This is Part 2 of our extended retrospective about the #SaveTheExpanse movement. If you missed the beginning, please start from Part 1. A shorter, more concise overview of the campaign is also available here.
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5
#SaveTheExpanse Takes to the Skies
On the morning of May 14, Reddit user /u/DQ87 released a call-to-action video clip that was quickly shared around the web and by most of the cast & crew. It accumulated a whopping 50,000 upvotes on r/videos and 170,000 views on YouTube, making sure that everyone knew what was going on. #SaveTheExpanse was officially viral.
We also discovered that, coincidentally, Jeff Bezos may be fan of the books himself. Fans discovered this photo of Bezos presenting the Kindle back in 2011, with a page from a book some of you might recognize showcased on a promotional photo:
@JeffBezos this is you showing off your Kindle Fire in 2011. On it, Chapter One of Leviathan Wakes, the first book in #TheExpanse saga – the basis for a critically acclaimed and fan-adored TV show that @SyFy just canned. You and @AmazonStudios can save it! pic.twitter.com/OOmrRG8JyL
— Brendan #WeSavedTheExpanse Caulfield (@Destructor111) May 14, 2018
That certainly gave us a bit of a boost, and made our target even clearer. This is where things start to get interesting. “What’s next?” was the question on all of our minds. Petitions and email requests rarely get results, so we knew that we needed to do something big if we wanted to get the attention of someone in a position to take action to save The Expanse.
So… we flew an airplane above Amazon Studios trailing a banner that read #SaveTheExpanse. For two hours. Actually, four, because it came back again later, just in case they forgot.
They definitely couldn’t ignore us now.
The original idea was actually to fly a hot-air balloon, first suggested by Reddit user /u/Tim456789 on May 14. Sadly, this wasn’t possible, as it would take too long to arrange for (we eventually did a version of this anyway, but more on that later). Instead, /u/sfcl33t set up a GoFundMe to fly a plane banner over Amazon Studios. Five hours and two separate flight deals later, the plane was all set to fly the next day with over $4,000 raised.
In the same thread, other users suggested care packages of coffee — a favorite beverage of James Holden — be sent to Amazon Studios, inspired by similar campaigns for shows like Jericho that were successful in the past. We took to this idea with the same energy we’d brought to everything else and set about making sure everyone at Amazon was wide awake for what was to come.
On the morning of May 15, the day of the big plane banner event, fans were greeted with a three-minute fan trailer posted on Reddit by /u/Alaskan__Thunderfuck. The video played on the humanist aspect of the series, utilizing Secretary-General Sorrento-Gillis’ speech as a call for unity in desperate times — a theme that paralleled the urgency of the campaign.
In just a couple of hours, the video had gone viral and made its way up the Reddit ladder until The Expanse was the #1 topic on the entire site, which describes itself as “the front page of the internet”. This was only the first of three posts to reach the #1 spot on the platform over the course of the campaign, gathering over 37,000 upvotes while the video itself gained over 120,000 views on YouTube. Eventually spotted by The Expanse writers’ room, other fans, cast and crew, and even Adam Savage on Twitter, the trailer inspired many new viewers to try out the show and set the stage as a battle cry for the the movement.
Later that afternoon, Hallie Lambert, Cara Gee, and several other members of the crew, joined by some local fans, gathered around Amazon Studios to witness a historic moment in television. The crowdfunded airplane carrying the “#SaveTheExpanse” banner was about to make its rounds in the sky above the building. As it did so, video clips and streams went live on Twitter and other platforms, allowing the rest of the world tune in to observe the stunt.
We’re here & it’s incredible. Our fans, everyone banding together, you’re incredible. We’re emotional & we’re humbled & we’re thankful. No matter what happens, we are ALL part of something special. Thank you. 🙏✨ #TheExpanse #SaveTheExpanse pic.twitter.com/MuGQdrLWYk
— The Expanse Writers (@TheExpanseWR) May 15, 2018
Here is an entertaining account of the event by one fan volunteer, /u/Tagerine (Rachel Ferrell), who had quite an adventure as she sought to find the best vantage point to film the plane.
