The long-awaited "The Book of Mormon Movie" is showing to its first audience Monday, August 11, and opening in Utah in September, and the producers are keeping an ear to the ground to listen for public reaction.
The creators' goal is to get people to read the Book of Mormon, said Gary Rogers, the film's producer, writer and director. They want members to pick it up and read it again and for those who have never read it, to find an interest in it, he said.
"The movie certainly cannot nor should not ever replace the book," Rogers said. "Many wonderful things in the Book of Mormon are left out in the movie. We refer the viewer back to the book itself for the most complete and accurate account. It's designed to hopefully drive people to the book."
The producers tried to stay as close to the Book of Mormon as possible, though they took some creative liberty to make it a feature film filled with action, adventure, drama and romance.
The Book of Mormon has enough of all these things to make for an intriguing film, but some ambiguities had to be ironed out. For example, the scriptures don't say how many sisters Nephi had, so the producers had to make a decision and pick a number.
Little is said about Sam in the Book of Mormon. Kirby Heybourne ("The Singles Ward," "The RM"), the actor who plays Sam, was able to take creative license with his character based on the little he could find about him in the scriptures.
This concept of filling in the blanks is one of the reasons the Church couldn't produce a movie like this, Rogers said. If the church had produced it, some added things might be taken as doctrine that shouldn't, but independent filmmakers are free to enhance the story.
The LDS Motion Picture Studios started production of a movie on the Book of Mormon, but it was never released. Dave Hales, co-producer of "The Book of Mormon Movie," worked on it while attending BYU film school. The Church has not endorsed this movie nor any other LDS movie.
Though they have not endorsed it, Rogers said that past presidents of the Church have wanted this kind of a project for a long time.
President Spencer W. Kimball said he wanted to have the full story of Mormonism in every movie center in every part of the globe.
"For years I have been waiting for someone to do justice in recording in song and story and painting and sculpture the story of the Restoration, the reestablishment of the kingdom of God on earth." Kimball said in the July 1977 Ensign. "Our writers, our moving picture specialists, with the inspiration of heaven, should tomorrow be able to produce a masterpiece that would live forever."
President Hinckley often asks members to help missionaries in any way they can. Rogers sees this movie as a great missionary tool because non-members may watch the movie and then read the Book of Mormon to get the whole story. The movie was not created solely for members, Rogers said. He wants members to invite their friends to the movie.
Many members and non-members have commented on the trailer they have seen online, some positively, some negatively.
Both Rogers and Hales said they realize they can't please everyone, but said they want they movie to touch people and change their lives.
"The number-one challenge is to take a book that means so much to so many people, and try to recreate it to make everyone happy," Hales said.
Rogers said from the moment he saw "The Ten Commandments" in 1956, he thought someday somebody should make a movie about the Book of Mormon, though not in his wildest dreams did he think it would be him. He started working seriously on the project in 1998.
In 2001, Rogers had all the funding he needed, so he sold his business and prepared to devote the rest of his life to the production of the Book of Mormon movies. Then the world fell apart on September 11, and so did his funding.
For 15 months, Rogers told members of the church about his project and received all the funding he needed. These investors are not necessarily wealthy, he said, they just had a little bit of discretionary money. They wanted to see the project done and be successful, Rogers said.
"The Book of Mormon Movie" premieres September 10 at Jordan Commons, and will be released throughout Utah on September 12. Rogers said it will open throughout the world if enough people buy advanced tickets. This episode is the first of eight or nine volumes, and covers 1 Nephi and part of 2 Nephi.
Check tomorrow's edition of The Daily Universe for audience responses from the exclusive screening.
Actors and animals bring Nephi's story to life in "The Book of Mormon Movie."
Daily prayer brought miracles to the set of "The Book of Mormon Movie," said the movie's production staff.
Though the film is not endorsed by the Church, Gary Rogers, producer and director, thought the Lord's hand was involved.
"There's no question in my mind that we've been guided and watched over," Rogers said. "Absolutely no question."
The producer said many miracles occurred during production that can't be explained any other way, and attributes them to starting each day with prayer. Rogers and the other creators knew they needed all the help they could get.
Dave Hales, co-producer, counted on a miracle when problems came on the set.
"Everyday we had some big problem that seemed insurmountable and I'd say 'Well at the rate we're going, I'm not even going to worry because a miracle's going to happen and it will get solved," Hales said. "Sure enough it would."
