FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 17, 2001 RICHARD DUTCHER TO ANNOUNCE NEW MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR LANDMARK FILM WHAT: Press Conference to announce the newest multi-million dollar film from BRIGHAM CITY and GOD'S ARMY filmmaker Richard Dutcher WHO: Richard Dutcher, Zion Films Jeff Simpson, President, Excel Entertainment Group, Inc. WHEN: Thursday, April 19 10 a.m. WHERE: Hotel Monaco 15 West 200 South, Salt Lake City Bombay Room FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT Mary Jane Jones 801-358-7020 firstname.lastname@example.org OR Wendell Wood 801-355-1771 email@example.com ###
By the time you read this, you'll know whether I'm right or not. Yesterday Excel Entertainment Group and Zion Films released a press release stating that Richard Dutcher has scheduled a pres conference to announce his new project. The press conference is tomorrow.
The announcement of this press conference comes as quite a surprise. Dutcher's second feature film, Brigham City, opened only twelve days ago. Brigham City had a strong opening, taking in over $100,000 at the box office its opening weekend, placing it at #33 among films nationwide (the best showing for any new independent film that week). The film is already a critical success, but it is still too early to really know how the film will do financially in the long run.
In recent interviews Dutcher had said that he's focusing right now on the distrubution and promotion of Brigham City before moving onto his next project. That's why I thought it might be a few months before a new project was announced. But this press release indicates that Dutcher clearly knows what he wants to do next, and has the funding to do it.
Another statement made by Dutcher recently is that he had five different film projects in mind, and had not decided which one to pursue. It's possible that among those five unnamed projects are ideas he had mentioned in interviews and in the director's commentary track on the "God's Army" DVD.
One frequently mentioned project is a sequel to "God's Army." Two possible sequels that have mentioned include a movie about newlyweds Elder Allen (played by Matthew Brown) and Sister Fronk (Jacque Gray) as BYU students, or a film about Elder Banks (DeSean Terry) as an African-American seminary instructor in St. George, Utah.
For some time after the release of "God's Army" it seemed probably that a sequel would be Dutcher's next project. He surprised everybody by announcing that he would produce the murder mystery "Brigham City" instead. Recent statements made by Dutcher in a Deseret News interview make the imminent production of a "God's Army" sequel seem even more unlikely:
One concept that really tickles [Dutcher's] fancy is a science-fiction film from a Mormon perspective, though given the reaction to "Battlefield Earth"... that may be asking for trouble.
"That's a very interesting idea, but I'd need a considerably larger budget to do it," Dutcher said. "Maybe if this movie does spectacularly, I could think about it somewhere down the road.
"If not, then maybe I'll be making 'God's Army 2' sooner than expected."
On the "God's Army" DVD Dutcher also mentioned his interest in doing a "fuller treatment" about the people who write and distribute anti-Mormon propaganda. This is one of the themes touched on in "God's Army." That film featured an unusually sympathetic portrayal of Elder Kinegar, an essentially apostate character that lesser, more simplistic filmmakers might have simply turned into a caricature or villain.
In the Director's Message on the official Brigham City web site Dutcher states that before envisioning Brigham City he was about to go forward with a very different film project:
Back in July of 2000 I was on my way to Los Angeles to prep GOD'S ARMY for its video and DVD release. I was planning, while in L.A., to kill two birds with one stone by starting the casting process on what I thought would be my next movie: a contemporary story about a Mormon TV news reporter.
Dutcher has been critical of movements to raise money for an independent, mega-budget Book of Mormon film, which he apparently feels is economically inadvisable given the size of the potential audience. But Dutcher and other filmmakers (including Kieth Merrill, director of "The Testaments"), have both mentioned the possibilities and potential pitfalls surrounding films about epic Mormon stories such as the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's story.
Dutcher has been such an advocate of Latter-day Saint-themed stories told on a smaller scale, that the announcement of a "multi-million dollar" project is surprising. But "multi-million" could mean as little as $2 million, which would be roughly twice the budget for "Brigham City." This would still be a very small budget. But that description, coupled with the adjective "landmark" would seem to rule out many of the known possibilities previously mentioned by Dutcher. A sequel to "God's Army" would not be "landmark", nor would another murder mystery. Such a budget would not be necessary for a simple contemporary romance, or a film about anti-Mormons or anti-Semites.
Given the limited clues from the press release, it seems likely that Dutcher is planning a historic period piece. The most likely subject matter is the Joseph Smith story, or perhaps one aspect of Smith's history. For years now there has been talk about a "Joseph and Emma" script. Perhaps this is the project that Dutcher will announce he is working on next.
