Latter-day Saint singles will soon find themselves portrayed on the silver screen.
"The RM," a new comedy from the creators of "The Singles Ward," began filming in Provo last week.
"'The RM' is almost a modern-day story of Job," said the director, Kurt Hale, who graduated from BYU in 1994 with a degree in film. "It's about a kid who has his heart and his spirituality all in the right places, and yet his world falls apart all around him."
The saga does not end on the mission -- it chronicles life afterwards.
"It's just the scenario of what happens when the worst can happen when you get off your mission," Hale said.
Jed Ivie, 23, a senior from Farmington, N.M., majoring in communications, is the spokesman for HaleStorm Entertainment, the movie's production company.
Ivie said the story focuses on a character named Jared who, upon returning home from his mission, finds that all he thought was waiting for him is gone.
Worst yet, his friend, who did not go on a mission, is receiving all the blessings Jared feels he deserves for himself.
"The message of the story is that in the face of everything, this guy who is fresh off his mission is not going to begin even questioning his testimony or questioning his religion or blaming God for any of this," Hale said.
Despite being a comedy, "The RM" is very different from "The Singles Ward," Hale said.
"Unlike 'Singles Ward,' which was punch line after punch line, in this movie a lot of the comedy is physical and very situational and it follows a pretty strong narrative," he said.
Kirby Heyborne, 25, from Sandy, Salt Lake County, will be playing the part of Jared.
Jared exhibits many characteristics common in newly returned missionaries, Heybourne said, such as being afraid of girls.
"He also still has that positive attitude that gets him through the whole thing," Heyborne said.
Maren Ord, 21, an LDS singer and songwriter from Edmonton, Alberta, will be playing the part of Jared's sister, Sariah.
"Sariah is the supportive sister that helps Jared and tries to bring his spirits up," Ord said.
In addition to starring in "The RM", Ord has also written a song for the movie's soundtrack.
The actors agree that despite dealing with the struggles that Jared faces, the movie is still a comedy.
"I think it's going to be hilarious," Ord said.
Heyborne agrees. "It's so funny. even if I wasn't in it, I would still love it," he said.
According to Ivie, the movie is scheduled to end filming during the beginning of August and should be released in January 2003.
Following "The RM," HaleStorm Entertainment will be making "Church Ball," a film about LDS church basketball.
PHOTO CAPTION: Kirby Heyborne, 25, from Sandy, stars in "The RM," an upcoming movie about returned missionaries.
Not many actors can heft their movie producer and director into the air at the same time.
Olympic wrestling champion Rulon Gardner can, and he did early Wednesday on the set of "The R.M."
Gardner has been on "Nash Bridges," "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" David Letterman and the like, but his cameo appearance as The Good Samaritan in "The R.M." marks his first appearance in a feature length movie.
Despite a GQ photo shoot planned for Friday and a stream of eager fans begging for autographs, Gardner is no ordinary movie star.
"My life has always been obstacle after obstacle," he said.
One particular obstacle stands out of late.
He is still recovering from frostbite he suffered in February after becoming stranded in the backcountry near Afton, Wyo.
"That was the closest I've been to death," he said. "I saw my brother. I saw God and Jesus. I was happy to see them but not happy to join them."
As he struggled to stay alive for 17 hours in the freezing temperatures, Gardner dreamed of a hot bath and a warm shower to supplement his meager protection from the cold, a sweatshirt and a fleece jacket.
"I was on a mission to make it out of there in time," he said.
He waited for rescuers, approximately 60 of them, to find his trail. "They didn't go off the cliff," he said. "I did."
The frostbite led to an amputated toe and two months in an out of the hospital.
"I've got some nasty pictures," he said. "My big toes were both black, the tips (of his toes) were black. . . . " Gardner started wearing shoes again 2 1/2 weeks ago, and noted that his feet especially the bones still hurt, but that he's doing "pretty well."
"That night was just a growing experience," he said.
For now, Gardner focuses on his newly reacquired ability to flex his toes, as well as his muscles.
The Olympic wrestling champ who defeated Alexander Karelin for the Greco-Roman heavyweight gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games notes that his opponents have been progressing as he has been struggling with his health.