A predicted wind and rainstorm bypassed the area where they were shooting for 10 days, but hit all the areas around them, Rogers said.
Rogers said the role of Christ is hard to cast, because he never seems to look exactly the way people imagine him. The casting happened by chance. The man originally cast as Christ dropped out the day before filming began and a make-up artist suggested one of the crew. After the crewman's make up was done, Rogers said he looked more like his idea of Christ than any he had seen.
Sheryl Lee Wilson, Ishmael's wife, hurt her arm a few days before filming began. When the doctor told her it wouldn't heal and she would not be able to be in the movie she was devastated. Rogers said after a blessing, it miraculously healed and she played an integral part in the movie.
The producers said one of the greatest miracles is Noah Danby, who plays Nephi. Danby, not a member of the Church, was a miracle right from the chance audition, he said. He lives in Canada, but happened to be in Los Angeles for auditions. He was cast for the part and has put real blood, real tears and real sweat into his character, Rogers said.
"He certainly felt the spirit and told us all about what he felt," Rogers said.
On the last day of shooting Danby realized that he hadn't been called on to pray yet, so he offered the prayer.
"There's no question that this was such an unusual experience," Rogers said. "We had cast and crew alike tell us what an incredible experience it was. Many, many times we heard them say 'this is the most incredible shoot we've ever been on.'"
Noah Danby plays Nephi in "The Book of Mormon Movie."
For Gary Rogers, "The Book of Mormon Movie" screening Tuesday, August 12, at Jordan Commons was the culmination of years of dreaming.
"It was one of the greatest experiences of my life," said Gary Rogers, the movie's producer, writer and director. "It's something I've dreamed of for 48 years."
The audience applause lasted a few minutes as the closing credits rolled. The screening was mainly restricted to the cast, crew and the families of those involved in the movie. It was the first time any of the filmmakers saw it on the big screen, and the only time it will be shown before the world premiere on Sept. 10 at Jordon Commons.
Most members of the audience praised the movie as they left the theater.
During the movie, the audience snickered as Laman apologized to Nephi, appeared to grow queasy as Laban's blood splattered Nephi's face and sat silent when Nephi and his wife-to-be shared a romantic moment.
"I was glad to hear them reacting," said Dave Hales, co-producer of the film. "I'll sleep better tonight."
Hales said it was great to see the movie on the big screen after watching it for so long on the tiny editing screens.
"It's really rewarding to see something you've worked on on the big screen," said Ira Baker, the film's editor and a BYU alumni.
Bryce Chamberlain, who played Lehi, said it was fun to see the movie in its completed form for the first time.
"To see the whole entourage and realize that I'd worked in the ensemble ... that was the thrill for me," he said. "The film spoke volumes in terms of honesty. I was impressed."
The majority of the audience had a similar reaction to the movie.
Bud Letchbirge, the movie's first investor, congratulated Rogers.
"You did it," he said.
For months, Letchbirge was reluctant to fund the project, but he finally decided to support Rogers. The filmmakers hope the film's earnings will fund the rest of the series.
"We're going to play it by ear," Hales said. "There's at least five or seven more we could do."
"The Book of Mormon Movie" will be released to Utah theaters Sept. 12.
Mindy and Merrill Pitcher advertise "The Book of Mormon Movie" after its first screening. Their child Lynn Marie played baby Jesus during one of the scenes where main character Nephi has a vision.
"The Book of Mormon Movie" lived up to my expectations in every way. I assumed the cinematography would be good (it was), the musical score would be dramatic (it was) and the acting would be, well, mormon movie acting (yup, it pretty much was).
The movie follows Nephi as he leaves Jerusalem with his family, travels through the wilderness, deals with his unruly brothers and eventually reaches the Promised Land. Noah Danby, who plays Nephi, certainly looks the part of the "large in stature" prophet. The film's treatment of Nephi was touching - he's shy around girls, good with kids, impatient with his not-so-sharp brothers, and both scared and excited about God's mission for him.
The actors showed quite a bit of potential, especially Mark Gollaher as the brash Laman and Cragan Foulger as his sniveling younger brother Lemuel. The script didn't give them much to work with, however.
