Mark Story: Four Kentuckians documenting the UK fan phenomenon in film

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 15, 2012 

The soon-to-be-completed documentary film that its makers hope will become "the ultimate piece of University of Kentucky basketball fan memorabilia" began in an unusual way.

Brothers Tim and Steve Bates had an idea for a reality TV show. "It was about being too old to make it in the music business," Steve Bates says. "It was called Too Old To Rock & Roll."

One day, the brothers were lamenting the difficulty in attracting financing in Central Kentucky for entertainment ideas. The television news was playing in the background. It showed a picture of Kentucky Wildcats fans camping out for tickets to Big Blue Madness.

Says Tim Bates: "Our sister (Tara Kleycamp) sort of made the comment, 'If you guys are going to do a documentary, that's what you need to do it on right there, how crazy the (Kentucky fans) are.'"

An idea was planted. When the Bates brothers met with the local film director Jason Epperson about their rock and roll concept, they also mentioned they had been mulling some kind of UK basketball documentary.

"I've wanted to do a UK project since I got into filmmaking," says Epperson, 36, a Winchester native who finished as runner-up on a 2007 Fox reality TV show for aspiring filmmakers called On The Lot.

The Bates brothers and Epperson began to brain storm over ideas for a UK basketball-oriented feature film.

"We were all trying to decide, what is the (UK basketball) film we can do that everyone would just want to come to?" Epperson said. "And it kept coming back to the fans. We were like 'Let's do it on the fans.'"

Some two years later, the trio and their fourth partner, WLEX TV personality and comic Lee Cruse, are working to put the finishing touches on Sixth Man — A Krazy Love Story.

The word I've heard from other Lexington media members who have seen parts of the film is that it is good. If all goes as planned, the film will be available for purchase in time for March Madness, 2013. (For sales information, monitor the website 6thmanmovie.com).

The four Kentucky residents hope their film explaining Wildcats basketball fanaticism will be of the same quality as the ESPN Films documentary Roll Tide War Eagle on the Alabama-Auburn football rivalry.

"That was a great documentary," Cruse says. "That's our goal, we're aiming for something along those lines."

Cruse became involved as a participant in making the UK fan film after he was first interviewed to be in it.

"His commentary was so spot on and had that touch of humor," said Tim Bates. "Jason and I were walking out in the parking lot and I said 'You know, (Cruse) needs to be involved. He's got that great sense of humor and he knows (UK basketball)."

In his documentary interview, Cruse explained that Kentucky basketball functions like other major "religions" — it has faith, fanaticism, a high temple and a high priest.

'Tender, loving care'

In trying to capture the essence of what it means to be a Kentucky basketball fan, the filmmakers figure they've shot some 150 hours of footage. The task facing Epperson as director is to cut that down to roughly an hour and 20 minutes.

On the night in April when UK beat Kansas in New Orleans to claim Kentucky's eighth NCAA title, they had film crews in the Big Easy, Lexington, New York City and Los Angeles to register the reaction of UK fans in each place.

Among the 30-50 people to have done formal interviews for the film are John Calipari, Christian Laettner, Joe B. Hall and Jay Bilas. Celebrity UK fans Laura Bell Bundy and actor Steve Zahn have also taped interviews (the famous fan most identified with UK basketball, actress Ashley Judd, declined to be interviewed, the filmmakers say).

Among the notable "regular" fans interviewed for the documentary are Darren Moscoe, Rupp Arena's dancing Boogie Man; William Bolden, the 22-year-old famous for his Kentucky-themed YouTube videos as "Stone Cold Willow."

Others sharing their stories are the two guys who famously fought in a Georgetown dialysis clinic in the week before the Final Four meeting last season between Kentucky and Louisville; the two guys who dress up as Big Blue versions of Spiderman in Rupp Arena; and a University of South Carolina female student from Kentucky who showed up for the UK-Carolina game in Columbia last season decked out in all blue — even though she was dating a Gamecocks player.

All four of the filmmakers for Sixth Man consider themselves UK fans. Which is not to say their film won't recognize the over-the-top facet of Wildcats basketball zeal.

"As a society here in Kentucky, we've got some problems," Cruse says. "I mean that in the best way, but you talk about some priorities that are out of whack."

There will be a psychiatrist in the film who tries to explain the underlying factors that fuel the UK basketball fan phenomenon.

Once the film is finished, the makers hope Sixth Man — A Krazy Love Story is of sufficient quality that HBO or one of the ESPN platforms will run it.

Regardless, they hope UK fans will see themselves, literally and/or figuratively, in the project — and want to watch it over and over and over.

"The thing I like about this project is that, eventually, this story was going to be told. (Kentucky basketball fan passion) is a phenomenon like no other," Cruse says. "So we get to tell it our way, four Kentucky guys, and it will be done with tender, loving care instead of somebody coming in here and doing a hit job, portraying Kentucky fans as rubes."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230 Email: mstory@herald-leader.comTwitter: @markcstoryBlog: markstory.bloginky.com

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