Editor's Note from Maurine Proctor: Meridian's film editor, Kieth Merrill, is a sort of father figure to the rising generation of LDS filmmakers. At Meridian, we get hundreds of letters from the hopeful asking Kieth for everything from his help breaking into film to his opinion on the latest offering in the world of "Mormon Cinema". People look to him not only because of his long list of successful films, his many awards--including an Oscar -- or his filmmaking gems, Legacy and Testaments, but because his savvy and insights have been honed in a few trips around the filmmaking block. So, finally it was my turn to ask a question.
"Kieth," I said, "What do you think about the two announcements of forthcoming films on the Book of Mormon?" Here is his answer.
Maurine is the master of inspiring her writers by stretching their brains on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. What I think with my head and feel in my heart are very different.
As a Mormon I want these films to be all that I've imagined.
As a moviemaker I know the ominous challenges ahead.
As a Mormon I am tingling with anticipation.
As a moviemaker I am terrified for my courageous colleagues.
The buzz has begun. The genie is out of the bottle. The Book of Mormon movies have been announced and are "coming to a theater near you."
Gary Rogers announced his plan to produce The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume One at a Salt Lake City news conference on October 29th.
Almost a year ago Steve DeVore and his team of seasoned LDS filmmakers announced their plans to produce A Voice From the Dust: Journey to the Promised Land.
I can define my expectations in subjective terms. I can fill a notebook with a thousand suggestions on how the movie should be made. (Like every other LDS film maker on the planet, I have diagramed the Book of Mormon stories as movies every time I read them.)
Ultimately, it occurred to me that what I think is much less important than what you think. You are the target audience. They are making these movies for you.
So here's the deal. I will tell you what I know about these fascinating projects. Then you must give me feedback. You must use the email address provided to let me know what you think and how you feel. Once I've heard the chorus of the target audience, I will answer Maurine's question not with a self-absorbed soliloquy -- which is so very tempting -- but rather the collective voice--a choir or cacophony--that just may be of benefit.
We will write an open letter to the filmmakers so they can also hear your voice.
I have spoken to the key creative people and moving forces behind the projects, Gary Rogers, Peter Johnson and Steve DeVore. This is what I know, what I think, and what I think I know. It's only the beginning of your homework.
Let us begin by stating the obvious. The irresistible notion of a narrative feature-length movie based on Book of Mormon characters, stories and ideas seems ingrained -- perhaps genetically -- in the Mormon psyche.
Almost everyone who has ever read this extraordinary book and felt the power of its stories has imagined the day that these great characters would come to life on the silver screen. Some of us have already seen the movie play over and over in the theater of our minds.
Almost everyone within even the most improbable striking distance of actually making such a movie is almost paralyzed by the responsibility of re-translating the keystone of Mormonism into a Hollywood epic -- a process that demands the subjective compromise of something called "artistic license" -- and this time without the benefit of the Urim and Thummim. Daunting.
In his October news release Rogers said:
"To members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Book of Mormon is a sacred record. This is a very unique motion picture. Virtually every member of the Church I've talked to has told me they have waited all their lives to see a movie about the Book of Mormon!
It really is a filmmaker's dream. However, the biggest challenge will be to produce a film that satisfies the audience. Most of the nearly 12 million members of the Church have already "seen" the movie many times in their minds! The prospect of meeting the expectations of millions of people is a very frightening but exciting challenge."
He has said it well for any and all who venture into the "sacred realms" of our favorite scriptures and presume to interpret the people, places and preachments on the silver screen. Rogers is right about two critically important things.
1) The expectation of the target audience is enormous.
2) The challenge and responsibility of the filmmaker is ominous.
In profiling your thoughts in the follow-up article, I will describe with some detail the nature of the challenge and the burden of responsibility.
I have quoted President Kimball so often that you must wonder if he was the last General Authority I ever listened to. He isn't. But few of the Brethren have articulated the vision and power of Mormon media and movies any better.
