Wanted: rich Mormons to fund big-screen movie about Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, starring Val Kilmer as Joseph and F. Murray Abraham as Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford. Written and directed by Richard Dutcher, creator of "God's Army," and father of the LDS movie genre. Movie has built-in audience of 12 million Mormons. Call Richard Dutcher. Need $10 million or, short of that, next week's groceries.
The last time we checked in with Dutcher he was riding out the surprising success of "God's Army," waiting to see how "Brigham City" would fare and plotting his next move. Having survived poverty and 4 1/2 years of hunting for investors for "God's Army," he had finally found success. He bought an acre of land and planned to build his first house on it.
Now he's virtually right back where he began. For a man whose first major movie grossed millions of dollars, he doesn't have much to show for it. He had to sell the land. He went into debt. He lives month to month, waiting for royalty checks from "God's Army" and wondering how he'll make his next house payment.
"Every time someone buys 'God's Army,' I can get a loaf of bread," he jokes over a Caesar salad in a Provo restaurant.
Dutcher is doing what he has always done, chasing art and dreams instead of money. Instead of sinking the profits from "God's Army" into the stock market or a bank account, he ignored his accountant's advice and funded his dream project -- "The Prophet," the Joseph Smith story.
That got him this far: He met Kilmer at his New Mexico ranch and by the time he left "(Kilmer) was absolutely on board with it," Dutcher says. "He's just waiting for me to get the money." Dutcher had the sets designed, the wardrobe ready, the locations chosen, and all but the role of Emma Smith cast. He was six weeks away from starting to shoot the movie.
And then he ran out of money.
"Isn't it crazy?" he says. "Seriously, if there's one story we would want to see told . . . "
Dutcher, who has never considered a major studio as an option because he would forfeit control of the story, has had several big hurdles to clear in winning over investors in the two years since his last movie, "Brigham City," was released.
First, "Brigham City" bombed. Sure, Mormons will see "Austin Powers" and the James Bond movies -- films that are decidedly raunchy and certainly more violent than "Brigham City" -- but apparently they were uncomfortable with the mix of toned-down violence and their religion. They might not be ready for the juxtaposition of sacrament meetings and bloody mayhem. Some see Dutcher as an "edgy" filmmaker, which makes investors nervous when it comes to making a movie about Joseph Smith.
Second, the idea of putting the life of Joseph Smith on the big screen, which at first seems an obvious subject for LDS movie audiences, makes Mormons uncomfortable. Especially potential LDS investors. Every one of them has asked him how he would handle the subject of polygamy. How about the failed banking venture?
"Once you go in-depth enough to understand these things, they're not a big deal," Dutcher says. "Unfortunately, people hear just a little about these things and it scares them."
Running out of money, Dutcher recently decided to begin production of "God's Army II," which he actually wrote three years ago. He has a wife and five children to think of.
The irony is that Dutcher started the LDS movie genre, but others are capitalizing on it. Consider the movies that have been released since "God's Army" -- "Singles Ward," "Other Side of Heaven," "Out of Step," "Charley," "R.M." Three more are on the way.
"It's fun," Dutcher says. "I went to an LDS bookstore recently and the video section looks a lot better than it did a few years ago. There weren't just kids movies. There was some personal satisfaction in that."
As for the Joseph Smith story, he vows, "Eventually, it will get done. If it comes down to me having to get a loan, I would get a loan, even though it could destroy me. That's how passionate I am about it."
Since the Mormon movie movement was kick-started three years ago by Richard Dutcher's impressive -- and let's say it, surprising -- one-two punch, "God's Army" and "Brigham City," it's caused much more than a snowball effect. It's an avalanche.
...Which makes me wonder what Dutcher might do next.
It's a shame his biographical film of Joseph Smith fell apart, but he apparently has a couple of scripts ready to go, and he's on the verge of making a third film fairly quickly. Hopefully, the Joseph Smith project will be resurrected down the road.
...Let's hope that [Dutcher's] third film comes soon. After all, Dutcher remains the only "name-brand" Mormon filmmaker among the current crop.
Whatever he does next, all eyes inside and outside the Mormon movie industry will be on him.
...Meanwhile, the man who started it all is getting ready to make his third film. Richard Dutcher, who directed and starred in "God's Army" and "Brigham City," announced with Simpson in April 2001 that he would film a biography of Joseph Smith, titled "The Prophet." But financing fell apart.