Writer/producer/director Gary Rogers seemed scared of making the dialogue too "scriptury" or too modern, and so the movie ends up with dialogue that is stilted, awkward and hard to gauge. Nephi cracks a joke right before quoting 1 Nephi 3:7, for heaven's sake! It would have flowed a lot more smoothly if the movie committed to one speaking style and stuck with it.
"The Book of Mormon Movie" is a good example of what happens when one man writes, directs and produces a film: there aren't enough checks and balances in the system. Certain things would have been easy to fix, and certain lines shouldn't have made it into the movie (the audience snickered more than once).
The packaging for the movie, however, was great. Robert C. Bowden's movie score during the closing credits is fantastic, and the camera work was exceptional.
However, the professionalism in some areas of the film was countered by amateur flaws in others. Like whose idea was it to put Lehi in a paisley robe in the Jerusalem scene? Did the ancient Jews wear paisley?
Or to put gray flecks in Nephi's beard late in the movie, but not fix his makeup to make him look old? He looks 22, and putting gray in his beard just makes him look 22 and silly.
Or when Lehi describes "a great and spacious building" full of people mocking and pointing fingers, and the audience sees a model of a building, but the building is empty - no people. Any of those problems would be fixable.
And then there is the problem of scene flow. The transitions were jilting. For example, in one scene Nephi is tied to the mast of his ship in the middle of a raging storm, and in the very next scene Lemuel whines that they're out of water and it better rain soon. Bad flow.
Still, I had to admire the effort. Kirby Heyborne, who starred in "The RM" and "The Singles Ward" ("I'm going to Idaho!"), was unrecognizable as Sam, and did a great job with his role. It was obvious the castmembers took their roles seriously, especially Danby, who isn't a member of the church. Members will appreciate the reverence and respect he shows for Nephi's story.
Here's what I'm hoping for. I hope the movie makes a pile of money, so Rogers can get some real funding to work with for the next episode. I hope he gets the best screenwriter and director money can buy, and turns the series into an epic that just got off to a rough start. If Harry Potter books get a good movie deal, shouldn't the Book of Mormon?
The movie follows Nephi as he leaves Jerusalem with his family, travels through the wilderness, deals with his unruly brothers and eventually reaches the Promised Land.
Over the years, multitudes of LDS Church members have discussed and daydreamed -- often during Sunday School -- about how somebody should make the Book of Mormon into a movie.
Legend even has it that "Ten Commandments" filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille wanted to direct it.
Verily, verily, the oft-fantasized film -- arguably the most common topic of idle Mormon conversation this side of BYU football -- has finally come to pass. Nephi, Lehi, Ishmael and Laban and their epic adventures can be seen on the silver screen next month in a multimillion-dollar motion picture titled "The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey."
Filmmaker Gary Rogers' vision of First and Second Nephi -- the first two books of the Book of Mormon, which is scripture to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and what a journal review considers one of "20 Books That Changed America") -- has been shot on high-definition video, with a musical score composed by Robert C. Bowden, former associate conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Rogers has also employed a pioneering ticket-proselytizing plan and, in a touch of showmanship that DeMille would have appreciated, will have camels at Jordan Commons for the world premiere on Sept. 12, the day the film begins its Utah run in several theaters. (Idaho movie houses will start playing it the following week.)
That much is certain -- and the fact that The Osmonds will not be singing a pop version of the primary song "Book of Mormon Stories" on the soundtrack, a la "Singles Ward."
But for the rest of the world, it's a wait-and-maybe-see situation.
The movie's production company, Mormon Movies, brainstormed a barnstorming way to offer the film to far-reaching audiences while also protecting its relatively low budget from being gobbled up by costly outside distribution: If you buy it, they will come.
Outside of Utah and Idaho, Mormon Movies is pre-selling tickets at $7.50 a pop (for all ages) on its Web site at www.bookofmormonmovie.com. Any area in the world will get a local screening for at least one week if about 1,000 tickets are presold. The staff is banking on a couple of Mormon stereotypes to play out -- that the word-of-mouth Relief Society grapevine method works and that people will buy in bulk.
"We hope it works," said Lisa Rogers, director of marketing, who also plays a role as Laban's evil wife. "We've just had such an overwhelming response, and it's like, how do we get this movie out to all the people who want to see it? We'll take it wherever we've got the support."
Cynics might scoff, but a Utah-based film-buyer believes it's worth trying. After all, the movie's primary target audience is 11 million LDS members who are spread far and wide.