On the other hand, Dutcher has proved to be an endlessly surprising filmmaker. My prediction is probably wrong.
Update, 19 April 2001, 4:15 p.m.:
Well, I'm quite surprised, but I basically did guess what the subject of Dutcher's third feature film would be: It's about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Okay, it's not the "Joseph and Emma" story exactly. But it's about Joseph. That's pretty close. I must have synched to those "Dutcher vibes" somehow...
Richard Dutcher has struck again.
The writer/director/star of "God's Army" and the recently released "Brigham City," announced his latest project at a press conference in Salt Lake City from the Hotel Monaco Thursday.
In spring 2003, "The Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith, Jr." will mark the completion of a near decade-long work-in-progress for the LDS filmmaker.
"I've had to bite my tongue for the past few weeks not to tell," he said.
Scheduled to begin filming on the east coasts of Canada and the United States this fall, the film will be the first multi-million dollar production for Dutcher.
The budget is estimated to be in excess of 10 million dollars.
"I promise not to exceed the limit," Dutcher said with a laugh.
But the budget will not be the filmmaker's only concern. A bigger obstacle will be tackling a spiritual story and presenting it for the Hollywood screen.
"Although (Joseph Smith) was such a spiritual person, he was more than that," Dutcher said. "He was also an amazing man. This is what we're hoping to combine in the film."
Dutcher said he has been researching the subject extensively.
"If there's a tape, a book or a scholarly paper," he said, "I've read or seen it."
Dutcher also has the knowledge of historical adviser and former BYU professor Richard Bushman.
"Richard is one of the foremost scholars on Joseph Smith history," he said.
The film is independent of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but Dutcher did say he had been in contact with the church office building.
"They are aware and have been as much help as they possibly could be," he said.
The reason for the independence from the church seemed simple when Dutcher discussed the possible rating.
"I know some people have heard I would make a rated R movie someday," he said. "But you don't have to worry, this won't be it."
Dutcher did say that he thinks the movie will be PG-13, which will essentially leave some younger members of the Church on the outside looking in.
"I have the idea that this movie might be so intense in some parts that it might not be appropriate for children," he said.
But Dutcher is confident the movie will be a hit.
"A good movie leaves the audience wanting more," he said. "I want to tell them just enough that they'll understand Joseph Smith's story, but want to know it further."
Jeff Simpson, president of Excel Entertainment Group, said the film, and films like it, need to be told "by Mormons about Mormons."
"We need films about each other, so we can bear each other's burdens," he said. "That's why we should tell this story."
(April 17) "Cinema is not all about Mel Gibson's butt."
That's what Richard Dutcher, rising LDS filmmaker, says about the untapped potential of the film medium.
Dutcher talked to a host of students at Utah Valley State College on Thursday about his vision for LDS filmmaking.
Getting into the film industry as an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was fraught with surprising obstacles for the young Dutcher -- the first being film school itself.
Dutcher's four years majoring film at BYU were as close to a waste of time as one could get, he said.
"I started getting close to graduation and realized that I didn't know how to make a film," he said.
He talked to the film department head and found out what his philosophy on film was. The department head told him that Latter-day Saints shouldn't get into film because they would have to compromise their standards.
Undaunted, Dutcher scraped together $3,000 and made his very own 10-minute film.
"That last three months was better than the other four years," said Dutcher. "I knew that if I could make a 10 minute film, I could make a 90 minute film -- it would just be a lot more work."
Dutcher graduated and since then, "no one has looked at my degree. You could be a grade school drop out and if you could make good movie, you're in," he said.
With his wife, Gwen, Dutcher went to Hollywood to seek his fortune.
He made a film called "Girl Crazy," which he sold to HBO, and then decided to make a film based on the life of a Mormon missionary. Many people know that movie as "God's Army." It became one of the top 50 most successful independent films in the nation during the year 2000, and proved that a Mormon-based film could make it in the real world.
"I thought there would be a swarm of LDS filmmakers [after "God's Army" was released], and then it didn't happen," said Dutcher.
"I thought Mormon writers would be sending me tons of scripts, but apparently no one was writing these scripts."
Things have been looking up more lately. Dutcher said that two films with Mormon themes will be shown nationally soon. However, he said that he looks forward to the day when three or four LDS-themed films come out each year.
Dutcher offered his ideas on what he sees as an enormous range of creativity that LDS artists have in expressing their faith through the arts.