Still, Dutcher is optimistic and says he is actively trying to pull together a budget for that film.
"Hopefully I'll be shooting that this coming spring, and we'll be set," he said. "Some people have said ('The Prophet') is on the back burner, but that's not true, it's on the front burner. I have two front burners on my stove, so I can keep it on the front burner. And then, I'm also working on a sequel to 'God's Army' that I hope to shoot within four to five months."...
In January 2002 at Fort Buenaventura in Ogden, Richard Dutcher filmed a few scenes for his biography of Joseph Smith, "The Prophet," before funding was pulled.
After opening the door for Mormon filmmakers, director Richard Dutcher stays optimistic about the future of movies in Utah, despite setbacks in his anticipated Joseph Smith project.
After filming began for "The Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith, Jr." over a year ago, it came suddenly to a halt.
"Surprisingly, it has been difficult to find wealthy Mormons who want to have the Joseph Smith story told," Dutcher said. "So we are struggling with trying to find either Mormons or non-Mormons who are enthusiastic about telling the story."
The difficult task Dutcher carries is that of raising $10 million for his epic production. It makes sense for investors to invest in projects like housing developments because they aren't as risky as a movie, Dutcher said.
Because Dutcher has found few sources for financing among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he has turned his search for support to just about anyone.
"It's much easier to have this conversation with non-Mormons," Dutcher said. "They don't have issues that some Mormons do. Some Mormons don't want you to tell the Joseph Smith story."
Some reasons why members of the church don't want the story told are they feel the story is too sacred to tell, they question who should play the part of Joseph Smith and they think it might make Mormons look bad on film.
Dutcher said it has been disappointing that they haven't found church member to help back them for the movie. Most of the money being raised now is through those who are not church members.
"We should care enough to do this film," Dutcher said. If Dutcher is facing a lack of support within the state of Utah, he certainly isn't finding this problem among actors in Hollywood.
"Val Kilmer wants to play the part [Joseph Smith], and I'd like him to do it," Dutcher said. "If we can get the financing and if it works with his schedule, then we'll do it."
Regardless of who finances Dutcher's film, he is determined to tell the story that means so much to him.
"I think we'll shoot it this year and have it out for the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth," Dutcher said.
While Dutcher is waiting for the rest of the money to come in, he has a chance to see other local Mormon- themed movies.
"Generally it is really gratifying to see that all these films are being made, now that we know there is market for it," Dutcher said.
Since Dutcher's "God's Army" came to theaters in 2000, Mormon filmmakers from near and far have made movies of their own.
"I think that filmmakers will get better and other filmmakers will emerge," Dutcher said.
As for Dutcher, he said he plans to continue to make stories that are from the heart and said he hopes that other Mormon filmmakers will do the same.
"I hope that it becomes more of an art form than just a market," Dutcher said.
Along with his Joseph Smith film in pre-production, Dutcher has written a script for "God's Army 2."
"It will be an exciting story and I'll make that this year as well," Dutcher said.
Dutcher said he hopes audiences will be just as excited about his next film as he is.
"The next film I do had darn well better be pretty good," Dutcher said, "because people have been far from complimentary to me."
"The Work and the Glory" will not be Larry Miller's first foray into the world of filmmaking.
The auto dealer and Utah Jazz mogul helped finance "Brigham City," the second movie by Richard Dutcher, who had hit it big with "God's Army." And "Brigham City" led to Miller's reported involvement with the third film Dutcher wanted to make, a biography of LDS prophet Joseph Smith.
However, during a press conference Wednesday to announce "The Work and the Glory," Miller said those reports were greatly exaggerated.
"When we had a gathering similar to this one to talk about 'Brigham City,' " Miller said, choosing his words carefully, "I got more than a small surprise when Richard began to talk about the rollout of 'The Prophet' soon -- at least a year earlier than I expected."
Miller said his support of that project hinged on how well "Brigham City" performed.
"The time line accelerated dramatically without me knowing about it. Then 'Brigham City' did not go on a couple of fronts the way I had anticipated."
Miller said Dutcher's approach made him uncomfortable.
"Although the knowledge became widespread that I would be involved in the Joseph Smith film, Richard never came to me," Miller said. "He never actually gave me a proposal. After that, he kind of faded off into the sunset."
Dutcher is currently making a sequel to "God's Army," but he has said that he still hopes to find funding for "The Prophet."
