or both. We are really hoping this does well and we want to come back for more. I don’t think it will ever be as hard as it was because we now have the full support and backing of Lionsgate if it does well. We are excited to hopefully bring new content to the fans beyond this film.
You poured your blood, sweat and tears into this project to bring a dream into reality. That is very inspiring. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Chris Romano: Just to put all of your trust into everyone. Trust everybody! [laughs] If they say it, they’re gonna do it! [laughs] Honestly, what we learned is that if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself. We learned that the hardest way possible but through doing that we learned how to make a movie. Doing it yourself is sometimes the best way to go if you want it done the best way possible.
Alan Ritchson: I totally agree. This is going to sound very cliche but the big takeaway for all of us is to never, ever, ever take no for an answer. If you have a dream or a hope for something, it doesn’t matter how many people say no or don’t show interest, never take no for an answer. If you are utterly relentless, are willing to do the hard work and carry the load, you can do anything you set your mind to. The experience of making this film is a testament to never taking no for an answer and never giving up. We never gave up. As hard as it got at times and as many times as we sat there feeling completely exhausted, disenfranchised and wondering if we should even keep trying, we kept going. And now here we are at the finish line. It is all because of that tenacity and the never-say-die attitude that got us here.
You guys have a great vibe going with all you created. Do you see yourselves working together on future projects outside the world of “Blue Mountain State?”
Alan Ritchson: That is really nice of you to say. We actually just had a conversation about this yesterday. We have been so inundated with BMS. It has been years and it has really taken all of our energy to get this done and hopefully get it done right. I don’t think this will be the last time you hear from us. The way that we work together builds off each other’s strengths. As a unit, I think it makes us a really powerful force, especially in this brand of comedy. I think it is likely we are going to get something else going. We have another idea we would like to make our focus for our next film. It is the same brand of brave comedy that really no one else is doing right now. It has no agenda, it’s just an absolute riotous time. It is in that same vein. I think, very soon, we may be getting that off the ground.
Thanks so much for your time today guys! It has been amazing to get an inside look at all that went into making this film a reality! We wish you the best of luck with it and on future outings!
‘Blue Mountain State: The Rise of Thailand’ is now available on Digital HD and VOD. For more visit www.bluemountainstatefilm.com