"My directing style came directly from the scriptures," Dutcher said. The only prohibitions he came up with are "don't make light darkness, don't make darkness light, and don't lead people astray."
"Other than that, we have enormous creative freedom."
Often, prevailing views of orthodoxy can hamper the artist's creativity, said Dutcher.
"We hold our storytellers to a much stricter standard than God holds his storytellers to," he said. "The Old Testament is one long R-rated movie."
The story of the fall of King David probably had the same provocative power back when it was first told, as a film about the fall of an LDS Apostle would have today.
"Can you imagine the outrage?" Dutcher asked, "What would the 'Deseret News' have to say about that?"
Making a film that deals with the hard questions of religion will be successful. "As long as you do it from a faithful point of view," said Dutcher. "If you have an axe to grind, you shouldn't do it. But if you are searching for truth, you should."
The temptation to avoid substantive movies and take the safe route by making "family movies," is one that should not be followed, said Dutcher.
"I don't care about making family movies," he said, "I'm not going to film stories about dogs getting lost. We have the most important stories on the planet. The greatest story ever told, the story of Jesus, still has not been told from our point of view. Neither has the Joseph Smith story."
Richard Dutcher, director of "God's Army" and exponent of "Mormon cinema," said Thursday he will attempt "the Mt. Everest of LDS filmmaking" -- a movie biography of Joseph Smith.
Dutcher and line producer Steve Lee have begun to scout New York and Midwest locations for the tentatively titled "The Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith Jr.," Dutcher announced.
"I want to bring this amazingly charismatic and strong individual to the screen," Dutcher said in a downtown Salt Lake City hotel. "A figure like this is greater than Lawrence of Arabia. This is Gandhi. . . . If I don't make this film, somebody else is going to. And I'm convinced that if they do it, I'm not going to like it."
By all accounts, Smith is a paradoxical and little-understood figure.
In 1830, an exuberant 25-year-old Smith founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a handful of family and friends in upstate New York. He claimed to commune with God and Jesus Christ and to have translated a set of golden plates which told the story of ancient Israelites who voyaged to the Americas. He led a growing cadre of followers from New York to Ohio to Missouri and Illinois. He introduced the idea of polygamy as part of what God wanted the people to do. Fourteen years after the church was launched, Smith was killed in Carthage, Ill., by an angry mob.
During his life and for more than 150 years since his death, people have held conflicting views of Smith. He has been portrayed in print as everything from a cunning charlatan to a prophet of God without peer. He has proved just as elusive for filmmakers.
Dutcher's movie will boast a $10 million budget -- small by Hollywood standards, but a huge sum compared with Dutcher's LDS-themed movies "God's Army" and "Brigham City." With that budget, Dutcher said he has to appeal to a crossover audience. "We can't justify that budget with only an LDS audience, so this cannot be a film made only for the LDS audience," he said.
One of Dutcher's backers is car dealer and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, who met Dutcher when he first screened "God's Army" at his Jordan Commons theaters.
"I have a concern, aside from any interest in the Jordan Commons, about what we as a society and kids in particular are seeing on their video screens and video games and movie screens," Miller said. "If I can have a role in what I view to be some better choices, I have an interest in that."
Dutcher has been developing the script for six years and recently worked with LDS scholar Richard Bushman, author of Mormons in America (1998) and Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (1984).
The movie will be shot primarily in New York state and the Midwest, areas where the church founder lived, but not at the exact historical sites. "Whether or not we're shooting in Nauvoo or in Kirtland, you won't know the difference [on-screen]," Dutcher said.
Dutcher has not sought cooperation from the LDS Church, noting that "it's important to maintain the independent nature of this film." Dutcher, a devout Mormon, added, "I'm looking to please the church as people and the rest of the audience, not the institution necessarily. To say that, I don't mean to suggest there's any kind of friction, because there isn't any. . . . The perception of the institutional church as some kind of a coercive, oppressive institution isn't true."
Dutcher said he plans to cast "an actor that you guys don't know yet" as Smith, but aims to attract well-known actors for other roles. Shooting is set to start this fall, though a potential summer strike by the Screen Actors Guild may change those plans.
And, even though a "vocal minority" of his core audience protested the PG-13 rating on "Brigham City," "The Prophet" will probably earn the same rating. "It should be rated PG-13, from the script and the way I plan to shoot it," Dutcher said. "I don't see how it could honestly be done otherwise."