...Also coming are Dutcher's "God's Army 2" and "The Prophet," about the life of Joseph Smith; the World War II drama "Saints and Soldiers"; [etc.]...
Businessman Larry Miller and Latter-day Saint filmmaker Richard Dutcher made a joint announcement this morning about a couple of up-coming movie projects. They also put to rest their long-rumored rift which put one of these films 'on hold' for more than a year.
Richard Dutcher, Filmmaker: "This year, we're gonna make another run for it. This time, I feel like we're better prepared."
Richard Dutcher burst onto the cinematic scene in the year 2000 with the surprise hit 'God's Army', the movie about Mormon missionaries in East Los Angeles. The film, made for less than half a million dollars, grossed more than $2.6 million at the box office.
One year later "Brigham City" a murder mystery set in a small Utah town, was made for about the same as its predecessor. it grossed just under a million, but this one was hailed by critics across the country. Fundraising came much easier the second time.
The reason, Larry Miller was the key investor. Shortly after a news conference he pulled finances back on the next film out of concern over the box office success of Brigham City. But now Miller is back, first to help complete funding of 'God's Army 2: States of Grace'.
Richard Dutcher: "The film is designed with not only LDS missionaries but there are a few other faiths represented in the film, and represented very positively."
And then Miller is back on track with funding for 'The Prophet: The story of Joseph Smith', which has been on hold for a year and a half because of what he calls a misunderstanding.
Larry H. Miller: "I said to Richard, right out of the shoot, I was wrong on those. That kind of laid the groundwork for us to talk very candidly and openly."
"God's Army 2" will begin shooting in January; "The Prophet" also next year. Preliminary cast includes actors Val Kilmer as Joseph Smith and F. Murray Abraham as Gov. Ford.
Like Simon and Garfunkel, Larry H. Miller and Richard Dutcher are back together.
Miller, the auto dealer and Utah Jazz owner, announced Thursday that he will invest "a significant amount" in the LDS filmmaker's next two movies: "God's Army 2: States of Grace," the sequel to the groundbreaking Mormon Cinema movie "God's Army"; and "The Prophet," an epic biography of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.
Dutcher "has had good judgment in the past about things to be excited about, so we figured to go along for the ride on this one," Miller said. "I hope for some of the success of 'God's Army,' which is a tall order."
"God's Army," Dutcher's 2000 debut film, ranks as the most profitable LDS-themed movie, parlaying a $300,000 budget into $2.6 million at the box office and sparking other LDS filmmakers to follow Dutcher's lead.
Miller is not Dutcher's only investor, and would not specify how much he is spending on the two movies.
"God's Army 2" -- which follows the LDS missionary Sandoval, a minor character in the first "God's Army" played by Luis Robledo -- will be made for under $1 million, and will start shooting in January.
Dutcher would not specify the budget on "The Prophet," which will start shooting next summer -- and Dutcher hopes to have it in theaters in 2005, the bicentennial of Smith's birth. "The Prophet's" epic scale may make it the most expensive film in Mormon cinema, dwarfing the $7.4 million Miller will spend for a film adaptation of Gerald N. Lund's The Work and the Glory, an epic novelization of the LDS Church's early history.
Dutcher has tentatively lined up much of his cast for "The Prophet," including Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham ("Amadeus") as Thomas Ford, the Illinois governor who confronted Smith in Nauvoo.
The most controversial casting may be the choice of Val Kilmer to play Smith. Kilmer's previous roles include the Caped Crusader in "Batman Forever," rocker Jim Morrison in "The Doors," Tom Cruise's rival in "Top Gun," the voice of Moses in "The Prince of Egypt" and, in the upcoming drama "Wonderland," porn star John Holmes.
The script has excited producers and agents in Hollywood, Dutcher said. "The response that we've gotten . . . is, 'Did this stuff really happen?' " he said, adding the movie may spark interest with non-LDS audiences because "it's a story they haven't heard before."
Thursday's Delta Center news conference came two years after Dutcher and Miller parted company on "The Prophet." Miller has said he stepped away from "The Prophet" because of the disappointing returns of Dutcher's "Brigham City" and Dutcher "jumped the gun" and wanted to start filming in late 2001 before all financing was secured.
"I live in a fast-enough world that it is difficult for me to deal extensively with things that aren't going down a smooth path," Miller said.