Frequenting the TE Discord server allowed me front row seats to all of the goings-ons of the Save The Expanse campaign right from the start. Typically a calm, casual collective, the cancellation announcement had distraught viewers absolutely spilling from the woodwork, demanding to know where to send their peanuts in protest. Our collective pinings and wrung hands were suddenly offered a rope of promise with the announcement that a GoFundMe had been opened to get a banner flown over Amazon HQ in Santa Monica, CA, voicing our plea, “#SaveTheExpanse.”
There is an inherent comfort in belonging to a fandom. It’s a family that doesn’t bicker over politics. It’s a friendship that isn’t swayed by conflicting schedules. It’s a romance whose passion is endless and unquestioned.
As luck would have it, I live in LA. A fellow Discord user, @katja, helped me set up an account on Twitch and we were off to the races. I was able to procure a “long lunch” on the day of the flight and “hop over” from Sunset and Vine to see the banner in action.
It. Was. Beautiful.
There is an inherent comfort in belonging to a fandom. It’s a family that doesn’t bicker over politics. It’s a friendship that isn’t swayed by conflicting schedules. It’s a romance whose passion is endless and unquestioned. Watching “#SaveTheExpanse” soar across the clear, blue sky as an extremely public proclamation of our love for the show was downright inspiring.
I instantly became a giggling idiot.
The rest of the experience was an exercise in humility as I bumbled with the Twitch app controls, struggled to keep up with the chatroom, and got yelled at by a security guard for standing on the lip of a nearby fountain. I noticed a fellow fan, phone aimed at the buzzing sky, and we exchanged awkward pleasantries. It’s since been brought to my attention that at one point I actually sang my thoughts aloud. Clearly, the sun was getting to my head.
After exhausting the Amazon HQ vantage points, I approached a parking garage nearby that had to be five or six stories tall. Alas, it was clearly private property and only accessible by key card or remote control. Had to be five or six stories tall, though. Mind still fuzzy from the sun, heart still warmed by fandom cooperation, phone threatening to die at a moment’s notice, I made my way into a maintenance area attached to the garage and there a human sat, eating his sandwich, unaware of the heartfelt nonsense that was coming his way. In retrospect, I could have opened with something simple. Maybe, “I left my keys inside,” or, “I really need to use a restroom.” No. My heart was overflowing with hope and my throat was powerless to catch it from spilling out in confusing fragments about a science fiction show and a banner and a plane and a group of strangers who were depending on me to see it all from halfway across the world.
To quote Miller, “I ain’t sitting this one out.”
I don’t know if it was through pity or understanding, but it worked. I was allowed access into the first level of the garage and given a soft, “good luck?” from the guard who was clearly ready to return to his regularly scheduled lunch break. Up two levels of stairs I flew and then, a door. A closed door. A locked door, and across the drive path, a locked traffic gate. Restricted area. Donkey balls. I went to the nearest half wall and looked out to see the plane and banner barely twenty feet closer than before but now with concrete walls and columns blocking the open sky.
Just as I began to feel the familiar twinge of disappointment from a foiled plan, the locked traffic gate swung open. A resident was exiting the upper levels. I ran. I can only assume the driver was too busy punching in GPS directions to notice the ungainly, sweating, giggling moron rushing past their car, phone at eye-level, schizophrenic rantings about trespassing and exercise coloring the air.
The rest is fairly straight-forward. I crested the roof begging the Twitch viewers for forgiveness while I caught my breath. The banner was only slightly larger than it had been, but set against an unobstructed sky it regained its inspirational countenance and I once more lost the ability to vocalize the sight in any meaningful way. I faintly remember using the phrase, “money shot,” and hope to eventually wipe it from my memory and vocabulary entirely. With my phone finally giving up the ghost, I waved goodbye to the camera and apologized profusely for my short-lived streaming career.
In the end, it’s just a show, and we’re just the people who watch it. That makes it our show, though. Cancelling it gave us the opportunity to unite under one banner for the cause of saving it. To quote Miller, “I ain’t sitting this one out.”
