Some movie buffs planted in their seats Thursday morning for the opening of the latest "Star Wars" film also saw the debut of a trailer for a new LDS motion picture, shot in Utah and set to be released on the big screen July 24.
"Handcart" is the newest of a spate of independent films targeting members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose fondness for portrayals of their own culture and history has nudged local theater owners to open their doors to films generally considered too narrow and/or conservative for Hollywood.
Director Kels Goodman, 35, Orem, said he decided in 1997 to make a film about the ill-fated Martin and Willie handcart companies of 1856 when he was shooting documentary footage of the re-enactment of the Mormon migration from Illinois and Iowa to the Salt Lake Valley. The weekslong event gave Goodman a taste of the hardships early pioneers faced and convinced him the story would make a good film.
The historical events were filled with drama and tragedy, and "the ending will make you cry." More than 200 immigrants died when early snows trapped them in Wyoming. The movie's characters are fictional except for Brigham Young and Edward Martin, he said, and the geography remains obscure. "You won't see anyone's family history."
Goodman acknowledges his desire for a "big film" feel was tempered by a budget of less than $500,000. The first-time filmmaker, whose previous work includes "Touched by an Angel," commercials and LDS Church films, said he talked with more than 150 potential investors to scrape together funding. Most of it came in increments of a few thousand dollars here and there, networking through family and friends, after a group of investors pulled out following the financial panic sparked by Sept. 11.
With the costumes and handcarts already made, the project came to a halt. Three months later, working with only one-tenth of his original budget, he told the cast and crew he was going to shoot anyway.
"Almost all of them said, 'We're with you.' "
He filmed 100 volunteer extras pulling handcarts through three feet of snow in January just offering them lunch and a chance to participate and showed the footage around to secure the balance of the funding.
Many of the volunteers were people he met during the pioneer trek re-enactment, he said. Some even had their own costumes left over from the journey across the Midwest.
While he first set out to make a "movie that would sell," Goodman said the venture quickly turned into "a spiritual situation," and spiritual preparation took priority. "I've been on my knees a lot, not only in telling the story but doing it on the budget that I had."
Filming was done at Highland, Hideaway Valley near Fairview, a little park in Springville called "Camelot," the west side of Utah Lake, and at "This Is the Place" park at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. It was only this week that Goodman secured the last bit of funding to finish promoting the film.
He's still out pitching the film to local theaters, many of which have become somewhat skeptical of LDS cinema after several less successful films followed on the heels of "God's Army," considered a groundbreaking film because it was a box-office success despite its low budget.
Summer is a tough time to sell a film, Goodman said. "I've been talking to some of the theaters for a year. . . . I may not get all of them, but I think eventually they will come around."
More information is available at www.handcartthemovie.com.
[PHOTO CAPTION: "Handcart" is the newest of a spate of films targeting members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shot in Utah and set to be released on the big screen July 24./ Photo by Paul Green.]
Three years ago, Bryan Young was the first to camp in front of the Wynnsong Theatre in Provo to see "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace."
Now, like a true movie fan, Young has come out with a sequel to his previous exploits, this time setting up camp in front of the SCERA theater in Orem for "Episode II -- Attack of the Clones."
Meanwhile, his wife, Amberley, is working on a production of her own: She is nine months pregnant with the couple's first child. Bryan said doctors plan to induce labor next week.
"People cover my place in line at night so I can be with my wife," said Young, 21. "She doesn't fully understand, but she hangs out in line with us as often as she can."
Young said a friend of his who was second in line for "Phantom Menace" became a father during that wait. "There seems to be something with pregnancies and 'Star Wars,'" Young said.
The Youngs don't yet know the sex of their baby, but either way, he or she will have a "Star Wars" name.
"I've always told everyone that I was going to name my first son Anakin," Young said, referring to the protagonist in "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones." "I told my wife when we got married that if we had a son, we'd name him that. She just kind of said 'OK.'"
For her part, Amberley has suggested a name if the baby is a girl: Miriya Padme. Miriya was a character in the 1980s anime series "Robotech," and Padme is the Natalie Portman character in the "Star Wars" films.