After Miller's withdrawal, Dutcher tried last year to get "The Prophet" in production, and came within seven weeks of shooting before financing fell apart.
Dutcher shot down two widespread rumors about "The Prophet": that LDS General Authorities asked Miller to withdraw, and that LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley called Dutcher personally to ask him to abandon the project. "They make good stories, but they sure make it difficult to raise money for a film," Dutcher said.
Miller and Dutcher hooked up again two weeks ago, after Miller's news conference to announce "The Work and the Glory." Dutcher called to complain about two statements Miller made -- that Miller was surprised by Dutcher's April 2001 announcement of "The Prophet" (at a news conference Miller attended), and that Dutcher never sent financial information about the movie's budget. Miller checked his files, and acknowledged Thursday both statements were wrong.
Miller also acknowledged his withdrawal from "The Prophet" hindered Dutcher's fund-raising efforts. "The question came up, 'Why did Larry Miller pull out?' " Miller said. "I could move on from [my decision] in a way he couldn't."
Miller and Dutcher went to lunch last week, and "once we got the air cleared, we got on level ground."
"It takes some real character for him to sit here with me and say he made mistakes," Dutcher said. "I used to refer to Larry as my hero. . . . Sitting down man to man, and the way he handled this, he's my hero again."
Filmmaker Richard Dutcher (left) and Larry Miller at the Delta Center Thursday morning.
Richard Dutcher and Larry Miller are friends again.
Miller is back on board to help finance Dutcher's two new movies -- a sequel to "God's Army," which grossed more than $2.6 million, and "The Prophet," a Dutcher pet project that he has been trying to get going for more than a year. And Dutcher says it may star Val Kilmer and F. Murray Abraham.
In a Thursday press conference, LDS filmmaker Dutcher and Utah Jazz owner/auto dealer Miller announced an extensive moviemaking collaboration. With Miller's financial help, Dutcher will make "God's Army 2: States of Grace," a sequel to "God's Army." Although the second film they made together, "Brigham City," was judged a critical success, it grossed disappointing box office earnings of less than $1 million.
Dutcher said filming on "God's Army 2" will begin in January in Los Angeles and that Luis Robledo, who played the Hispanic missionary in the original film, will reprise his role, this time as the star. His character, whose past is checkered, will be unavoidably pulled into a gang incident.
"The Prophet" is the story of the life of Joseph Smith.
Both Dutcher and Miller declined to divulge the budget figures required for either "God's Army 2" or "The Prophet," which Dutcher will make immediately afterward. "It's not a big secret," said Dutcher, "but it's largely unnecessary information." (However, the budget for "The Prophet" is at least $12 million, according to previous figures given to the Deseret Morning News.)
Only two weeks ago, Miller announced a deal with other LDS filmmakers in which he is providing sole financial support, "The Work and the Glory," to be based on Gerald Lund's multivolume series of LDS historical novels.
Miller said at that press conference that he had became disenchanted with Dutcher and "The Prophet" since it was originally announced a year ago, but he did not officially pull out. When asked what had happened to "The Prophet," Miller gave a lengthy reply. He said he had been surprised when Dutcher announced an earlier timeline than he had planned during an earlier press conference on "Brigham City." He also said that Dutcher had never actually given him a proposal for "The Prophet."
Thursday, Miller apologized for what he had said about both the timeline and the proposal, saying he had checked his daytimer and his files and found that he was wrong. So Miller and Dutcher had a two-hour lunch to discuss their differences -- they "fought," said Dutcher -- but they ended up burying the hatchet.
"I was grossly unfair to Richard on both points and made him look bad. I did not intend to do that. I don't have any harsh feelings about him. I've committed a significant amount of money to this film -- more than I did to 'God's Army 2.' But I needed to clear the air today."
Dutcher was touched by Miller's apology. "It takes some real character for Larry to say he's made mistakes. I always used to say Larry's my hero. Last week I wasn't so sure he was my hero or not. But this week, with the way he has handled this, sitting down man to man to make it right -- he's my hero again."
Dutcher is very excited about "The Prophet," and called it "the Mount Everest of Mormon filmmaking." He has polished the finished screenplay and has most of the funding he needs. In the meantime, he is planning to do "the bulk of the filming" in the summer of 2004 and release it in 2005 -- the bicentennial of Joseph Smith's birth. "It's going to be my birthday present to him," said Dutcher.
