So you wanna make a movie? One that people actually pay to see? Here's an idea: Put a Mormon character in your film. According to Mark Potter, who wrote and directed Suddenly Unexpected, folks will come out in droves.
"It's very hard as an independent filmmaker to get someone to come see your work," says Potter, a native Houstonian. "The Mormon film genre gives you an audience to work with. The requirement is that there's a Mormon character, and an audience will support it."
In 2000, Richard Dutcher's God's Army proved the existence of a huge, virtually untapped market for films about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Made on a $300,000 budget, that movie grossed more than $2.6 million -- and inspired a sly slew of filmmakers to enter the genre.
Potter insists that "LDS films" (the politically correct term) don't have to have religious themes, and that the protagonists of Suddenly Unexpected, two Mormons on a mission, could be anyone. "It's about two people who happen to be Mormon," he says. "It could be any two people who are having a very bad day."
In the film, which was produced by Potter's wife, Marjorie, on a $100,000 budget and shot in Houston, two Mormon missionaries wake up and find themselves evicted from their rental house. They end up spending the day with an old man, his truck and a little dog. The elderly gentleman ends up teaching them a lesson about service.
"The young men are supposed to be serving," says Potter, "but they're wrapped up in their lives. The old man is out doing good things for people, and they discover, in the end, what service really is." Although the idea of service is hardly unique to Mormonism, the film's religious overtones are, of course, undeniable. You won't find any sex, drugs, violence or four-letter words in Suddenly Unexpected.
The movie's world premiere is happening right here in Houston. "This is where we're from," says Potter, "so this is where we're beginning." Guess what state the film will screen in next. Hint: It starts with a U.
Details: premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 7. The film will play daily starting August 8. For information and showtimes, call 713-668-2391 or visit www.suddenlyunexpected.com
Where: NOVA Meyerland Theater, 100 Meyerland Plaza
It's been a very bad day for Elder Jones and Elder Smith, but a very good past week for the Potter family, who created the characters.
Their movie about the Mormon missionaries, "Suddenly Unexpected," premiered at the Nova Meyerland Theater.
"They wake up one morning and they discover that they have been evicted from the place that they live. Then they're out on the street and, just mishap and misfortune befall them and they end up with an old man and his little dog, and they end up on a tour across half of Texas," said Mark Potter.
He says the idea for the movie came partially from his own experience.
"I was a missionary in Australia and we lived in a condemned building, and they forgot to tell us that they were having an auction of everything that was in there. And I woke up and there was a man standing next to my bed with my bicycle, asking if it was for sale," said Potter.
The Potters filmed "Suddenly Unexpected" entirely in Houston. They used locations like Sparky's, the Cypress Ace Hardware, and several streets around the city.
"We want to film in Houston. I mean, we're not planning to go to Hollywood, this is our home, this is where we want to work, and we want to work out of Houston and stay here," said Mark Potter.
"It's a good -- it's a really good place to film," said Marjorie Potter.
The Potters say "Suddenly Unexpected" cost them a little over $100,000 to make. They had to borrow money and dip into their savings and retirement funds.
But they say it was worth it to make a fun, entertaining movie without any of the violence or swearing they find in so many other films.
They say "Suddenly Unexpected" is the kind of movie they've always dreamed of making.
"Suddenly Unexpected" is showing daily at the Nova Meyerland Theater at 610 and Beechnut.
Marjorie Potter and her husband, Mark, premiered their movie "Suddenly Unexpected".
WATCH THE VIDEO:
Kristi Nakamura spoke with a Houston family in the movie business.
The Premier Showing of "Suddenly Unexpected"
Thursday August 7th, 2003 at 7:00 PM
Nova Meyerland Theater
610 Loop at Beechnut in Houston, TX
Premier Pre-event starts at 6:00 PM. Come and mix!!!, all who in the entertainment world, family, kids and media are invited to attend. Come mix with producers, casting directors, the Houston news media and the cast and crew of Suddenly Unexpected staring Jerald Garner and a cast of other rising stars in cinema. This will be Jerald's first leading role. He has numerous screen and theater credits to date and will be moving on to Hollywood as productions require !