"I missed the opportunity to go compete this year," he said.
But he will be back in competition as soon as possible.
He recently started training again and will return to training facilities in Colorado next week. He wants to wrestle in the Sunkist Open in Arizona in October.
If he doesn't make it to that one, plan on seeing him back on the mat for a competition in April. And the 2004 Olympic Games are certainly on his agenda.
Despite his difficult year, Gardner thanks his lucky stars for his good fortune.
"Every dream I've ever had has come true," he said.
And while he doesn't plan to give up the mat for the screen, he enjoyed his role in "The R.M."
In his short scene, filmed at the Provo Towne Centre mall movie theater Wednesday, Gardner played a shopper laden with bags including an auspicious pink striped one from Victoria's Secret who discovers the main character's mother going into labor in the mall parking lot.
Gardner's line goes something like this: "Call 911, there's a lady in a minivan going into labor."
That's it. Gardner's first shot at the big screen. He waited around longer for crew members to set up than it took to actually film the scene, though he performed his part many times and only mixed up the lines once.
Director Kut Hale and producer Dave Hunter, the duo who made "The Singles Ward," enjoyed working with Gardner.
"It was awesome," Hale said. "Such a nice, nice guy. You can tell he's a farmer home-grown. So nice."
Gardner seemed to equally pleased with the opportunity.
"Anything new that comes along, its amazing," he said.
Gardner will be back in Utah on Thursday for a fund-raising event for Heber City wrestler Cael Sanderson.
"He's incredible," Gardner said of the wrestler who finished his college career without a single loss. "I couldn't have an undefeated season."
But, he added jovially, "Is he in a movie? No, he's not."
Rulon Gardner runs through his lines during the filming of his cameo appearance in the upcoming movie "The R.M."
Olympian Rulon Gardner is still recovering from February frostbite episode.
Rulon Gardner does a cartwheel after defeating Alexander Karelin in the 2000 Summer Games.]
As he returns home to Salt Lake City after serving a two-year mission for the LDS Church, Jared Phelps dreams of a rock star's welcome: Popping flash bulbs. Screaming fans, friends and family. His altar-ready girlfriend waiting in a wedding dress.
Instead, Jared steps off the plane at Salt Lake City International Airport to find no one there to greet him. Still wearing his gray suit and black name tag, he slumps in an airport chair, confused.
"My mom probably had to stop off for some balloons," he says to the woman sitting next to him. Jared eventually takes the bus home, only to discover his parents have moved and his girlfriend is ready for marriage -- to someone else.
So begins "The R.M.," a new, LDS-themed comedy about a returned missionary who finds adjusting to life back in Utah infinitely more challenging than he expected. The independent film by the makers of "The Singles Ward" wrapped Saturday after a monthlong shoot along the Wasatch Front. It's scheduled to hit theaters in January.
Directed by Kurt Hale, "The R.M." is the latest in a recent wave of high-profile feature films by and about members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As these filmmakers have long suspected and the rest of the world is now discovering, there exists an enthusiastic market -- mostly in Utah and other Western states with large LDS populations -- for movies about aspects of Mormon life.
Heralding this trend two years ago was Richard Dutcher's "God's Army," a 2000 drama about LDS missionary life. Made for $300,000, the film grossed $2.6 million despite never playing in more than a few dozen theaters at a time. Dutcher followed that with "Brigham City," a murder mystery set in a small Utah town, and is now filming a historical epic based on the life of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.
"The Other Side of Heaven," a 1950s period drama based on John Groberg's missionary service in the South Pacific, has earned $4.6 million since its premiere in December. And "The Singles Ward," released in February, is still in Utah theaters. In six months, the comedy about the Mormon dating scene has grossed more than twice its $400,000 budget. Thanks mostly to word-of-mouth, all these films have found audiences without the benefit of big-name actors or large promotional budgets.
"Mormon filmmakers are getting greater and greater respect and distribution [for their movies]," says Utah Film Commission executive director Leigh von der Esch, who believes LDS-themed movies will keep improving as filmmakers mature. "It bodes well for our in-state film community and it affords more jobs. We welcome them."