Dutcher acknowledged that Columbia University historian Richard Bushman, who is preparing a book-length biography of Smith, is still his historical consultant and that he wants the film to be "historically accurate."
"I want to tell a powerful, amazing story in as close to two hours as I can. He was an exciting and charismatic man with an exciting and violent life, and I haven't seen that portrayed anywhere."
Although the casting is dependent on their schedules, Dutcher said both Kilmer and Abraham have agreed to portray Joseph Smith and Gov. Thomas Ford of Illinois, respectively.
Filmmaker Richard Dutcher, with Larry Miller at his side, announces his upcoming movie "God's Army 2."
Larry H. Miller makes an unlikely movie mogul.
He's too honest, for starters. He admits when he is wrong, as he did to filmmaker Richard Dutcher during a press conference Thursday. By his own admission, he gets emotionally involved in his investments. He chooses the movies he backs not just for their potential financial return, but for content and the quality of the people making them.
Clearly, the guy wouldn't last a week in Hollywood.
But the auto dealer, entrepreneur and Utah Jazz owner could become the Louis B. Mayer of Mormon Cinema -- just when the genre needs him.
Miller said Thursday that for years, people presented him with movie scripts and asked him to invest. "I don't blame them for coming to me with scripts and requests for financing, if they don't blame me for saying 'no,' " Miller said.
Miller avoided the movie business for 20 years, he said, in part because "I don't understand that much about it." Where in most fields a quality product -- a car or a basketball team, for example -- will bring in customers, it doesn't always work that way in movies. Miller said he still can't figure out why "Brigham City," Dutcher's follow-up to "God's Army," received better reviews than "God's Army" but made less money.
In 2000, Miller saw "God's Army," the first of the Mormon Cinema genre, at a critic's screening at his Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons. "I saw him in the film, then I saw in the credits that he wrote it, produced it and directed it. I thought, well this is a pretty interesting guy," he said. "Then I noticed this guy in a baseball coat, handing out press packets." That's when Miller met Dutcher.
Miller soon hooked up with Dutcher, investing in "Brigham City." On Thursday, Miller announced he will put in "a significant amount" for Dutcher's next two films, "God's Army 2: States of Grace," and Dutcher's dream project, "The Prophet," an epic biography of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith...
...Supporting Dutcher and Lund, a personal friend, was comparatively easy. "With Richard and with Gerry, I'm not just betting on the film content -- I'm betting on the person doing it," Miller said...
Filmmaker Richard Dutcher and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller recently announced the production of "God's Army 2: States of Grace."...
...Dutcher will be simultaneously working on the film "Joseph Smith: The Prophet," a film also funded by Miller.
"Joseph Smith: The Prophet" is due for release in 2005.
Dutcher said since the release of '"Brigham City," he has been swamped with questions about when the next film will be coming out...
Looks like Val Kilmer won't become the poster boy for the Mormon Church. The temperamental actor, who recently played porn king John Holmes in "Wonderland," was deep in negotiations to play Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a pro-Mormon movie.
"THE PROPHET: The story of Joseph Smith" is being made by Zion Films, a Salt-Lake City based company that makes films extolling the virtues of the Mormon religion, and according to sources, Kilmer was set to play Smith.
"There was a lot of controversy about [the choice of Kilmer] because he doesn't exactly have a saintly image, either on screen or off," says a source. "But some people thought it was good casting because Smith was charismatic and quite the ladies man."
"There were some heavy-duty discussions going on about it all," says a source close to Kilmer, but the actor's spokesman tells The Scoop that Kilmer will not star in the movie and would not comment further.
A spokesman for the Mormon Church declined to comment on the controversy.
Val Kilmer, shown here playing porn star John Holmes in "Wonderland," will not be taking on the role of Joseph Smith.
Salt Lake saint: It looks like Val Kilmer may have to go back to Sunday School. The actor, who most recently played porn king John Holmes in Wonderland, has been turned down for the role of Mormon founder Joseph Smith. The film is being produced by Zion Films, a Salt-Lake City based company that makes films extolling the virtues of the Mormon religion. "There was a lot of controversy about (the choice of Kilmer) because he doesn?t exactly have a saintly image, either on screen or off," says a source. [link to original MSNBC article by gossip columnist Jeannette Walls, at: http://www.msnbc.com/news/970608.asp] "But some people thought it was good casting because Smith was charismatic and quite the ladies man." The Ladies Man -- now, that was a good movie.