In this world of MMA journalism, we get to tell the stories of guys and gals who risk their well-being inside a fenced-in combat zone in the spirit of a career, money and feeding that competitive beast only they can understand.
That drive to do great things spills over to those that cover the sport as well. Let me introduce you to Bear Frazer, a long-time journalist who has a theory—a theory that an MMA movie needs to be made that transcends what we've been subjected to in the genre thus far.
That theory has a name: The BAM Theory.
"I know most anyone that watches this movie will connect with it," Frazer said. "There are so many universal themes and messages...it's not just one layer. I think when this movie drops, it will help elevate MMA more to the mainstream."
Who Is Bear?
The 27 year-old product of 90s alternative rock and a New York upbringing started writing back in high school and while dreaming in college of being the next editor of Rolling Stone, got a line on writing for a sports-themed edition of Urban Latino Magazine. He pitched an article on then-UFC upstart and TUF winner Diego Sanchez and the magazine accepted.
But Sanchez proved to be a bit more elusive back in those days. In Frazer's case, he took a trip to Mexico on the day they were due to chat.
"He called me back and said his cell battery was going to die, but he had five minutes. I started asking my first question and the phone cut out," Frazer laughed, explaining that the magazine was set to go to print in three weeks.
After attempting to unsuccessfully reach Sanchez, Frazer (pronounced like Smokin' Joe Frazier) all but gave up. But a week out from his deadline, he got an apologetic call from the king of Yes cartwheels toting a phone card with all the time in the world.
While that might dissuade some people from the business, it gave Frazer a kick start in the world of MMA journalism. As he continued to bolster a growing music writing career in well-known pubs like The Source, XXL and Metal Edge, he approached FIGHT! Magazine about doing some work for them as he was a fan of MMA since the early 2000s.
Then-editor and current Heavy MMA kingpin Matt Brown surprised him by reaching out soon thereafter, followed by editor-in-chief Donovan Craig. Both had read his samples and were excited to have him on board, considering his extensive background in music journalism.
However, his first assignment was to interview former UFC veteran Ricco Rodriguez, except he was also in a different country: Croatia.
"The hunt happened again.".
The Road To Hollywood Goes Through NYC...And Virginia
Thanks to a mix of the economic downturn and a mega-shift to digital content, the magazine industry—and especially freelance opportunities—took a major hit over the past few years. Mainly supporting himself through that work, Frazer found himself in a tough spot in 2008.
Fascinated with cinema and juggling some personal issues, he would apply to the same school he had walked past daily while doing an internship for The Source six years earlier: the New York Film Academy, inspired by a viewing of Clerks.
He was accepted within a day for a workshop and did some coursework that helped him take the step forward that would lead to why this article is being written: The BAM Theory.
After returning home to Virginia and not looking forward to jumping into the 12-16 article a week grind, the bug bit him to work on an MMA-tinged script. He attended shows and more ideas began to flood his head. Then while at a Buffalo Wild Wings—a favorite spot to watch UFC events—it hit him. Stop talking about it and just start writing it.
"I started October 30th and finished it April 27th—the day after my girlfriend broke up with me. That sucked," he joked.
More hardship was ahead. He was accepted for a Masters program at NYFA but couldn't find a co-signer. Freelance opportunities were less and less plentiful. But Frazer wanted to make a movie and have his script see the light of day. He wanted to get out of his rut and the answer was looking at him in the mirror.
"One day it came to me:why don't I just do it myself? Everything has just gone better from there."
He just had to get it paid for first, easier said than done...or was it?
Forget what you know about MMA movies. Put aside your thoughts about Redbelt, Fighting, Unrivaled or anything else that follows the same plot lines, threads and tired characters. To Frazer, BAM wants you to think bigger, like Rocky big.
Big gloves to fill? He thinks big, yo.
"Yes, there's a heavy influence on MMA culture and the main character is a fighter," he explained. "But the story focuses on what people like you and I and many other ethnicity's and cultures are going through now. It's very real, very modern. We don't see that in a lot of these fight movies."
But to get to the point of being able to tell that story, Frazer needed money, and plenty of it. His goal was to raise enough cash to create a pitch movie, a sequence of three back-to-back scenes he could take to key decision makers that would then decide whether to purchase and green-light for a full production.
He turned to Kickstarter to help focus, structure and add deadlines to his fund-raising effort. Then, he looked to friends for ideas and help. Luckily, both came out in droves.
Bands Frazer had interviewed (Five Finger Death Punch for example) and befriended, along with UFC stars like Jake Shields and Carlos Condit, donated items he could auction off. The same people he had helped promote through writing were helping him out as they saw the passion and promise in the dream he had.
With friend and executive producer Jason Parnell on board, the two pushed, promoted and asked for donations in any way they could, using social media to the fullest extent and creating a viral buzz around the project.
Most importantly, they instilled a sense of urgency. Kickstarter has a time limit on their auction process and if you don't hit your goal in time, your effort is for naught and all the money is returned to their sources.
The hard work paid off, literally.
"The first few days, we got almost $500. Then another $100 came in, then another $100. I thought we'd maybe get the money by the skin of our teeth, but we beat the deadline by two days," he said.
With $3265 raised for the pitch movie combined with a personal investment of $800, it was time to get to work. With the script complete, he and Parnell began storyboarding the three scenes they wanted to shoot. They followed that up with scouting out locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic states and settling on Lynchburg, VA, a city of roughly 75,000 that is happy to have the attention.
Then, it was time for casting. Thousands of resumes submitted via all forms of media came in, but all of the talent was selected from Virginia, a major source of pride for Frazer. It was time for planning, rehearsals, more planning and finally, filming—all while continuing to promote the project through countless interviews for traditional and non-traditional outlets alike.
When it was all said and done, funding through the final scene all happened and wrapped within three months, driven by someone who admittedly learned as he went.
"It went better and faster than I could have anticipated. It was all a grassroots effort. I felt like The BAM Theory was a full time job," he said. "When people see me leading the charge and hearing about the story knowing I'm serious, it connects and clicks with people."
The pitch movie is now in the final stages of being edited and then it's time to do just that: pitch it. In the meantime, Frazer is getting about five hours sleep a night as he continues to be the unofficial arts and entertainment editor/lead writer for FIGHT! as well as other projects.
But with lots of work ahead, he's just fine with the schedule.
What is BAM?
Let's let Frazer take this one:
"BAM is an action word, like in the comics when you punch someone. The lead character's name is Bam Thomas and it's his theory on life."
In the screenplay, Thomas is a 23-year-old MMA fighter who has dreams of the UFC but has to overcome personal tragedy like his father's suicide, a bad job, lack of support at home and impending foreclosure. The story focuses on his rise, his supporting cast of characters and their personal evolutions among the quagmire.
The pitch film will have some true MMA flavor as local fighter Matt Coleman was cast to play Thomas with scenes filmed at Renaissance Academy of Martial Arts. While this will be his first role, Frazer believed in him enough to cast him as the lead—a big leap of faith.
Then again, that's really been the story of the past few years of Frazer's life. Every time he leaps, he ends up with both feet on the ground, not looking back at what made him jump in the first place.
"We got more money, more attention and more awareness spread than I anticipated. We're not doing anything half-hearted," Frazer said. "This is our shot and we gotta take it to the fullest. I've got a lot to do and a lifetime to do it."
Josh Nason is a New England-based freelance MMA journalist that currently has a Jon Fitch feature in February's FIGHT! Magazine. He frequently does radio/podcast appearances and asks for your "like" for ESPN Boston to cover MMA. Follow him on Twitter.