"The full story of Mormonism has never yet been written nor painted nor sculptured nor spoken, [nor filmed]. It remains for inspired hearts and talented fingers yet to reveal themselves. They must be faithful, inspired, active Church members to give life and feeling and true perspective to a subject so worthy.
"Our writers, our moving picture specialists, with the inspiration of heaven, should tomorrow be able to produce a masterpiece which would live forever. Such masterpieces should run for months in every movie center, cover every part of the globe in the tongues of the people, written by the great artists, purified by the best critics."
We believe in prophets. Prophecy defines our lives and bolsters our confidence in the future. We all imagine and even foresee that the day of the epic Mormon films will come. Some have mistakenly hailed "Mormon Cinema" as the dawning of that great day. For a lot of reasons -- with a few isolated exceptions like Other Side of Heaven -- with a big enough budget and broad enough appeal to have a shot at crossover -- it isn't.
Is the buzz we hear about Book of Mormon movies the opening of that ultimate era? Are these "epic" Book of Mormon films a shimmer of prophecy rising? Probably not. Neither project is designed nor destined for "every movie center" nor "every part of the globe," at least according to the respective producers.
I don't pretend to know the future of these ambitious projects. I do know a lot about making films. I understand-- and share -- the highest expectation of the audience. With even more empathy and awe, I understand the challenge and responsibility the filmmakers face in making these movies work.
Lofty expectations and confounding challenges aside, great things are possible. It is an exciting, if precarious, time.
I am really anxious to know your thoughts. Your perspective. Your delight. Your expectations. Your concerns.
But just before you start, you have one homework assignment left. You need to visit the web sites of the respective projects. You need to read the short summaries of the projects, plans and players that follow.
Please go to the respective web sites to get your own subjective impression of each project and a glimpse of the future.
A VOICE FROM THE DUST:
JOURNEY TO THE PROMISED LAND.
Visit the website - http://www.voicefromthedust.com/
|The Story - The first episode, Journey to the Promised Land, chronicles the journey that Lehi and his family made from Jerusalem to the Promised Land. Our young hero, Nephi, surmounts obstacle after overwhelming obstacle to obey his father and the command of God to "go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded..." with stunning faith rarely seen, for he "was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which (he) should do."|
|Production Company - Timpanogas Partners 1- LLC|
|Estimated production budget - 8 million|
|Location - Utah, California, Yemen.|
|Cast --SAG actors in principal roles. (Screen Actors Guild)|
|Format --35 mm|
|Distribution Plan -- Contract pending with Hollywood-based distribution company specializing in niche markets. Release to theaters in LDS market. Video and DVD release. Referred to as "Episode I". No other plans announced at this time.|
|Target audience -- LDS church membership with hope for "crossover" markets.|
|Companion documentary, Journey of Faith, to be released. Documentary was shot on actual locations of Lehi's trail by members of production team as prelude to the project.|
|Production Team: Peter Johnson -- Producer, Writer, Director |
Former Director of the BYU Motion Picture Studio. Films include The Mountain of the Lord, A More Perfect Union (regional EMMY award and nominated for national EMMY), Man's Search for Happiness, The Restoration, Zion's Camp. The Witching of Ben Wagner (Disney), Encyclopedia Brown (HBO), How Rare a Possession, Journey of Faith, and Between Heaven and Earth. Writer of Disney's 1988 top rated Sunday Night movie, Thanksgiving Promise, with Blaine Yorgason. Other experience includes: The Sting, Part II (Universal); Twilight Time (Dan Tana Productions); SKAG (NBC); Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (Irwin Allen Productions); Miracle on Ice (ABC); Word of Honor (CBS); and The Streets of San Francisco (ABC).
|Steven DeVore - Producer |
Founder, SyberVision Systems, one of the world's most successful specialty audio/video publishing and distribution companies. Program Producer. 7-year media study: Stanford University School of Medicine's Neuropsychological Research Laboratories. Distributor, niche markets.
|Craig Peterson -- Producer |
MBA in product innovation. Extensive experience in marketing and product development.