Young set up camp April 26, immediately after finishing his work behind the scenes on the film "Handcart," which was shot locally and is scheduled for release in July. Several of his cohorts from the film are in line, too, he said.
Young is an occasional projectionist for SCERA and said he had been "begging and begging and begging" SCERA to get the film and let him camp out.
SCERA President Norm Nielsen said, at first, they had to tell him no.
"We were holding him off because we didn't want to send the signal to 20th Century Fox that we thought we had a movie we didn't have yet," Nielsen said. "When we got word that we were getting it, I told Bryan, and he opened the floodgates."
Young calls himself a "'Star Wars' geek," though he points out he's not nearly as far-gone as some. "There's millions of people out there more geeky about 'Star Wars' than I am," he said. "I know I'm geeky, but there's some weirdos out there. I'm a real person in real life, and a lot of these 'Star Wars' geeks aren't."
He said he loved "Phantom Menace," including the often-scorned Jar-Jar Binks.
"There's something about 'Star Wars' that just puts me back to my childhood and I just can't argue with it," he said. "'Star Wars' is outside my realm of critiquing."
For that reason, he was certain he would love "Attack of the Clones," which screened at 12:01 this morning -- the earliest time allowed by the film's distributors.
"If the movie were genuinely awful, if it were 'The Matrix' or 'Men in Black,' and I waited in line for it, I'd be disappointed," he said. "But this is 'Star Wars.' You just can't beat how cool it is to see Jedi getting slaughtered or Yoda fighting or whatever. Waiting in line is part of the experience. You only get to see a 'Star Wars' movie for the first time once."
STARRING JAELAN PETRIE STEPHANIE ALBACH CHRIS KENDRICK SHANNON SKINNER GRETCHEN CONDIE
PRODUCTION DESIGNER DARIN ANDERSEN COSTUME DESIGNER NANCY CANNON
EDITED BY JOEL PETRIE MUSIC BY ERIC M. HANSON ASSOCIATE PRODUCER PAUL GREEN
SCREENPLAY BY MARK VON BOWERS PRODUCED BY DAVID GREENLAW SAPP AND KELS GOODMAN
DIRECTED BY KELS GOODMAN
In Theaters October 11th 2002
Here's a rundown of of the movies being released this fall. As always, the release dates are subject to change.
CHARLY -- This drama adapts author Jack Weyland's best-selling LDS novel about a New York woman (Heather Beers) who becomes involved with a returned missionary (Jeremy Elliott, from "Out of Step").
HANDCART -- Locally produced feature, a fictionalized historical drama about the Mormon pioneers and their perilous journey from the Midwest to Utah. Directed by Kels Goodman ("Yankee 2 Kilo").
PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE -- Romantic comedy featuring the unlikely teaming of director Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights") and star Adam Sandler. Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman co-star. [Webmaster: Featuring four Latter-day Saint actors -- the Stevens brothers -- playing four brothers from Utah who are Sandler's nemesis in the movie.]
THE CORE -- Ensemble science-fiction thriller starring [Latter-day Saint actor] Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank and Stanley Tucci as scientists making a last-ditch effort to save mankind by journeying to the center of the Earth.
THE SANTA CLAUSE 2 -- Tim Allen reprises his role as the title character in this sequel to the popular seasonal comedy. This time he has to rescue his son and find a Mrs. Clause if he's going to continue as Kris Kringle. [Written by screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.]