Like "The Singles Ward," "The R.M." was filmed entirely in Utah. Besides the airport, filmmakers shot scenes at the Mayan restaurant, the Sandy Auto Mall and various locations in Utah County.
The movie's plot goes like this: Jared returns home from his mission (in exotic Evanston, Wyo.) to find his life has gone to heck. His loving but distracted parents forget to greet him at the airport. His bedroom is occupied by a Tongan exchange student. His car has been sold. His best buddy is getting drunk at frat parties. And his girlfriend, after waiting one year and 11 1/2 months for him, is engaged to another guy.
The only positive in Jared's post-mission life is Kelly, an attractive young woman he meets at the airport. But when he gets mistakenly arrested for a frat prank gone awry and must choose between dishonesty and jail, Jared finds his faith is severely tested.
" 'The Singles Ward' showed us that this kind of cultural comedy can work," says Hale, who co-wrote the film with John Moyer. But while "The Singles Ward" contained many insider jokes that were lost on non-LDS audiences, "The R.M." relies more on sight gags and situational humor, he says. "There's definitely a cultural element to it, but it's more accessible."
"The comedy is universal," says Britani Bateman, a musical-theater veteran who plays Kelly. Bateman somehow shot the film while appearing nightly in Sundance Summer Theatre's production of "Dear World." "I believe everyone can relate to [Jared's] character and what he's going through."
Heading the young cast as Jared is Kirby Heyborne, 25, who grew up in Sandy and earned a business degree before devoting himself full-time to acting. Heyborne had a smaller part in "The Singles Ward" as, coincidentally, a young man preparing to leave on a mission. Heyborne describes his character in "The R.M." as "a sweet, decent guy who's trying really hard to get a break."
Canadian singer-songwriter Maren Ord has a supporting role as Jared's sister. The 21-year-old has drawn comparisons to Sarah McLachlan and performed with McLachlan on the Lilith Fair tour several years ago.
"I'm definitely more of a singer than an actress," says Ord, whose major-label debut, "Waiting," will be released in the United States later this month. "I've performed on stage and in music videos, but being able to memorize lines and say them like I mean it is a whole new ballgame."
Playing Jared's best friend -- and bad-influence party boy -- Kori is Will Swenson, who played the lead in "The Singles Ward." And as with that film, Hale and his co-producer, Dave Hunter, have packed "The R.M." with cameos by such LDS celebrities as Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner, newscaster Ruth Todd and auto tycoon Larry H. Miller, who plays -- what else? -- a car salesman.
In writing the script for "The R.M.," Hale drew upon his own experience as a returning LDS missionary from Santa Rosa, Calif. He got off the plane in Salt Lake City to find no welcoming committee at the gate. His parents, running late, met him at baggage claim.
"I believe every missionary goes through something like this," Hale says between takes at the airport. "You get home and there's nobody holding your hand anymore."
Hale has show business in his blood: His grandmother, Ruth Hale, co-founded West Valley City's Hale Centre Theatre. Hunter, his producer, is a grandson of former LDS Church President Howard W. Hunter. Eventually Hale and Hunter want to make more mainstream movies for larger audiences. But for now, they're content to fill the previously untapped LDS comedy niche. Their next film, "Church Ball," will be set in the elbow-swinging, bloody-nose world of LDS wardhouse basketball.
"We'll cut our teeth on this smaller niche and see what happens. At some point, the [LDS movie] market might saturate a little. There might be some carnage along the way," Hale says. "But for now we're happy to see other [LDS] filmmakers out there. A lot of them are friends of ours."