|Scott Swofford -- Line Producer/Production Manager|
Veteran Producer. Films include: Mysteries of Egypt for National Geographic, Olympic Glory with Frank Marshall, and Amazon, [nomination for an Academy Award] His company, Vineyard Productions, has produced seven other IMAX films. Swofford had produced 7 independent feature films and he produced Legacy and The Testaments for the LDS church.
|Neil Newell -- Writer|
Professor of writing at BYU. MFA, writing USC. Published novelist and writer of scores of plays, screenplays and articles.
|Reed Smoot -- Director of Photography |
Most notable LDS cinematographer working today. Recipient of the Kodak Lifetime Achievement award. Smoot's films include; Legacy and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey for Walt Disney Pictures; the critically acclaimed NBC Miniseries, The Long Hot Summer; and the Academy Award winning documentary feature, The Great American Cowboy. He has specialized in the photography of IMAX-format films, including: Cirque de Soleil's Journey of Man, Mysteries of Egypt, Yellowstone, Olympic Glory, and Galapagos.
|S. Kent Brown -- Historical Consultant |
Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and one of the foremost authorities on The Book of Mormon and the history of the ancient world. Central scholar in the Motion Picture's companion documentary, Journey of Faith.
|Liaison with LDS Church - Production is wholly independent of the LDS church but filmmakers intend to maintain "unofficial" liaison.|
|Funding -- Private investment sources. Funding not completed as of Nov 1.|
|Promotional comments -- "A Voice from the Dust is intended to entertain and inspire, and is not an evangelical event or doctrinal statement of belief. Thus, while the producers have deep sensitivity to the sacred nature of the scriptural record and have undertaken extensive research into matters of authenticity, certain dramatic judgments must be made in bringing such an epic to the screen." [Official website]|
BOOK OF MORMON MOVIE, VOLUME ONE
Visit the website - http://www.thebookofmormonmovie.com/
|Story -- The story begins with Joseph Smith and the visit of the Angel Moroni. From there it goes to the story of First Nephi, Lehi and his family in the wilderness and the crossing of the sea. The story ends with the separation of the brothers in the Promised Land.|
|Production Company - Gary Rogers Productions|
|Estimated production budget - 2 million|
|Locations - Utah and California. Second unit background shots Middle East.|
|Cast - Project will not use SAG actors in principal roles (Screen Actor's Guild). Production plan based on non-paid volunteers to play extras.|
|Format -- Decision pending - 35 mm or 24P digital hi-def video.|
|Distribution Plan -- In-house directly to theaters in LDS market. Video and DVD release. Intended as the first of several feature films (8 or 9 volumes over several years) eventually covering the entire book of Mormon.|
|Target audience -- LDS church membership with hope for "crossover" markets.|
|Book of Mormon Movie, Volume One will be Mr. Rogers's first feature film effort.|
Gary Rogers - Writer, Producer, Director
Writer, Actor, Producer, Director in hundreds of TV productions. Clients include Rockwell International, Coca-Cola, Nissan, Motorola, Mitsubishi, Honeywell, AT&T, Dow Chemical, Lucent Technologies, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rogers formed International Television Productions [ITP] that was recently sold. Rogers and ITP have won many awards.
|Lance Williams -- Producer|
Lance Williams is listed on the web site as producer but he told me that he is no longer involved in the project.
|Tillman Boxell - Script Consultant/Co-Producer|
Actor, Writer, Producer, Director Masters Degree in Theater and Film from Brigham Young University. Co-Producer on the motion picture Charly. Major and minor roles in scores of feature films, industrial films, plays, television and radio commercials. Teaches Acting, Film Studies, Communications and English for Salt Lake Community College.