[Other movies in this rundown of upcoming movies: Asoka; Barbershop; One Hour Photo; Stealing Harvard; Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sever; The Banger Sisters; Elling; The Four Feathers; Happy Times; Slap Her. . . She'S French; Trapped; I Am Trying to Break Your Heart; Mostly Martha; Sex With Strangers; Sweet Home Alabama; The Tuxedo; Jonah: A Veggietales Movie; Moonlight Mile; Red Dragon; Spirited Away; 24 Hour Party People; Welcome to Collinwood; Below; Brown Sugar; Knockaround Guys; Pokemon 4ever; Swept Away; The Transporter; Tuck Everlasting; White Oleander; Abandon; Children on Their Birthdays; Formula 51; The Ring; Ghost Ship; Jackass: The Movie; The Truth about Charlie; Frida; I Spy; 8 Mile; Auto Focus; Bloody Sunday; Bowling for Columbine; Drumline; 8 Women; A Guy Thing; Heaven; Igby Goes Down; Invincible; Secretary; They; Wakin' Up in Reno]
"ALL OF LIFE'S RIDDLES ARE ANSWERED IN THE MOVIES"
Since it's back-to-school time, let's begin our look at the fall movie season with a pop quiz:
Question 1: Which of these seemingly impossible screen pairings can be found in a movie this fall?
a) Funnyman Adam Sandler and "Magnolia" director Paul Thomas Anderson
b) Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry and the nickname "Bond girl"
c) Oscar-winning actress Kim Basinger and rapper Eminem
d) Liberal documentarian Michael Moore and NRA President Charlton Heston
e) All of the above
Question 2: Which of the following will be associated with a science-fiction movie this fall?
a) Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh
b) Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank
c) Robert Louis Stevenson
d) A Japanese
girl in the strangest cartoon you ever saw
e) All of the above
Question 3: Essay question -- What movie, called "a personal triumph" for its producer/star by no less an authority than Roger Ebert, is the early favorite in this year's Oscar race?
The answer to the essay question is "Frida," which received much acclaim last week at the Venice Film Festival...
...and "Auto Focus" (October or November), writer-director Paul Schrader's look at the kinky life and strange death of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear). ["Auto Focus" features actress Kelly Packard in a small role] Mormon pioneers face hardships in "Handcart: The Movie" (Oct. 11)...
Love and Laughter
Adam Sandler may dent his dumb-guy image by playing a romantic lead -- and forcing himself to, you know, act -- in "Punch-Drunk Love." Even stranger, this romantic comedy is directed by mopey auteur Paul Thomas Anderson and co-stars the usually suffering Emily Watson ("Hilary & Jackie," "Angela's Ashes"). ["Punch-Drunk Love" co-stars the Stevens brothers] Sandler also gets animated in the PG-13 Hanukkah story "Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights" (Nov. 27).
More romantic comedy: Reese Witherspoon stars in "Sweet Home Alabama" (Sept. 27) as a New York socialite who has to face her long-buried Southern heritage; romance complicates a German chef's recipe for living in "Mostly Martha" (Sept. 27); Jack Weyland's LDS-themed novel "Charly" (Sept. 27) becomes a movie...
Robert De Niro plays a cop whose son (James Franco) is wanted for murder in "City by the Sea" (opens today) [co-starring Eliza Dushku]...
And in case you miss summer-movie "Armageddon" scenarios, "The Core" (Nov. 1) offers up a doozy: The Earth's core has stopped spinning, and a crew -- including Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank -- must drill to the center of the Earth before the planet breaks apart.
...Another sequel: "The Santa Clause 2" (Nov. 1), with Tim Allen returning as the Jolly Old Elf -- in need of a bride [written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio]... and with "Spirited Away" (Oct. 4), Japanese master Kayao Miyazaki's surreal tale of a girl forced to work her way out of the spirit realm. In "Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie" (Oct. 4), the faith-based crisper dwellers retell the Bible story of the guy and the whale. And "Pokemon 4Ever" (Oct. 11) arrives, for reasons no one can quite comprehend.
Really Real Life
Left-wing crank Michael Moore, bless him, takes on America's gun culture in "Bowling for Columbine" (October or November), a controversial documentary that includes Moore's ambush interview with Charlton Heston...
Oscar winners, trying again: ...and Kevin Spacey fights to avoid Texas' Death Row in "The Life of David Gale" (December) [featuring actress Katherine Willis in a small role]...
But two major productions will likely dominate the Christmas season. One is "Chicago" (January), a big-budget adaptation of the hit musical, starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere. The other is "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" (Dec. 18), Peter Jackson's vision of the middle portion of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic trilogy -- and, considering how good the first chapter was, fans can hardly wait.