The movie should be ready for release by the 2002 holiday season. Salt Lake City-based Excel Entertainment, which put Dutcher's first two films in theaters, will handle distribution for "The Prophet" either on its own or working with national distributors.
Depicting Smith on-screen is a bold undertaking for Dutcher, who parlayed a $250,000 budget for "God's Army" into a $2.6 million take in the U.S. box office and 100,000 units on video.
"Brigham City," which opened in Utah and other Western states April 6 and is rolling across the country, took in $268,819 in its first 10 days -- almost what "God's Army" made in the same period. Dutcher added that "Brigham City" is making inroads where "God's Army" so far has not: a TV deal.
Dutcher is not the first filmmaker to put the church founder's life on screen. In "Brigham Young, Frontiersman" (1940), Smith was a relatively minor character, played by Vincent Price. In the church-produced "Legacy," which played for many years at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, Smith's dialogue was taken directly from historical documents, giving him a stilted and stiff demeanor.
"Every time he's been portrayed," Dutcher said, "they've missed the mark in a big way."
Tribune staff writer Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.
SALT LAKE CITY -- At 10 a.m. on April 19, 2001, Richard Dutcher, (Zion Films) and Jeff Simpson (Excel Entertainment Group) announced the newest multi-million dollar film from the maker of God's Army and the recently released, Brigham City. Pre-production will begin immediately on Richard Dutcher's period film about the life of Joseph Smith, Jr.
Jeff Simpson, President of Excel Entertainment Group said that he became involved with Dutcher because he wanted to make films about our (Latter-day Saint) human drama. Six years ago Simpson left Disney to start a company he hoped would produce and distribute the highest quality in faith-centered entertainment. Excel has become a national force for entertainment with its four record labels, one of the region's most powerful music and video distributions, and a growing motion picture distribution wing. Simpson said he wanted to create entertainment that is more than entertainment. He wants to make culturally relevant films. We (Saints) need a voice that is a reflection of each other - not to convert, but to bear one another's burdens.
Dutcher states that he couldn't have come this far without Excel. 16 months ago they were not a movie distributor. With God's Army, they did it. With Brigham City, they did it better. "It wouldn't have been possible without Excel. Excel knows its audience." Excel Entertainment group will coordinate the theatrical distribution. Dean Hale, the head of motion picture distribution for Excel, was introduced.
In introducing his new film, Richard Dutcher asked himself, "What do I want to see next?" Dutcher explained how he settled on this project by asking, "If you only had 3 years to live and one film to make, what would it be?" Dutcher stated he has a "Teddy Roosevelt attitude" about this film. "Am I willing to die on that hill? This is the film I'm willing to die on. It is the Mt. Everest of LDS film-making" After this grand introduction, Dutcher dropped the black veil on the two large posters with the title of his new work: "The Prophet - The Story of Joseph Smith, Jr."
Dutcher stated he has known for a very very long time that he has wanted to make this film; he is surprised that it hasn't been done yet. He stated, "This is the perfect time and place. If I don't do it, someone else will. And if someone else does it, I'm afraid I won't like it." He says other portrayals of the Prophet have "missed the mark." Dutcher reports that he has been reading and studying everything he can on the life and times of Joseph Smith. Whenever he goes to the bookstore his wife just wants to know how much he spent.
Dutcher has involved Richard Bushman, as the Historical advisor for the film. Bushman has been a professor at Boston University, Brown University, Harvard University, Brigham Young University, the University of Delaware, and most recently, Columbia University. He has authored or co-authored six books on American history and the role of religion in America, including Joseph Smith and the Beginning of Mormonism and the recently acclaimed book Mormons in America. Bushman has published numerous articles on Mormonism and religion in the 19th century.
The parts have not been cast. Dutcher jokingly said that Matthew Brown, who has starred in both of Dutcher's previous movies, would be playing the part of Joseph. Actually, Dutcher has not found his Joseph. He wants to find someone relatively unknown to the public. He doesn't want the actor to bring any baggage to the part. This person will BE Joseph. Dutcher will look all over the world to cast the part. The supporting actors will be recognizable and experienced.
The 10 million dollar budgeted film will begin shooting later this autumn with the majority of the filming done after the weather clears in the spring. It will be filmed mostly in the New York, Canada, and the Mid-West. Dutcher will make his movie as authentic as possible, filming on location when he can - using locations authentic to the 19th century.
