Mitchell Stevens read “The Lord of the Rings” series in 6th grade. He wrote a letter to director Peter Jackson and asked to be an extra in the upcoming movies. But feeling discouraged at a dream so big, he never sent it.
Twelve years later, the Salt Lake City native sat in a lecture at BYU through his advertising program. Speaker Zack Canfield talked about not waiting around for big things to happen, to make opportunities instead of waiting for them.
Canfield’s message of carpe diem struck home with Stevens. And Stevens wasn’t alone. Two weeks later, fellow advertising student John Wright, 29, a grad student from Marrietta, Ga., asked him if he would want to join him in pursuit of his dream: to become an extra in “The Hobbit” movie.
The students were soon joined by John D. Storey, 24, another advertising student, from Eden. And what started out as a social media project soon turned into a cultural phenomenon.
“The purpose of it was not only to be extras, but to see if we could use social media to connect fans everywhere,” Stevens said, “to give fans the power to have an influence in the production of these movies that they love.”
To say the least, they succeeded. After reaching 64 countries and gaining 100,000 fans, they are leaving for Wellington, New Zealand, on Jan. 31 to consult with the visual effects supervisor of “The Hobbit” movie.
“From the beginning, we didn’t know how this was going to be perceived,” Stevens said. “But we made such a big splash, so many people connected with us. We were going to do this no matter what. We were going to make it happen.”
The men and their “Road to the Shire” campaign became popular through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Their original plan was to get Justin Bieber to retweet their cause, in exchange for their promise to name their firstborn sons after The Biebs.
“The strategy was to get JB to retweet us, but the purpose of it was to get his followers to be our followers,” Wright said. “We made a video to try to catch his eye and got a lot of followers. It’s a unique way that we can interact with people that we wouldn’t be able to interact with otherwise.”
Although Bieber never did retweet them, they gained loyal supporters.
“We made signs for our cars,” Wright said. “It was just after hobbit day, Sept. 22, and I was coming home from school. I parked by the duck pond and was having a bad day. I saw this thing on my windshield and was thinking it was a ticket, but when I got closer I saw that it wasn’t a ticket, it was just money.”
An anonymous supporter left Wright a wad of cash and a simple note: “You hobbits rock.”
“This whole thing is about a big idea: can fans really make an impact?” Wright said. “It’s not about us making it big. We don’t have desires to become actors. We’re doing this for the people who helped us get here.”
The idea of bringing people together is one of the main motivations of this campaign, Storey said.
“I love the idea of it,” he said. “The idea of people coming together to make a mark. To influence a movie director and change the way a movie is made by banding together with determination. That idea is so appealing.”
Although their “Road to the Shire” hasn’t always been paved with roses, all three said it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.
“We’ve had problems and misfires at every turn,” Storey said. “But we’re charging ahead and we’re going to do it. It’s like crossing the finish line.”
Through months of hard work, countless communications, donations from strangers and sheer determination, the students are closer to achieving their dream and becoming real hobbits than they’ve ever been before.
“Think outside the box,” Storey said. “Do something different. Don’t be scared to have a dream and go after it. The world has enough cowards.”
Until they leave for New Zealand on Jan. 31, they are still raising funds for their journey through their kickstarter video and website, roadtotheshire.com.