LDS Cinema marches on, again.
A genre that scarcely existed two years ago, when Richard Dutcher's "God's Army" hit Utah screens and spread across the country, now is popping up everywhere.
Two more LDS-themed movies arrive in Utah in the next month: the romance "Charly" on Friday and the pioneer drama "Handcart: The Movie" on Oct. 11. The current issue of Newsweek has a short item, headlined "Mormons: They're a Laugh Riot," that mentions how the success of "The Singles Ward" has spawned eight more LDS-themed comedies -- including Nathan Smith Jones' in-the-works mockumentary of the genre, "The Work and the Story," which (if the film's Web site is not itself a spoof) also stars Dutcher...
Produced/Director/Director of Photography KELS GOODMAN
Produced by DAVID GREENLAW SAPP
Screenplay by MARK BOWERS
Associate Producer PAUL GREEN
Costume Designer NANCY CANNON
Wardrobe Assistants KIM JENSEN; CURTIS KIDD; CARLA SUMMERS
Wardrobe Production Assistants MICHELLE GRIFFIN; ELIZABETH GRIFFIN; KATHERINE GRIFFIN
Seamstress CARLA SUMMERS
Extras Costumes CINDY WELLS
Production Designer DARIN ANDERSEN
Set Decorators CINDY WELLS; ELIZABETH WELLS; CORY LORENZEN
Special Art CORY LORENZEN
Casting/Extras Coordinator COURTNEY WHITE
Assistant Directors DAVID SKOUSEN; BRYAN YOUNG; ELIAS PATE
2nd Assistant Director's BRYAN YOUNG; ELIAS PATE
Production Assistant JASON YOUNG
1st Assistant Camera MIKE LOOKINLAND
Gaffer CARL GUNDESTRUP
Grips HOWARD LITTLE; DAVID CHRISTENSEN; McKAY GUNDESTRUP
Sound Mixers BOBBY FISK; MATT DAVIS
Boom Operators RUSSELL LASSON; PAULA BLISS
Makeup KATHY VARGA
Craft Services TYLER WINEGAR; ROB PERRY
Catering TYLER WINEGAR; TRACI GOODMAN; MOM GOODMAN
Horse and Wagon Organization PAUL BLISS; RICHARD WELLS
Production Assistants JASON YOUNG; JOEL PETRIE
1st Assistant Camera JAMES JORDAN
2nd Assistant Camera JARED HESS; JERUSHA HESS; TIM SKOUSEN
Catering TRACI GOODMAN; BOBI JO LARSEN
Editor JOEL PETRIE
Music by ERIC M. HANSON
Music Recorded by RICK STARR
Music Mixed by GERALD HARTLEY
Colorist DOUG FOWKES
Handcart Rental from HERB FLOWER
Handcarts Built by LYNN CLARK and his buddies at SCENIC SERVICE SPECIALISTS
Not too long ago, ambitious Mormon cinema geeks started carving their own niche in the world of film with stories and dramatizations of the "peculiar people" -- their history, their adventures and their plight. So it was not surprising to learn that someone had taken the trend further with a movie titled Handcart. Locals never miss a chance to re-create or just imagine the pain and suffering of those who walked across half the continent pulling their belongings behind them.
But what was a surprise was a pop-up ad that showed up on the website for the director of the movie, Kels Goodman (www.kelsgoodman.com). At Goodman's site, websurfers could not avoid a glitzy advertisement for an online gambling firm. Obviously, it must have been a case in which, like spam e-mail, the Internet's dirty underside had found its way to even the most innocent of sites. Or maybe Mr. Goodman wants us to gamble. Maybe Handcart is just a ploy to get us all to gamble. In fact, no one at City Weekly had ever thought of engaging in that sordid diversion until now. Oh, the horror.