See the trailer now at The Meyerland Nova Cinema during the showings Reese Witherspoons, Legally Blonde 2.
"Suddenly Unexpected" is about two missionaries who wake up to find that they have been evicted from the house where they were renting rooms, from a now-deceased widow. Their day gets worse when their bikes are run over and they have to beg a ride off of an older gentleman.
"'Suddenly Unexpected' was motivated from an experience on my mission," said Potter. "Our building was to be torn down the following week and our landlord forgot to tell us that everything was going to be auctioned off. We were reading our scriptures one morning and this person walked into the bedroom with my bike and asked, 'Is this bike for sale?'"
Potter held an open casting call in Provo and Houston last summer. Only 20 percent of the cast and crew are LDS. He said that everyone was very eager to work on the film because of the positive environment and high standards.
The two leads are Jerald Garner of Katy, Texas and Michael Judd of Sandy, Utah. Judd is LDS and Garner is not. Potter said that Garner will be the first black lead in an LDS film. Garner, a new rising star has trained with Eleese Lester and Connie Cooper of Mercury Studio, Kim Terry Studios, Price Hall of Studio of the Americas and Casting Director, Barbara Brinkley. "I have had the pleasure to work with some great teachers"-Jerald Garner. He has only acted for a year yet is a serious fast burner in the acting world.
"Suddenly Unexpected," differs from other LDS films because it is a comedy rather than a farce. It is also the first film with a husband and wife team.
"Every Latter-day Saint filmmaker hopes to be the first cross-over movie," said Potter. "The biggest difference is that our movie is about people and situations that everyone finds themselves in from time to time. It's by chance that our two leads happen to be LDS missionaries." [Garner, Jerald]
For details contact MPotter Productions 281-890-0331
Submitted by Jerald Garner.
PHOTO: Jerald Garner of Katy, TX (Houston)
The movie opened last night. Before the showing, both Marge and I were feeling very nervous. We had not seen the final 35mm print. It did not come in until Tuesday afternoon. We got to the theater at 5:30. I could not relax as people began arriving. Actually I would have preferred to be some place else. At 7:10 Marjorie and I introduced the film. It began to roll but the sound was not up. Marjorie and I were out of the theater in a bolt. The projectionist had pushed a wrong button. This does not help very nervous people. Once the sound was back on, we went back to the theater. Marge forced herself to go back in and sit down. I stood in the back. I was dying until the audience started laughing. If only a few people laugh, you can not hear a thing in the back. It is not until the whole house laughs that you can tell that they found something funny. Once they started laughing regularly, I could sit down in the theater for the rest of the film. They kept laughing-people don't fake laughing or laugh to be polite to make the director and producer feel better. The whole audience laughing is a good judge that you can tell if the movie is working or not. Once the whole house started laughing they kept going through the rest of the movie. Then the movie ended with a big laugh.
When people see you after the movie, you expect that they will do what most people do and be polite and say something nice no matter what they thought. So we take what people say with a grain of salt. But I did have two different eight year olds come up to me and say that they thought it was very funny and wanted to know when they could get it on video. Kids don't lie about such things so I knew that they really did like it. Of course we never thought about making a movie 8 years old would like. It just happened. Several people asked when the video would be out which we took as a good sign.
Some of the emails sent to us from non-members said "I was at the premiere. It was great! Congratulations. Some very creative humor..." Another said, "I responded to the film's gentle, unforced humor. The relationship between the elders came across as warm and very human. I liked both of them, and you made it clear how the strange little odyssey with the package enriched their relationship from externally-ordered companions into guys who would like each other even if they weren't on a mission together." Another non-member said to us, "I loved the pacing of the movie. It relaxed me and made me laugh too". The audience was about 60% members and 40% non-members.
Member enjoyed it too. They had many positive reaction. It worked in all age groups of 6 up to 86.
I would say that around 80% of the audience really enjoyed the movie. We left the theater feeling very good.
Exactly what we are going to do from here, we are not sure at this moment. We are pondering on it.
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