|Robert C. Bowden -- Music Composer|
Composer, arranger, conductor, musical director. Performed in world's finest concert halls. 25 years as director of Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus and former associate conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Studied under the late Arthur Fiedler, famed conductor and founder of the Boston Pops Orchestra. Musical Director and Conductor for Promised Valley Playhouse. Composed and arranged hundreds of musical scores including two musicals and three oratorios. Written scores for films produced by the LDS Church. Recordings include a weekly radio series, PBS and television specials. Over 30 record and compact disc recordings. His television special "Christmas World," won an Emmy
|Lisa Rogers - Production Manager |
Choreographer, actress. Graduated BA in Communications, University of Utah. TV commercials, corporate videos, stage productions and feature films. Executive Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Franklin Covey. Former Utah state officer and national speaker for DECA. Production assistant for ITP.
|Liaison with LDS Church -- Production is wholly independent of the LDS church but filmmaker's intent to maintain an "unofficial" liaison with selected brethren for review of the script.|
|Funding -- Private investment sources. Funding not completed as of Nov 1.|
|Promotional Comments -- Project is described as "epic" in scope in the tradition of Ten Commandments and Lawrence of Arabia. The Book of Mormon is the draw, not the actors. "Rogers has written a script and will direct the first movie, which he said was inspired by Cecil B. De Mille's Oscar-winning 1956 version of The Ten Commandments. "Stories found throughout the Book of Mormon are among the greatest stories ever told," Rogers said. "Now for the first time, you will be able to see these great stories come to life in an epic, multimillion-dollar motion picture on the silver screen." [Book of Mormon Coming to the Silver Screen, Vice, Jeff, Deseret News 11/1/02)|
* * * * *
SO WHAT THINK YE?
They are making these films for you. To be successful these films must attract you -- and everybody you know -- to theaters and thereafter entice you to purchase them on DVD and video. Ultimately YOU are the most important part of the equation.
Your voice has power.
Here is a chance for the filmmakers to hear the choir of the target audience. Even if you've written to me or to Meridian once before on this issue, please write to us again.
We want to know what YOU think.
We want you to express your joy at the prospect.
We want to hear your candid concerns with the process.
If you're flat out worried then let us know.
We would like to hear your hopes and your fears.
We want you to articulate your grandest expectations.
We want you to tell us how you feel about the long awaited "epic" coming soon to a theater near you.
We want to know how confident you are that one or both of these films will get there.
This is your chance to speak directly to the filmmakers.
Please be pithy, terse and to the point. This is NOT the time to send me your own 260 page screenplay, NEPHI , HERO FOR ALL SEASONS or your five-part TV miniseries, THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE SONS OF MOSIAH.
Focus on the projects at hand. Translate your thoughts, your feelings and your vision of what can and ought to be into short statements of expectations, advice and your personal encouragement and appeal to the filmmakers.
Feature, Non-Union, Pay [IDa28]
MORMON MOVIES, L.L.C.
"THE BOOK OF MORMON MOVIE, 1" 35/16 MM
NON UNION FEATURE FILM
Producer / Director / Writer: Gary Rogers
Casting Director: Joan Peterson
Shoots: TBA (poss. Feb./March, 2003)
Rate: $800 per day
SUBMIT HEADSHOTS AND RESUMES AND DEMO REELS TO: JOAN PETERSON
STARLIGHT CREATIVE MEDIA
P.O. BOX 619, RIVERTON, UT 84065
Note: This is a full length feature film, the first in a series of seven or eight. It will begin in 600 B.C. in Jerusalem with Lehi and his family and follow their journey through the desert and across the ocean
[NEPHI] He is between the ages of 23 and 28. He must be at least 6'1" and large in stature with a muscular build. His facial characteristics must be strong and handsome with a "leading man" look. Nephi is the youngest of four brothers. He is very obedient to his father and is always at odds with his two oldest brothers who constantly harass and abuse him. He is soft spoken and yet very firm in his religious convictions. His character will play a complete array of emotions from the romantic to the warrior. LEAD CHARACTER. MUST HAVE GREAT ACTING SKILLS AS HE WILL BE CARRYING THE FILM. WORKS APPROXIMATELY 30 DAYS AT $800 + 10% PER DAY.