Dutcher's spiritual and exciting script will bring the film in at about 2 hours. He feels that he can tell the story in that time frame. "You're going to get the core. You don't want to tell them everything. You want them to come out of the theater saying, 'I want to learn more about that.'" Dutcher states that he has been working on the script for a long time, trying to find a way to balance the spiritual with the secular. Dutcher described Joseph Smith as "an amazing man, charismatic, and a spiritual giant." He excitedly tells us that he "cracked it" - he figured out how to do it. "It is exciting."
When asked if he was seeking cooperation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dutcher stated, "I haven't sought any." He spoke of the important need to maintain independence. "The Church isn't artistically oppressive." He described a "helpful and supportive relationship with the Church. In the making of Brigham City, Dutcher asked for the opportunity to film inside a chapel. Dutcher, knowing the Church's policy, was not surprised when he was turned down. While seeking a location, a Church representative called him and stated that a chapel had become the property of a city and they might be able to help Dutcher.
Dutcher speculated that the new movie would likely receive a PG-13 rating. Simpson commented, "Not all moral entertainment need be family fare." Dutcher states that he wants to make the best film he can - he doesn't make one with a rating in mind - "it's not honestly done otherwise." He promises The Prophet will be moral and uplifting. Dutcher would like his film to be judged on its merits, not on a rating, which doesn't necessarily represent that morality of the film. Dutcher hopes by providing consistently moral and uplifting films to put the rating controversy behind him. "Someday I'll make a G-rated film," he jokingly commented.
Millionaire Larry Miller (owner of the Utah Jazz and many other businesses) supports Dutcher. Miller stated that he is concerned about what our kids are seeing and is interested in providing better choices.
Steve Lee, line producer for the film, has worked for over 15 years as a production designer on Hollywood features and TV shows. He has also worked as a production manager for over 30 projects, including the PBS special American Prophet. Lee was most recently line producer on a feature film currently airing on Showtime, called A Kid Named Danger. He has also been line producer for several Mormon-themed projects, including Trek West and The Restoration.
Dutcher described the film as "the greatest story never told." Attempts to tell it have been tried, but Dutcher promises to do it well.
April 23 - A filmmaker is making plans to shoot a film about the founder of the Mormon Church. Palmyra is home to some of the most significant events in Mormon history.
Mormon film director, Richard Dutcher, plans to call the movie, “The Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith, Jr.”
It is believed Smith moved to Palmyra when he was 9 years old in the early 1800’s and began having visions. His experiences eventually led to the creation of the book of Mormon, and the religion itself. There are now some 8,000 Mormons in the Palmyra and Rochester area. Much of the movie will be shot in the Wayne County town. However, the Mormons in Palmyra do have some concerns. One elder says he's not necessarily opposed to the filming, but he is wary.
“What I would be opposed to is if it was for profit, and there were activities involved in it that would not necessarily portray the accurate events as they transpired,” says Elder Jerry Hess.
In fact, Elder Hess says the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already tells the story of Joseph Smith, Jr., historically and accurately. “I'm just a little curious about why someone would come in and want to possibly tell the same story we tell,” said Hess.
The movie is expected to have a $10 million budget. Bonnie Hays, Palmyra Historian, thinks the community will welcome the movie. It will also be something else to go into Palmyra's history books.
Shooting is slated to begin in the fall.
The major film studios won't touch them, yet movies with a strong moral voice seem to be growing in number, influence and quality, with a few now attempting to make the cross over from being pegged simply as "Christian" or "evangelistic" films to reach a mainstream theater audience for family films.
Utah's own independent film director Richard Dutcher, now working on his third film after successfully launching "God's Army" and "Brigham City" in selected theaters, says even though films like his do make money at the box office, Hollywood isn't interested in producing them because "they don't have any interest in seeing moral films succeed."
While conservative media critics have often charged that Hollywood will produce whatever makes the most money, Dutcher disagrees.
"I don't think they will do whatever makes money. If they did, we would see a lot more films that had stories and themes most of America would like to see. My theory is that most of them make movies for each other -- they're not as interested in what a family in Kansas wants, but what another person down the street in Bel Air wants to see. I think it's peer approval they're after more than anything. They get it not by making moral films but by shocking and pushing the envelope a little further than it's been pushed before."
Dutcher, now in pre-production work on a big-screen film about LDS Church founder Joseph Smith, said there is virtually no acknowledgment either in Hollywood or in the independent film community of filmmakers or movies that have "pro-religious content in it. At least right now there are several religious filmmakers working and doing better than many others are." Yet most movie types "just treat us like we're from another planet."