"They're just using the Braille method, feeling their way through. Basically, it's just a feeler with some teeth," said David Sharp, whose Film Service Theater Group has booked the movie into the Scera Theater in Orem and several others along the Wasatch Front.
"I've never seen any other studio, independent or major, do exactly this approach in the market place," Sharp said. "These people are selling this film themselves and they have no experience of any kind. This is more reassurance for them than anything. It certainly isn't unreasonable."
Mormon Movies hopes each potential moviegoer will put his money where his mouse is. And the movie's Web site has been swamped, receiving more than 3 million hits last month. And they're not just coming from Utah County, either. E-mails pour in daily from such far-flung regions as Fukuoka, Japan; Lesotho, South Africa; Burgdorf, Switzerland; and El Salvador.
"We've gotten them from everywhere," Rogers said.
You'd think it was the first "Star Wars" movie -- or maybe "God's Army, Part Deux" -- based on the response from one South American country. "I don't know what's going on in Brazil," Rogers mused. "About every other e-mail comes from Brazil. Sao Paulo is going nuts." There will be prints dubbed into Portuguese and Spanish for international viewers, as well as language options on the DVD when it is released after the theatrical run.
Ideally, director Gary Rogers hopes to produce up to nine volumes of "Book of Mormon Movies" over the next seven years. That, however, depends on how well the first one is received.
"Obviously if this one tanks, there won't be anymore," said Lisa Rogers, who's also the director's daughter. "People have waited their whole lives to see this movie. They can't wait to see it. We hope they enjoy it. We think it's a beautiful film and are proud and excited about it."
This is also a case of the filmmakers saying they hope you actually like the book better than the movie. "We want it to inspire them to actually go back and read the book," she said. "We think it could open a lot of doors."
Preferably theater doors first, of course.
"The Book of Mormon Movie" poster, with Noah Danby as Nephi and Jacque Gray (of "God's Army") as his wife.
When the first motion-picture movie based on the Book of Mormon comes out next month, some viewers might recognize the actor playing Nephi. He was Secret Service Agent No. 2 in last year's TV movie "The Brady Bunch in the White House" and was the bicycle messenger in the Jackie Chan film "The Tuxedo."
Then again, considering those films' performance, perhaps no one will recognize him.
He's been Noah, too, but that wasn't an acting part. It's his name -- Noah Danby.
Danby's resume also includes two stints on a Showtime cable-TV series "Queer as Folk," which, as the title suggests, is centered around gay life. Danby appeared -- at times with zero clothing -- as "Tattoo" and "Captain Astro."
Not surprisingly, while those roles are included on his personal Web site, www.noahdanby.com, you won't find them on his bio at www.bookofmormonmovie.com.
The "Book of Mormon Movie" filmmakers knew Danby had been in "Queer as Folk" when he auditioned for the role of Nephi. They just didn't know the extent of his role, according to marketing director Lisa Rogers. And they didn't think it was a big deal anyway.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Toronto native impressed them so much that they picked him out of a pool of 1,000 potential Nephis.
He's also among the minority of actors on the film who aren't members of the LDS Church.
"We took his role very, very seriously," Rogers said. "We needed to find someone who fit the bill to play Nephi, with all the qualifications -- and he was perfect."
Rogers calls him a "gentle giant," and after seeing how hard Danby worked on the film, how diligently he researched the character of Nephi, and how well he played the part, the filmmakers firmly stand behind their man.
"It breaks my heart to think people might talk trash about him," Rogers said. "He was wonderful. He did a great performance."
SCHEDULED FOR FALL RELEASE
- "Suddenly Unexpected" (special screenings in Houston theaters)
- "The Work and the Story," Aug. 29 (limited digital-video screenings)
- "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey," Sept. 12
- "Day of Defense," Oct. 10
- "Best Two Years," Oct. 10
- "Pride and Prejudice," fall 2003
SCHEDULED FOR WINTER 2004:
- "The Home Teachers," Jan. 9
- "Saints and Soldiers," early 2004
- "The Legend of Johnny Lingo," Aug. 29
...With Gov. Mike Leavitt proposed as the new head of the EPA, Utah has a great chance to upstage California with a tome-sized ballot right here. The growing list of candidates, now that Mike is bowing out, is impressive. We have at least one millionaire on the list already. But we need a good-guy Hollywood action hero. Perhaps the guy who plays Nephi in the new Book of Mormon movie would step up...