COMMERCIALS to air during General Conference after the Sunday Morning session - October 6
PRESS SCREENING (press only) at the Jordan Commons 10am - October 8
Q&A (cast and crew invited as panel) at the UVSC Ragan Theater 12pm - October 9
PREMIERE! at the Scera Theater 8pm - October 10 *TICKETS ON SALE NOW!
KSL MOVIE SHOW will broadcast live from the Scera Theater from 10am to 12 pm celebrating the opening of Handcart. Kels will PROBABLY be on the air (if they let him) - Call in October 11 (575-8255)
HANDCART opens in 18 theaters across Utah and Cardston, Canada - October 11
HANDCART will expand into Idaho, Arizona and Las Vegas soon after.
OREM (Oct. 8) -- Kels Goodman, a moviemaker from age 11, spent three months in 1997 with the wagon train that crossed the plains from Omaha, Neb., to the Salt Lake Valley in a reenactment of the pioneer trek of more than 150 years ago.
He thought of the Holocaust movie "Schindler's List," and felt the story of the Latter-day Saints also needed to be told.
After working as a grip, gaffer (doing lighting work) and cameraman on TV's "Touched by an Angel," along with a few movies and commercials, the BYU film school grad was hired to recreate some of the highlights of the trek -- which he did as five-minute dramas for each 30-minute segment of a 13-episode series titled "Legacy West."
Out of his experience came a desire to create something more -- in Goodman's own words, "to make a big movie on a small budget." He began raising money nearly two years ago for "Handcart," which will premiere at the SCERA Showhouse on Thursday, Oct. 10, then in theaters along the Wasatch Front and adjoining states beginning Oct. 11.
"I do this [filmmaking] as a living for clients," says the 35-year-old Orem man, "but this is my first time out as a writer, producer and director. Because I've worked the technical area for 12 years, I was able to pull in some of my friends, at cost."
Mark Von Bowers wrote the screenplay. David Greenlaw Sapp joined Goodman as producer under the Ampersand Films logo.
The $300,000 film -- about the same amount spent to produce Richard Dutcher's watershed LDS film, "God's Army" -- began shooting last January, "some days in three feet of snow," Goodman recalls. It involved some 350 extras and 25 handcarts; three of the handcarts were built of green wood, like the historic ones which cracked and failed on the journey west.
The fictional story based on factual events starts in Iowa City in 1856 and follows the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company to the Salt Lake Valley. That particular company's trek is remembered in history as one of the great tragedies of the Mormon migration west; more than 150 men, women and children died of cold and starvation after leaving Nebraska too late in the fall and encountering an early winter in Wyoming.
The film stars UVSC theater veteran Jaelan Petrie as Samuel Hunter, whose faith is challenged when he joins the LDS Church for the woman he loves, played by Stephanie Albach. Other leads are Chris Kendrick, Shannon Skinner and Gretchen Condie.
Goodman says some changes have been made since the film's initial screening at Orem's SCERA movie theater on the eve of July 24, Utah's Pioneer Day. Plans are to open in Las Vegas, Arizona and southern Idaho after the Utah theater openings.
Goodman admits "Handcart" is unlike other recent LDS films in that it's "sad the whole way." He says his goal is to "show we can make a nice, big movie without a nice, big budget" as well as to "open the way for other filmmakers" who want to make movies about LDS history and culture. Goodman sees in his own film future an action/adventure movie involving Boy Scouts" a la Indiana Jones -- and about as far from the dreary reality of "Handcart" as it can be.
* In Utah Valley, beginning Oct. 11, "Handcart" will play at Water Gardens 6 in Pleasant Grove, Carmike Wynnsong in Provo, and Spanish 8 in Spanish Fork, besides the SCERA Showhouse.
Man in charge: Kels Goodman is writer, producer and director of "Handcart," which premieres this week on Utah theater screens.
Handcart (Media Partners)
Part of the LDS Cinema movement happening in Utah, Handcart follows the tragedy of the pioneers who crossed the plains by Handcart in 1856. Most of the Handcart companies were successful, but because one left west from Iowa to Utah too late in the year, they hit the early Wyoming winter, thus causing about a forth of them to die due to starvation and the cold. A fictional love story that takes place during a factual event, the director told me this is "as important in Mormon History as the Holocaust would be for the Jews."