Producer John Shepherd, who was in Orem last week filming "The Climb" for Billy Graham's World Wide Pictures, has been working on what the industry refers to as "Christian films" for more than a decade. He said the excitement being generated by films like Dutcher's and the recent theatrical release of "Left Behind"-- based on a New York Times best-seller depicting an evangelical view of The Rapture from the Book of Revelation -- is energizing independent filmmakers who are looking to make the same leap from simple video release to the big screen.
Often that leap is made because independent filmmakers get a showing at a major film festival like Sundance. Shepherd thinks moral movies have become "cutting-edge now because everybody is doing what used to be regarded as avant-garde," chronicling topics that used to be regarded as taboo in filmmaking as well as in polite conversation. Films that "elevate the human spirit are cutting-edge now because everyone is doing the hopeless stories," Shepherd said. "We ought to be at Sundance."
Dutcher agrees in principle, but sees little chance of getting secular film festivals to welcome his type of production.
In fact, he entered "God's Army" for consideration at Sundance, but they weren't interested. "They're playing to industry elite, and now I'm just more interested in getting films to those who are going to go see it, though it was frustrating as a filmmaker when you are trying to get someone to watch it." It's ironic, Dutcher says, that a festival "that prides itself on being the great champion of unknown filmmakers would have nothing to do with it."
Shepherd thinks it's vital to keep pushing to open the independent film world to religious themes.
"When Jesus Christ came, he didn't just go to the synagogue. I think spirituality is a legitimate component of people's lives. Too often it's ignored or only portrayed negatively."
One of Shepherd's latest films, "Road to Redemption," opened in February selected test market theaters including Minneapolis; Phoenix; San Antonio; Austin, Texas; Norfolk, Va.; Seattle; Nashville; and Portland. A comedy set on the road between Las Vegas and Montana, a woman and her boyfriend borrow mob money from her boss and lose it on a fixed horse race. They look for help from her almost forgotten rich grandfather, who will help only on one condition -- that the woman drive him to his favorite fishing hole in Redemption, Mont.
The film, much of which was shot near Moab, will air on national television the first week of June and will play locally on KJZZ-Channel 14 on June 7 at 7 p.m. It also opens in theaters in Asheville and Charlotte, N.C., next week.
Shepherd's newest film, "The Climb," wrapped up at Orem's Ventura Media Center last week. The story centers on two solo rock climbers who perform a daring rescue and are rewarded by the rescued climber's rich father, who sponsors their dream climb. One is a cautious climber while the other is an angry, self-promoting risk-taker. The clash of pride, styles and character puts both their lives on the line and exposes each man's unique relationship with God.
"We're not offering all the neat little answers as much as we're provoking questions for viewers to ask and pointing the direction" toward God.
Both Dutcher and Shepherd say their spiritual lives are vital to their work, and each feels a responsibility to uplift through entertainment. If the avenues for distribution were more readily accessible, both agree their kind of films would garner a loyal following. But is demand high enough that a new studio specializing in morality-based films could spring up and challenge the Hollywood giants?
"Little mini studios are born on one or two good films. They stay alive as long as they can and a lot of their product is far less popular than what we're doing right now," Dutcher said.
"You have a few individual mavericks out there doing their own thing. If we could show that these kinds of films are consistently successful, then theater chains would definitely keep spaces open for us. Once the independent film world wakes up to that, I think it would happen." Yet "there's just a mentality out there that if you're going to make a 'real movie' it has to go through Universal or one of the others."
As mainstream filmmaking becomes ever more graphic and violent, public interest seems to be ripe in moral-based movies, Dutcher said. "Right now we've got a pretty exciting window of opportunity that may not always be there."
[EXCERPTS FROM THIS ARTICLE THAT REFER TO DUTCHER'S NEW FILM, 'THE PROPHET':]
PROVO If Richard Dutcher, the Mormon moviemaker, ever runs out of movie ideas he could mine material from his own life.
He could tell the story of a young boy who fills his long hours at home alone by writing his own novels, and years later, after long days working in oil fields and pizza joints and nursing homes, he writes more stories...
The movie, of course, took the industry by surprise. "God's Army" played in 240 cities nationwide last year, grossing $2.6 million at the box office before being sold to video.
That paved the way for Dutcher's next film, "Brigham City," another film that went mainstream, albeit not as successfully as "God's Army." Now Dutcher has turned his energy to another Mormon-movie project: "The Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith Jr."
