Olan Rogers’ Final Frontier
Venturing into the unknown has never looked so bright
Thank you for your call, but Olan Rogers is out of Nashville for the next month. He is currently in Los Angeles, wrestling with the final table reads for the second season of his TBS show, Final Space. For messages regarding his Five Points confectionery, The Soda Parlor, which celebrated its four-year anniversary in November, or for his apparel company, Space Cadet, please leave your message for his wife, Rachel Rogers, who manages these businesses anyway, along with their dog, and reins in most of his craziest ideas, ensuring the whole operation doesn’t float off like a balloon.
Olan Rogers moved to Nashville in 2011, but more and more, if you want to catch the Memphis native and East Nashville storyteller in action, you’ll have to visit his YouTube page. There, he recounts surreal comic tales like “Ghost in the Stalls” on demand. But of late, if you want to see Rogers face-to-face, you’ll need to look elsewhere, because, if he’s not moving on, he’s at least moving out to the destination where he was always headed.
“‘YouTuber’ has never had a good reputation behind it,” the 31-year-old says over the phone in November. “There’s always been a time where you think, man, they get paid stupid money to do videos.”
But unlike his peers, Rogers never saw the platform as a career. Rather, it was a means to an end. And the end is near.
“I’ve done YouTube, and I consider myself a YouTuber, but at the same time, I just consider myself a storyteller,” he says. “A lot of YouTubers, they come into it, and they have no idea what they want to do. They get burned out because they have no game plan. For me, since high school, it’s [been to] become a director. However I get there, that’s what I want to do.”
Talk to the people who know Rogers best (a small but intimate group of Nashvillians that, more often than not, traces its roots back to West Tennessee), and it’s clear that while YouTube has been vital to his current success, it was never more than a midpoint.
“I don’t know that any of this really could have happened without YouTube,” says Thomas Gore, a longtime friend of Rogers’ and a consulting writer on season two of Final Space. When the pair met during their senior year of high school, Gore remembers being star-struck by the guy who would become his creative partner. Rogers was at that point filming sketch videos that preceded the morning school news. They became collaborators almost immediately, with Gore — at that point — standing in as an actor. Later, when the two attended the University of Memphis, they cofounded the sketch channel “Balloonshop,” which first launched on Myspace and later migrated to YouTube. It was because of Rogers that Gore would move to Nashville in 2012 to continue their creative partnership, this time working on Rogers’ own channel.
“It wasn’t surprising to me that his solo channel would become as big as it is,” Gore says. “First of all, he works incredibly hard. So, there’s that, underlying everything. But he has a good ear for dialogue, and he’s most talented as a director and editor.
He has a capacity for having this large, expansive story in his head and keeping it all organized.”
The big story was always the important part, even as Rogers’ smaller stories, told through YouTube, took off. At the time of this writing, Rogers has just under a million subscribers to his channel, with many of his videos garnering millions of views. But possibly one of Rogers’ least-sung talents is as magnet and mentor. He draws people into his orbit, and whether or not they appear gifted at the time, he gives them an opportunity.
Jake Sidwell, an Indiana native who began chatting with Rogers online, moved to Nashville in 2012. He tells the story of a bare-bones sci-fi project they worked on called Pop Rocket. Rogers had raised some $17,000 via crowdfunding, and yet the budget was so lean (and, indeed, had already been exceeded) the crew was rationing frozen pizzas. He had to approach Rogers and explain lost income from his coffee-shop job during the two-and-a-half-week shoot near Atlanta had resulted in a shortfall for the month’s food and rent. It was no problem; Rogers bought his meals and floated him a check to cover his rent. Later, when Rogers needed music, he purchased Sidwell’s first orchestral software. Sidwell would go on to write most of the score for season one of Final Space.
Running the show in Nashville is Rogers’ wife Rachel. The pair will celebrate their second anniversary in April, but have know each other since meeting in a high school art class. “The crush started then,” she says, laughing.
The biggest addition to the couple’s projects has been the opening of a graphic design, production, and photo studio in Madison, near where they live.
“It has been able to become more than just about him,” Rachel says of their companies. “He treats everything that he does like, ‘How can this include everyone?’ And I think that that was what was appealing about Final Space.”
Final Space, an animated series, which debuted in February 2018, follows an astronaut named Gary and his alien friend Mooncake as they adventure around the universe seeking to solve the mystery of “Final Space.” It’s an idea that Rogers had been sitting on since 2010, and one for which he’d already self-funded a pilot. It took six, long years before it fell under the right eyes — in this case, Conan O’Brien’s Conaco production company. The budding show was heading to basic cable, and Rogers and his friends came along.
“The first review, he couldn’t find one thing to like about the whole thing. He was like, ‘Final Space will likely float off into space,’” Rogers says, laughing. But despite the mixed reviews, the show found an audience, and a second season was announced in May. “There’s always improvements — there’s a lot that I learned from that first season as far as voice acting and writing. I felt like [the reviews were] fair.”
For season two, in addition to the lessons he learned, Rogers is listening to his critics as well as his longtime fans. “When they see the second season, I think they’re going to be, like, ‘Wow, the comedy is amped. These episodes are legit,’” he says.
Even as his Nashville businesses are booming, Rogers knows that his current split of time between the West Coast and “Third Coast” can only last for so long. He believes a move West is inevitable, but credits his time here as being pivotal to his development. “Hollywood wants what’s popular, what works. With Nashville, I was able to do whatever I wanted to do,” he says. “When I came out [to Los Angeles], people said, ‘Dude, you have a very unique voice.’ I was like, well, that’s Nashville.”