Just when you thought the Mormon cinema genre was bizarre enough, leave it to "The Work and the Story" to top them all. But what could you expect with a mockumentary about LDS-themed films?
This documentary-style satire is like a Mormon "Waiting for Guffman" or "Spinal Tap." However, if you are a fan of those films, don't expect this to be their Mormon counterpart; it's a bit strange. The movie begins with a news story about Richard Dutcher, the creator of "God's Army," becoming lost when his plane goes down. It is never clear exactly how or why Dutcher disappeared, but the movie isn't about finding him, it's about which filmmaker will replace him as the leader in Mormon cinema.
"The Work and the Story" primarily follows filmmaker Peter Beuhmann (Nathan Smith Jones, who also co-wrote and directed the film) as an over-the-top egotistical director who believes himself to be the next "Mormon Spielberg." He delights in Dutcher's disappearance and becomes sour when anyone mentions his possible return.
Two other wannabe directors are Judy Schumway (Jen Hoskins), who is making a movie about bad women in the Bible, and Kevin Evans (Eric Artell) who is attempting to make "God's Army Reserve." The documentary puts these characters in the back burner and Peter's story overshadows the humor they bring into the movie. For instance, Kevin, who looks barely 17, can't get his film off the ground, because his mother strongly disapproves of his owning a camera. He is such a believable character that you can't help feeling sorry for him.
The mockumentary gets off to a good start mixed with interviews of movie critics and celebrity cameos to give the story an outside perspective, until it becomes difficult to grasp where it's heading. It turns into a mess that won't clean itself up. It spends too much time on Peter and his frustrations and you barely get a glimpse of what he's producing.
The genius of other successful mockumentaries is the dry and subtle humor they possess. On the other hand, "The Work and the Story" is so in-your-face and obnoxious that it is difficult to enjoy the characters. At times, the film was more like a "Saturday Night Live" skit on crazy Mormons that went uncomfortably long.
However, if you can make it through, there are some shining moments, including a short egg animation "Book of Mormon" war scene played with intense music and egg yolk gore and done surprisingly well. The director can really claim "egg-a-mation" as his own. Kirby Heyborne, from "The Singles Ward" and "The RM," plays a crew member-turned actor for Beuhmann. His best scene is when he tells a story about his demanding dad and shows mixed feelings of respect and fear; he is clearly traumatized by his dad, and sees Peter as a father figure.
Go see this movie if you can take it for what it is; a weird, low-budget Mormon film with a ridiculous plot. This movie is entertaining for how it pokes fun at Mormon peculiarities, not for a quality story and great directing. It has the quirky humor only found in Mormon-targeted movie, such as adding defining subtitles for terms unique to members like "bishopric" and "fireside." And the title of the movie comes from the popular novel series "The Work and the Glory."
Amateur filmmakers might appreciate this movie, because essentially this movie is all about amateurs. For instance, each character faces severe budget problems. Kevin can't get any money (the humor here is found in how the potential investors treat him like a kid; in a rejection letter, one would-be investor tells Kevin to tell his mom hi) and Peter begs his father for $1,000. In one scene, Peter complains about being hundreds of dollars over budget.
Don't go see this movie if you didn't care for "The Singles Ward," "The RM" and other LDS-targeted films, or if you're expecting filming standards as high as those movies. It is a low-budget film about making low-budget films.
I give this movie a C, because grading it any higher might raise expectations too far. Surprisingly, this 80-minute film, short by Hollywood standards, is too long for its material. It could have been a better film running 30 minutes long. There were parts in the middle of the movie that were downright boring. I also didn't understand the point of the narrator with the British accent that would come in random and unnecessary places. The truth is this movie is only for a niche audience that can enjoy both LDS-type humor and low-budget filming.
My prediction of its success is: Plan on hearing more about this movie when it comes out on DVD. It might possibly become a Mormon cult favorite for some, and don't be surprised when you run into this movie at a singles night ward social.
The story behind "The Work and The Story" is just as interesting as the movie itself.
Co-produced and co-written by Quent Casperson, a 1999 Utah State University graduate, the movie was released Friday in three theaters in Utah.
"'The Work and The Story' is not your typical Mormon film," Casperson said, who majored in English and minored in multi-media and Korean.
The movie is in the vein of a Christopher Guest mockumentary. Guest's films include "A Mighty Wind", "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show."
"It's a little more sophisticated than the road-show type of humor that you get," Casperson said.
The decision to do the movie in fake-documentary style wasn't the original intention, said director Nathan Smith Jones. A stand-up comic, screenwriter and actor from Arizona, Jones said the project grew into something very different than the first idea.
Casperson and Jones, who have only know each other for about 15 months, hadn't even met when shooting started for the film.
And when they did meet, Casperson was originally slated to help market the movie.
"Q.C.'s original role blossomed," Jones said. "He did Web stuff for us; he helped organize locations for shooting."
Casperson also contributed money to the project, and did quite a bit of script-writing, Jones said, as well as influence the general direction of the movie.