It was as big of a statement as the fans could possibly make, and a testament to the commitment and organization of the fanbase. Now, this was virtually impossible for Amazon employees to ignore. Although the campaign continued for another week and a half, including another major stunt, this was still arguably the most effective initiative of the fan effort, gaining the most press and social media coverage.
“There were airplanes circling us, I was having cakes delivered, there was a whole thing happening” Jen Salke, head of Amazon Studios, said of the campaign. (via Deadline)
After this point, the campaign went into overdrive. The plane banner made a huge impact, reaching mainstream news outlets and turning the campaign into a true phenomenon: IGN, Space.com, IndieWire, ComicBook.com, A.V Club, Digial Spy and many others.
The petition was now at well over 75,000 signatures. The movement had inspired a notable amount of the show’s cast and crew to become extra vocal online, particularly the ExpanseWR account (Hallie Lambert) and Cas Anvar. Bob Munroe, the VFX supervisor of the show, even stopped by Reddit to thank the fans directly.
It was a truly humbling moment for all of us as we finally stopped to take a breath and marvel at what the power of a dedicated, passionate fanbase could accomplish in such a short amount of time.
In the evening after the banner flight, Cas Anvar took to Periscope to host a livestream. Many fans eagerly awaited his appearance, hoping to hear a status update or even an announcement — perhaps the banner had already had an effect. Anvar gave the fans an update on the state of affairs and urged us to tune in to the show live on Syfy and help boost the Nielsen ratings.
This is your pilot speaking! Talking to you live. #TheExpanse #SaveTheExpanse #WatchExpanseLive https://t.co/GjD6ZZ1f3s
— Cas Anvar (@Casanvar) May 15, 2018
Initially, this raised some questions among fans: Were we now lobbying Syfy again? Could international fans, or those who had no access to cable, still participate? Was there a chance that Syfy might decide to keep the show if the ratings saw an uptick?
Anvar hinted at such a possibility, but we wanted to keep our options open and continue to maintain pressure on Amazon as well – especially with much of the fanbase split on whether a potential Syfy renewal was preferable to an Amazon acquisition. Regardless, Anvar’s appearance and positive outlook relieved many fans’ anxieties and helped set our sights on the next goal, #WatchExpanseLive. Anvar continued to interact with and update fans online, and went on to become one of the most influential voices throughout the campaign.
A note about ratings: Although Nielsen ratings are widely considered an outdated metric, it is nevertheless an important factor for networks, both traditional and streaming, in evaluating a series. The following day, May 16, was crucial as a result: The first episode of the show since news of cancellation broke was to air on Syfy, and we needed to prove them we meant business.
We sure did.
One community member prepared a graphic to encourage fans to watch the show live, providing information on how to do so and using the #WatchExpanseLive hashtag. The graphic was shared on social media and helped kick off the first of many hashtag trends that we would put into action throughout the campaign to go alongside the episodes. Also that day, a well known real life Belter who goes by Pirate made a video appealing Jeff Bezos to save The Expanse in Belter-creole!
This episode, titled “Immolation”, was itself an important episode of the show as it marked the conclusion of the second book in the series, Caliban’s War. A shocking turning point in the story proved that this show was just getting started and was about to embark on a journey of truly epic scale — a journey that must be continued.
The cast and crew watched the episode alongside fans and live tweeted through both airings. Over 10,000 unique tweets with the #SaveTheExpanse hashtag were posted that day, generating close to 70,000 interactions — the highest point of the entire campaign. The renewed vigor of the fandom in the face of cancellation, boosted by the push to get everyone watching live, successfully contributed to a spike in viewership of over 10%, rising from 555,000 live viewers to 609,000.
This was a truly incredible feat, and major evidence that the movement to save the show was making a real difference — energizing fans even further. Despite this exciting news, though, we knew the fight was far from over.
Read on to Part 3 to find out about how we organized into a dedicated volunteer campaign team, and see some of the new fantastic fan content and cast appearances from that week.
Go to Part 3
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5