I'm Shmacked: Inside the Controversial Campus Antics of Jeffrie Ray
Did Ray really set out to be the scourge of college and university campuses nationwide? Or is he just some arty Narberth kid who’d rather be part of the action? Probably a little of both.
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Ray would carry his camera everywhere, shooting 20-second clips of random activities for inclusion in a video compilation he was working on. With such memorable “chapter” names as “Dumb S--t We Do,” Ray’s much-hyped opus was set for release on the last day of school.
But then disaster struck: Ray was trying to make room for the film on his computer when he deleted it by mistake. Fortunately for him, the trailer had already been distributed. “People saw it and asked, ‘Who is this kid?’” he says.
Ray had apparently found his vocation, much to his mother’s initial dismay. “I was definitely worried about it. I didn’t get it at all,” she says. “It wasn’t until I spoke with another younger person that I got it. I remember them saying, ‘Ms. Ray, he’s showing us what it’s like at different schools.’ I didn’t have any exposure to [colleges] when I was in high school.”
And what does she think about the videos? “After watching a few of them, each school feels different; he can convey that through his films,” she says. “I judge a medium of art by how it moves me. His films bring out emotion.”
And not always positive emotion. “That’s the downside of this that he’s going to have to come to terms with,” says Ray’s mom. “He has to realize that there are unfortunate consequences when people drink. They don’t make good decisions, and something may happen.”
“It would be ignorant to say partying doesn’t happen in high school,” says Doug Young, Lower Merion High School’s communications director. “We’re aware of it.”
He’s also aware of the I’m Shmacked videos. “If kids are asking, ‘Does this happen in Lower Merion?’—the answer is yes,” Young says. “But we address that a lot of different ways with our curriculum.”
Trouble is, Ray’s Lower Merion video trailer won’t go away. Whenever some controversy involving I’m Shmacked unfolds, folks throughout the country return to that clip—and most don’t realize that it was done by students. “It’s been blown out of proportion,” Ray says. “We were 17 years old; we were doing stuff kids do. It happened years ago, and some outlets make it seem like I went back to high school while I was in college.”
The summer after graduation, as his classmates headed to college, Ray was spending time at Temple University, filming whatever he and his friends were doing. He took the footage, edited it on the Movie Edit Pro software program and posted it on the Vimeo hosting site. “It blew up,” he says.
When Ray went to Manhattan to start school, he found he had a convenient schedule. Monday classes didn’t start until 4 p.m., and he had nothing on Fridays. One weekend, he headed to West Virginia University to visit some friends, camera in tow, posting the video he made of parties and campus sights. At the time, the clip had more than 500,000 hits. “Everyone was talking,” he says.
That was enough to convince Ray to leave college. “Was I disappointed when Jeff quit school to pursue this? Yes. Do I worry about my son? All the time,” says Nikki Ray. “But I believe experience is life’s best teacher. And Jeffrie is getting one hell of an experience.”
Ray wound up at 12 different campuses in 2011 and 2012, among them top party schools Syracuse and Tulane universities and the University of Colorado. At the time, no one had heard of I’m Shmacked—but the anonymity didn’t last. “I wanted to show what college was like,” Ray says. “I was just a freshman, and I would say, ‘Nuts, I would’ve killed to have seen this kind of stuff while I was in high school.’ But people can’t be so naïve as to think that all they do in college is party.”
By the spring of 2012, I’m Shmacked videos were really catching on, though the only real money Ray was making came from the $20 T-shirts he sold. By then, he’d met Potomac, Md., native Arya Toufanian, and the two made some big plans. They flirted with a management company in New York but weren’t happy about surrendering an income percentage. By last fall, there was money coming in. “We want to have influence with the college crowd,” says Toufanian. “That way, we’ll be able to build other businesses.”
The two staged several events at schools around the country. They’d rent a club, fly in DJs, sell up to 1,000 tickets at $20 each and “walk away with $10,000,” says Ray. They posted videos on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and their website. This fall, I’m Shmacked will hit 30 campuses. Toufanian—who left Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University after three years—is making many of the stops, and Ray expects to bring in $300,000 now that things are more organized. “It’s different,” he says. “People know us.”