Well, it's been a busy few months! I just finished touring with the Bluebird North tour (along with John Mann, who is amazing!), in May and part of June. Since then I have been in Utah filming for a movie Called the "RM." It is a comedy from Halestorm about a young man who served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and what his journey is like when he returns home. It is going to be hilarious! I had a total blast getting to know the crew and cast as we spent a whole month together! I got to pretend to Act! Ha ha! I played the role of the Returned Missionary's sister, who is engaged! I loved playing that part because I got to wear a wedding ring and a beautiful wedding gown and feel like a princess (at least for the days that we shot that part of the movie). I am currently quite single, so it was really fun to be able to prance around in a wedding dress! Hey, at least now I can say that I know what it feels like to wear the dress and play the part if I never DO get married! Ha ha! The guy that plays my husband is hilarious too! For those of you who may have seen Halestorm's other production of "Singles Ward" (Which I also have a song in called "Everyday"), he is one of the roommates in that movie. So, keep your eye out for the upcoming RM so we can all make fun of my horrible acting skills! Ha ha! I think I will stick to guitar, which is good because I am apart of this tour coming up. Unfortunately I am not on all of the dates, but I am playing in Calgary and Edmonton (my two home-towns!), so I am really looking forward to that! One of the reasons I won't be able to be apart of the complete tour is because I am shooting a music video for the song "Everyday" which will be one of the 'special features' of the DVD for the movie "The Singles Ward." I am really looking forward to shooting that because I get to go back to Utah to shoot it, and it is MUCH warmer there than here in Calgary! Also, I have played a few gigs with both Dayna Manning and John Mann, and I am SO looking forward to playing with them again, because they are quite amazing! And of course, I am looking forward to hearing the other acts as well! I'll see you in Calgary and Edmonton
Until then. Cheers!
Well, we finished tracking our song for the soundrack of the upcoming movie "The RM," from the same folks who brought you "The Singles Ward." We aren't sure when the movie is slated for release (not that any of you folks would be going to see it anyway!), but a sneak peek at the song list for the soundtrack revealed that our friends The Sugarland Run will be doing a song, as well as some folkier acts like Clay, Jamen Brooks and Maren Ord. No, we aren't going to be scoring any cool points for doing this soundtrack but the song does rock and hey...we got paid. Look for the movie and soundtrack to hit Utah soon.
[ October 28, 2002 ]
I have that song that Maren Ord sings during Singles Ward at that part when he's reminiscing and crying... that's a good song. "You take my breath away..." We watched the Audio commentary track on the DVD where the director and some of the cast talk about all the different stuff in the movie. It is HILARIOUS. A lot happened this weekend, and I don't know what to say.
[ October 23, 2002 ]
Wellll if my day couldn't get any better yesterday with finishing my papers and watching Gilmore Girls, Ben Dougsfriend came by and dropped of "Singles Ward" and we got to watch that. And Hannah, i can totally relate to your sitch. my parents weren't laughing. hahhaahhha me and doug were dying but my parents were like "what the crap?" the whole time. even the younger kids. it's sort of a "guess you had to be there" type of thing. Carol asked me what was so funny about the guy who got his mission call to Boise. ya know, that type of thing. I said, "Don't worry, my child, it will all come in due time." There were some funny outtakes on the DVD as well. Poor Daryn (Elden).. he is seriously SO funny in real life. I PROMISE!! He really didn't have any funny lines, just his behavior was amusing. Ah well. He helped write "The RM" which comes out in January in UTAH.. probably here in the summer. And then he just finished writing a book called, "Me, Myself, and EFY." which will probably be made into a movie. I've never been to EFY, so maybe it won't be as funny to me, i dunno.
Shortly after the release of God's Army, Richard Dutcher mused to me one day that he was surprised a cluster of LDS movies had not followed in the wake of his success. He need wonder no more. There are more new "Mormon genre" movies in release or being made than the market can likely support. Some will be great. Some will be OK. Too many will be disappointing. A few are likely to be awful.
From a really wonderful web site, ldsfilm.com... comes an almost shocking list of "Mormon movies" announced, in production, promised or being created in the most fanciful of day-dreams kept afloat by nothing but faith. Here is what Mormon movie goers can look for in near future -- presuming of course they get funded, finished and finely made.
...Recent works have included an earnest film about LDS missionaries, a murder-mystery and a romantic-comedy. Five more films are expected to open here this spring.
"The Singles Ward," a guy-meets-girl romantic comedy, is essentially a series of inside jokes about Mormons, from the scrap-booking opening credits (Mormons love scrap-booking) to good-natured jabs at the church's polygamist past.
For example, at one point the romantic lead turns to the camera and complains about the reaction from fellow church members to being dumped by his wife: "Our ancestors were able to handle four or five wives and you can't handle one? What's the deal?"