It will be by far his biggest undertaking, with a production cost of $10 million and financial support from Larry H. Miller. Dutcher will use "recognizable actors" this time and will play only a minor character in the movie. Most of the filming will take place in Canada, New York and Missouri. Dutcher expects to complete the film in a year and a half.
"I feel peaceful about it," he says. "There's something very fitting, going back to that experience in Carthage jail. It feels right. I'm surprised nobody has beaten me to it."
Dutcher has done extensive research on his subject and consulted with Richard Bushman, a Joseph Smith historian, but the movie is likely to rankle a few Mormons again.
"Most of us don't really know that much about Joseph Smith," he says. "I found that out myself. I'm very familiar with the scriptures, but when you go into historical facts and his story, well, I had no idea. They're not bad things, or good things, just the particulars of his life. I think it's better when you see him as a man. We have elevated him to Godlike stature. There's nothing wrong with revering him and honoring him in his divine mission, but there is something wrong with believing that while he was here he was perfect. It leads us to a false understanding of the role of prophets. I find it comforting. If the Lord can use flawed people to do his work, there's hope for all of us."
Dutcher, meanwhile, wonders why other Mormons aren't telling Mormon-related stories when their religion is such a central part of their lives, but then he seems to answer his own question...
Using grass-roots publicity tactics, the locally made film "Brigham City" has succeeded in extending its big-screen release. As a result, the production company Zion Films has postponed the video and DVD release...
Dutcher and Zion Films are currently in pre-production for "The Prophet," a major motion picture about the life of Joseph Smith. According to Jones, the casting process has begun, the locations have been picked, and shooting is scheduled to begin in April...
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- On January 19, Zion Films transformed Ogden's Fort Buenaventura State Park into the 19th century prairies between Missouri and Illinois as director Richard Dutcher began preliminary shooting for his new film 'The Prophet--The Story of Joseph Smith Jr.' Saturday's shoot was a big affair, with horse-drawn wagons and hundreds of extras in period costumes. Shooting was scheduled to include a scene of Mormon settlers crossing a raging winter river during their trek from Missouri to Nauvoo, Illinois. Dutcher needed to shoot winter scenes while snow was still on the ground. Serious filming will begin in early April at locations in Canada and New York. Casting for the film is still underway. 'The Prophet' is Dutcher's first big-budget film after the box office and critical success of his two low-budget independent films 'God's Army' and 'Brigham City.' Filmmakers anticipate the theater release of the film in 2003.
OGDEN -- Lucas Dutcher is moving up in the world. In his dad"s last film, "Brigham City," Lucas appeared only in a photograph, alongside his mother and father.
Now he's "an extra at least. Plus, I'm just hanging out with my dad," Lucas said at the first day of shooting for Richard Dutcher's latest film, "The Prophet."
Even with a $10 million budget, the movie, based on the life of LDS Church prophet Joseph Smith, is still a family affair. Many of the "saints" were relatives of those behind the camera. All 80 were working for free.
"I just wanted to see myself in a movie. I don't care if I get paid," Addison Bahtishi, of Ogden, said.
The volunteers were dressed in period clothing on a frigid day at Fort Buenaventura on Saturday. Most of the filming will be done in Canada this spring and summer, but crews and extras braved the temperatures to shoot winter scenes, such as one depicting the Mormon flight from Far West, Mo.
"Do you guys know what this scene is? The saints were driven from their homes in the middle of the night. Some of them were in their pajamas, they had to leave so quickly. Some had bare feet, and there really was blood in the snow. So that's what we're going for here," Producer Stin Hanson shouted to the group, wearing rags and strung out across the snowy field.
The extras may have needed a little motivation. One mother said she was having fun, "but my kids are going to kill me."
Hanson urged the group to huddle together while wagons were fixed, and the finishing touches, spattered blood in the snow, were put on.
Hanson's father and daughter were both dressed up along with Dutcher's wife and four kids.
Others volunteered after seeing fliers in Provo, and a few were recruited.
"We were at the Brick Oven and someone came up and asked if we wanted to be in a movie. My husband has a big beard, I guess that's why," Laura Sue Haynes, of Orem, said. "I've been working on my genealogy and I thought this would be a good way to experience what the pioneers went through."
Dutcher said the movie will likely be released sometime in early 2003.
Casting is not quite finished, but Dutcher said he was "excited" about the possibility of some unnamed big-time actors, though "none of them has signed on the dotted line."
The parts of Joseph and his wife Emma are still up in the air. Dutcher, the star of both "God"s Army" and "Brigham City" said he would have a role, "but I'm not going to be the prophet."