Opening Week Release Pattern: 20 screens in Utah on October 11
MPAA Rating: Not rated by the MPAA
Running Time: 115 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Sound Formats: Dolby SR
There were a lot of things working against "Handcart" filmmaker Kels Goodman, including budget constraints, unpredictable weather . . . and the 2002 Winter Olympics.
"Handcart" is a fictionalization of the struggles of the Martin Handcart Company during its ill-fated journey from Iowa to Wyoming during a harsh and early winter as some 500 settlers tried to reach the Salt Lake Valley in 1856.
Earlier this year, Goodman was filming the full-blown period drama along the Wasatch Front using a meager budget of approximately $300,000, less than 5 percent of the average modest-budget Hollywood film.
And in order to meet his rigid production schedule, Goodman also had to shoot around the Winter Games.
"We tried to make it simple and let the costumes, the handcarts, the plains and the snow do the talking," said Goodman, the film's director, producer and director of photography. "The one thing I had going for me was that most of the film took place out in the middle of nowhere."
Still, he concedes that the process was "very hard, especially on a budget. Since we didn't have the money to go out of state, I had to really search for places that look like Nebraska and Wyoming. Doing that during the Olympics was a nightmare."
The local filmmaker and his crew did have one thing going for them, though -- January's icy temperatures. "When it got cold, it was like the breath was a prop. It served us well."
The results can be seen beginning today as "Handcart" is released in 18 theaters between Utah and Canada, seven of those in the Salt Lake Valley.
Goodman has been making films since he was 11. "After I saw 'Star Wars,' of course," he said.
After graduating from Brigham Young University, he found work as a cameraman on LDS Church productions, and he has worked on the locally filmed CBS TV series "Touched by an Angel." His feature-directing debut came with "Yankee 2 Kilo," a Y2K comedy released straight to video last year.
But for its follow-up, Goodman was looking for something a little deeper. He found it while working as a crew member on the multipart 1997 PBS documentary series "The Legacy West," about the Mormon Trail wagon-train re-enactment. "I learned that there were stories worthy to be on film," he said. "We have seemed to be afraid to tell the stories of Mormons who have suffered."
He received added inspiration when "God's Army" became an independent film success story two years ago. "I had always seen this day of LDS filmmaking but just never knew when or how. Then 'God's Army' simply made it possible."
So perhaps it's appropriate that "Handcart" was made for the same amount as Richard Dutcher's film. "I started shooting the film with $30,000 in my pocket, knowing it was hard to get investors to commit unless I had something to see," Goodman said.
Then he had to cast the film. "(It) went pretty fast. I knew a lot of people already from my work in the industry, so except for a few roles, I basically hand-picked the people I wanted."
Local actor Jaelan Petrie stars as Samuel Hunter, a convert to the LDS faith through whose eyes the audience witnesses the struggles of the Martin Handcart Company.
Goodman said that while he knew he could not afford more expensive, out-of-state actors, "I was looking for people that weren't in every LDS film. Then, after I finished the picture, I noticed some had been in others."
But he did know that possibility existed as long as the current flood of LDS-themed and made films continues.
"(It) is a good thing, but it will not last too long. When I started 'Handcart,' the only thing going was 'God's Army,' and 'Brigham City' was only talked about. By the time I finished, all of a sudden, there were all these LDS films.
"So I get lodged into this 'There are too many LDS films' situation. However, I think the quality of the films needs to go up in order for people to want to see them."
And though he has yet to see whether an audience wants to see "Handcart," Goodman already has a concept for his next feature: He's planning to make an action-adventure film about the Boy Scouts of America. "That will help me have one foot in the LDS market and one branching out."
He confesses, however, that he sometimes feels "the need to blow something up -- a car chase; something to liven up the cinema."
Samuel Hunter (Jaelan Petrie) carries a fellow settler to safety in a scene from "Handcart."
Utah filmmaker Kels Goodman directs extras during filming of a scene in the historical drama "Handcart."