Dutcher had hoped the success of his movie would draw out the faithful within the entertainment business. Instead, he says, it spawned a series of poorly made movies with an LDS stamp.
Sean Means, movie reviewer for the state's largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, says films like "The Singles Ward," "Handcart" and "Charly" mark a sophomore slump for LDS cinema. They're plagued by bad scripts and boring plots, he says.
Because they aren't good enough to succeed elsewhere, Means says, they end up being marketed squarely at locals. And there's enough of an audience here to pull down a profit; the church claims 70 percent of Utah residents.
"The Singles Ward" was made for $400,000 and made almost $1.5 million, said director and producer Kurt Hale. Now there are 200,000 copies at video stores.
...Hale will release two more Mormon-themed comedies. The first -- "The R.M.," about a return missionary -- will hit Utah in January. The other -- "Church Ball," about church basketball leagues -- will be out in January 2004.
There's no shortage of material, or self-deprecating humor, Hale said. "We can make 50 movies based on how strange we are."
On the Net:
Richard Dutcher's production site: http//:www.zionfilms.com
Kurt Hale's production site: http://www.halestormentertainment.com
In the late summer of 2001, while The Singles Ward was going into production, John Moyer was headed home from another comedy tour. The drive from Montana to California was long, and somewhere just outside of St. George, Utah John conceived the idea for the movie The RM.
Originally entitled, The Home Coming, this story revolved around the challenges of getting adjusted to being the newly returned missionary. Having a job, getting an education, and dating can all be new found hurdles to someone who hasn't thought about them in two years.
But what if those hurdles were even bigger than you thought? What if everything you were expecting to happen, didn't happen? And everything you ever prayed would not happen, happens?
Elder Jared Phelps is about to find that out in this, the second comedy installment of The LDS Movie Niche from Halestorm Entertainment.
[3 production photos accompanied by background stories about the making of the movie:]
"The Dream Job?"
Jared's first day on the job as a "repo man" for a rent to own company. Apparently people fight back when you try to take their furniture.
This was actually a job John had to take to make ends meet in the early days. A scene in the movie shows Jared repossessing a young child's bed while the child cries about not wanting to sleep on the floor. True story. At least John can laugh about it now. Whether the kid who slept on the floor can or not, remains to be seen.
"Sleeping on the Couch"
On New Year's Eve 1996, while at a singles dance in Washington DC, John agreed to spend the night in the hotel where the dance was being hosted. A friend asked him to spend the night and ride back with her the next day. She found him a spare bed in a room with one of the local single adult members who attended the entire three day conference. After lights out, John quickly discovered the individual he shared the room with had a strange form of Turrets Syndrome that only seems to manifest itself during sleep. As profanities and strange threats flew, so did John, in a panic, out of the room. He wound up spending a very uncomfortable night on the couch in the hotel lobby. Needless to say, here was one more moment that needed to put on the silver screen.
"The Center Piece"
John has always been amused at the amount of time and effort his mother in law puts into preparing her Relief Society Lessons. Table cloths, pictures, hymns playing in the background on tape while the sisters enter the room, and of course - the center piece.
Here, Jared's mom works on an idea she has for a center piece for her upcoming lesson on Sunday.
Additional photo captions:
top center: Michael Birkeland as Duey, Jared's soon to be brother-in-law.
top right: Kirby Heyborne as Jared Phelps in one of his many new jobs: a waiter at Book of Mormon Burgers.
More LDS movies are slated in 2003, including "The R.M.," Hale's follow-up to "The Singles Ward" (due in January), and a mock-documentary, "The Work and the Story," in the offing next fall. Meanwhile, Richard Dutcher -- the guy who started this boom with "God's Army" -- is still trudging away at "The Prophet," his epic biography of Joseph Smith.
Other movie news in 2002:
THE R.M. -- The makers of "The Singles Ward" return with this LDS-specific comedy about the title character (Kirby Heyborne), who has to decide what he wants to do with his life when he returns to Utah from a mission.
Of course, not all will prove to be bad, and some may even be quite interesting...
Also on the docket is "The R.M.," a follow-up to last year's LDS comedy "The Singles Ward" by the same filmmakers.