Here they come again. In the next month, three new entries in the genre known as Mormon Cinema -- movies made by LDS filmmakers and/or covering LDS themes -- will debut in Utah.
"The Legend of Johnny Lingo," based on a popular BYU-produced short film, gets a lush retelling that opens in theaters today in Utah, and in several markets nationwide. A satire of LDS filmmaking, "The Work and the Story," will debut today in three Utah locations (Logan's CineFour and two comedy clubs, The Independent in Midvale and Johnny B's in Provo) in advance of a planned theatrical release in October. And what may be the granddaddy of Mormon Cinema, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1," is set to hit theaters Sept. 12...
...("The Work and the Story" features another constant of LDS films: Kirby Heyborne, who starred in "The R.M.," appeared in "The Singles Ward" and has roles in "The Book of Mormon Movie" and "Saints and Soldiers.")
The script for "The Work and the Story" (the title is a spoof on the popular book series "The Work and the Glory") was written in 2001, just as "Brigham City" was hitting theaters. Some jokes poke fun at the members-only humor of some LDS films (even adding subtitles to explain arcane LDS terms). Other jokes -- like references to a Book of Mormon movie and a World War II LDS film -- are now coming to pass.
"We filmed it a year ago, but it's even funnier now," said Quent Casperson, the movie's producer...
...Best of all is Eric Artell as Kevin Evans, a young man whose mother disapproves of movies as a whole. His short films (short, as in seven or eight seconds long) are brief bursts of fresh air, and his Book of Mormon war movie -- shot with eggs and stop-motion photography rather than people, to avoid the graphic violence -- is nearly genius. It is definitely the best scene in "The Work and the Story," and I won't be surprised if it's better than the upcoming "Book of Mormon Movie" as a whole...
Here's a complete list of scheduled fall movies (dates are subject to change).
THE BOOK OF MORMON MOVIE, VOL. 1: THE JOURNEY - The first part of director Gary Rogers' ambitious live-action series covers the first two books of Nephi. Noah Danby stars as Nephi, while Jacque Gray ("God's Army") co-stars as his wife.
[Other movies listed as opening locally on the same day: American Splendor; Cabin Fever; Cold Creek Manor; Matchstick Men; Once Upon a Time in Mexico; Slap Her . . . She's French; Step into Liquid]
[Other dates with movie openings listed: Sept. 19, Sept. 26, Oct. 3, Oct. 10 (with "Day of Defense"), Oct. 15-17, Oct. 24, Oct. 31, Nov. 1, Nov. 7, Nov. 14.]
...But they are just three of more than 70 movies scheduled or expected to hit Salt Lake City moviehouses between now and the holiday season. Here are 10 titles that will, or should, stand out from that crowd. (Opening dates are tentative.)...
...Epics come in some interesting forms: "The Book of Mormon Movie" (Sept. 12) brings the familiar tome to the big screen, while "The Legend of Suriyothai" (Sept. 19 or 26) recounts the life of Thailand's 16th-century warrior princess...
Once upon a time, in the magical realm known as cinema, there was a season known as the fall. And it was good . . .
Time was, the fall was populated by potential Oscar candidates, giving audiences a respite between the summer and holiday blockbusters.
But things have changed over the years. While some of that has been precipitated by trends in filmmaking, it's safe to say that there are now almost as many action movies and sequels in the fall as there are during the summer...
...Also coming to a theater near you:
...The invasion by Mormon cinema continues with the much-anticipated (for good or ill) "Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey," as well as "Day of Defense," which uses LDS missionaries to broach the subject of religious freedom...
[Other upcoming movies mentioned by the article: The Matrix Revolutions; Once Upon a Time in Mexico; Kill Bill, Vol. 1; Mystic River; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; House of the Dead; Cabin Fever; Scary Movie 3; The School of Rock; Intolerable Cruelty; Duplex; Anything Else; Casa de Los Babys; American Splendor; Lost in Translation; Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.]
..."In the story [in 'The Work and the Story'] there are filmmakers who want to make a 'Book of Mormon' movie," Jones said. "They also have ideas about a movie that takes place in a singles ward. It is so much more relevant now that movies have been made on this subject."...