"Initially, it was about the birth of Mormon cinema, and Richard Dutcher was one of four different people who fictionalized what happened initially, and the other three dropped out," Casperson said. "We just thought it would be a lot funnier if we had Richard Dutcher go missing and people pop up and take his place."
The movie is an insider's view of Mormon cinemania. It opens with a report that Richard Dutcher's plane has gone down, and then follows three aspiring filmmakers who want to be the next Richard Dutcher, who directed, wrote and produced "God's Army" and "Brigham City." The irony behind the plot is that the movie itself is the next in line of a growing number of Mormon films, made by an aspiring young filmmaker (Jones) who wants to be the next Richard Dutcher. In Jones' biography on the film's official Web site, the similarities between Jones and fictional self-centered movie-maker Peter Beuhmann are exact.
"Nathan Smith Jones is the brainchild of this film," said Dan Merkley, an actor in the film.
The idea for the satirical film was born on June 18, 2001, Jones said.
He was writing a movie called "Jack and Mollie," which "would have been a lot like Singles Ward, but in my opinion, better," Jones said. He then realized the budget required would have been too hard to acquire.
"Mormon movies cost at least $300,000 to make on 35mm," Jones said.
The original budget for "The Work and the Story" wasn't even a 10th of that amount, said Casperson.
In the initial planning for the romantic comedy "Jack and Mollie," Jones wanted to shoot it all on video to save money. Then he became aware that he was trying the impossible.
"Reality set in," Jones said. "And I realized that I had to shoot it on film."
The producers of "The Work and the Story" encountered financial problems on every step of production.
"We ended up getting the money by the skin of our teeth," Jones said.
Getting investors to donate was difficult for many reasons, said Jones. For example, Jones was an unproved director. Even more important, investors were wary because this was an untried genre.
"It was a Mormon fake documentary," Jones said.
Also, he went through two editors in seven months of editing, said Jones.
There were six executive producers for the film, Jones said. Five people were script contributors, and two or three of them wrote or improvised one of the scenes.
"It takes a lot of people to make a movie," Jones said. "It's a collaborative art."
Only a little over half of the movie was actually penned by Jones.
"Sixty-five percent of the script is my own," Jones said. "[I had] a lot of brilliant comedic minds helping out."
The film features many familiar faces from Mormon movies, including Kirby Heyborne, star of "The RM" and "The Singles Ward."
The launching of the film is a grass-roots effort. Dan Merkley, who stars as Michael-Enoch in the film, said distributing the movie will require a lot of work.
"It's crazy, it's nuts," Merkley, who was also a co-producer of the film, said. "[Self-distributing the movie] is like guerilla warfare."
Many of the actors in the movie doubled as crew and other jobs behind the scenes.
"In the future, we want to wear fewer hats," Merkley said. "We want one person per job."
Chris Miller, who plays a crew-member for Peter Beuhmann, and also stars in "The Book of Mormon Movie," said he acted in the movie because he was available.
To compound problems, Jones pointed out that they have almost no advertising backing. In fact, Heyborne will be coming to Logan on Sept. 13 to promote the film. He will be at the 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. showings, signing shirts and posters.
Rob Burton, a junior in business information systems, saw the film.
"I loved the film," Burton said. "My favorite scene was the egg-a-mation."
Burton referred to a part in the movie in which an ancient battle is recreated using stop-motion photography of eggs with painted-on faces.
Aaron Driggs, a Logan native, believes the more one knows about Mormon films, the more they will like this one.
"It's a great thing and a great movie if people understand the premise behind it," Driggs said. "If people know about Mormon movies, then they will understand and appreciate it more."
Despite the unusual nature of the movie, Jones wants it to be widely appreciated.
"When we first started this movie, I thought I would much rather have a large group [of people] love this movie," Jones said. "I don't want to make movies that no one sees, what's the point?"
Jones already has a straight-to-video project scheduled for release by the end of summer 2004. His next major project, which he hopes to have out by 2005, is a "supernatural dramedy," said Jones. It will be called "Afterwards," and it's about a man who dies, can't seem to find his body, and enlists the help of his cynical friend.
As for "The Work and the Story," Jones still has bigger goals for it, since it's now only playing in three theaters: the Logan Cinefour, Johnny B's Comedy Club in Provo, and the (formerly) Independent in Midvale.
"Hopefully, we'll have enough money to be in the big movies on Oct. 3," Jones said.
More information about the film and its creators can be found on the Web site www.theworkandthestory.com.
...For those who don't recognize Heyborne's name -- or face -- here's a quick role call:
...- In "The Work and the Story," he had a bit part as a member of a film crew...
Heyborne appears in the LDS parody "The Work and the Story."
...Heyborne also co-starred in the insider-spoof "The Work and the Story," and later this year will be seen in the boy-band mock-documentary "Sons of Provo," directed by his "Singles Ward" and "R.M." co-star Will Swenson. And he has branched into drama, playing Nephi's brother Sam in "The Book of Mormon Movie" and, perhaps more tellingly, a British soldier in "Saints and Soldiers."...