The woman sits quietly on a crude packing crate as her husband carries the last chair from the log cabin, puts it on the wagon and then begins to secure the canvas flaps. Beyond the house, a steady stream of people pass by, some carrying a few belongings; others helping children and the aged.
They are clearly refugees of some sort, leaving behind a life they knew, and the couple will join them. Both the despair and the determination they will require are evident in the woman's face.
"Cut," yells the director. "The second rider needs to be quicker. Let's do it again."
And so it begins: The filming of Richard Dutcher's latest movie, "The Prophet."
The Mormon filmmaker who brought "God's Army" and "Brigham City" to the screen, is now tackling his first big-budget movie, the story of Joseph Smith.
It is a story, said Dutcher, that "represents the Mt. Everest of Mormon filmmaking. It's the Big One." His own faith and beliefs aside, he said, "It's a great story, an amazing and dramatic story, an epic tragedy. I'm surprised it hasn't been picked up by Hollywood before now."
And telling it will be an adventure of its own. There are a few cheers and claps as that first shot is finished. The first day on the set is always exciting, said Dutcher, after all the weeks and months and even years of planning.
In addition to directing the movie, Dutcher also wrote the screenplay. He and his associates are still in the process of casting lead roles. Until things are finalized, he does not want to name names, but "we're negotiating with some big stars. People will recognize the names."
Serious filming will begin in April, mostly in Canada, where they will re-create such places as Nauvoo and Carthage. So, this one day of filming is all that will be done in Utah.
"We needed the snow. And we got it. We couldn't have asked for a better day," said Dutcher. The setting is Ogden's Fort Buenaventura, which will represent Missouri in the movie. And on this crisp, clear morning, with temperatures hovering near the single-digit mark, it is easy to feel the misery of that long-ago time. The 80 or so extras, dressed in period costume, huddle together to keep warm between the shootings.
"I always wanted to know what it was like back then," said Ernie Christen, a featured extra, who plays the chair-toting man. And even this brief encounter with the past makes him appreciate the pioneers more, he said. "There was a lot of misery. They truly were a breed apart. What they toiled through, what they struggled through, so they could prevail in the end."
These scenes, including the packing and leaving, shots of crossing the river and close-ups of wrapped and bloody feet (created to perfection by makeup artist Heather Smith) will be voice-over flashbacks of the Saints being driven from Missouri, explained assistant director Steve Lee.
Movies are never made in chronological order, and the six scenes being shot here will show up well into the movie. But the filmmakers had to get them now, when conditions were right. And, considering that they chose this day two months ago, Dutcher is very happy with how it turned out.
"I wish we could go right on and do the rest," said Dutcher, "but there's still a lot of work to be done."
"The Prophet" will have a budget of $10 million. Right now, he said, he's still getting used to that. "It still feels a bit like 'Brigham City' but definitely bigger than 'God's Army.' That was really low-budget," he said with a laugh.
Both those movies are still very active, however. "God's Army" is receiving critical acclaim in South America and in Mexico, he said; "Brigham City" is still opening in cities in the eastern United States.
"The Prophet" is being targeted for nationwide release sometime in 2003. "We're definitely going for a mainstream audience," said producer Stin Hansen. "Richard's script is fantastic. It does that beautifully. It will have huge appeal to the mainstream, without offending Mormons."
She compares the movie to epic adventures like "Braveheart." "It's the story of a people and their time, and their charismatic leader. It's an inspiring story of people who believed in something beyond themselves."
"Malcolm X" was made by a black man and "Schindler's List" was made by a Jewish man, said Hansen, "so it is fitting that the story of Joseph Smith will be told by a Mormon, who understands the emotion, the compelling reasons why these people did what they did."
And it's exciting to be involved in such a project, she said. "I left a big project in California to come over here. It was the script that brought me over," she said, although she is also LDS. "This is a story that needs to be told."
The first day on the set is always a little humbling, she adds, as you think about all that will come along after. But even after this one day, "I'll leave here with a new connection. It's been so cold. And it makes you wonder, 'Could I have done that?'
"And that's the connection we hope everyone will make. Mormon or not, could they have done that for something they believed in?" As much as anything, she said, that will be the message of "The Prophet."
Ernie Christen has makeup applied by makeup artist Heather Smith on the set at Fort Buenaventura in Ogden.
Richard Dutcher readies a shot for his new film.
Joseph Smith Day, 4, and Josh Curtis play.