By Kathryn H. Kidd
For most Americans, Thanksgiving is a day of turkey dinners and family reunions and giving thanks. For thousands of Church members in Utah, however, there is something extra to be thankful for in 2004 – the premiere of The Work and the Glory movie.
The film opens today throughout Utah, and tickets may be harder to find than a first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon.
For the millions of fans of Gerald N. Lund’s epic Work and the Glory series, many of whom are young people who developed a love of reading as they followed the fictional Steed family through the early days of the Church, the release of this $7.4 million epic is an event that has long been anticipated.
But the story behind the making of The Work and the Glory may be as interesting as the fictional story that unfolds on the screen. Producer Scott Swofford said the Lord’s hand was apparent in the making of this film, and he is more than happy to give credit to that divine intervention for any success that is achieved by the movie.
Divine intervention began before the movie even began filming. Although the fledgling Mormon film industry is continually plagued by having to produce movies on a shoestring budget, Scott said that Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller was a silent fan of the Work and the Glory books from the beginning, and a longtime friend of Elder Lund’s.
Although Miller had vowed he would never finance a movie because there just wasn’t any money to be made, Scott and Elder Lund went to Miller anyway to see whether they could get any help from him. “He asked how much money we wanted him to invest, and we said all of it,” Scott said. “To our great relief, he said yes. This doesn’t mean he’s going to become a movie investor. For all I know he’s going to throw every unsolicited manuscript he gets in the trash can.” But he said yes to Scott and to Elder Lund, and he was as good as his word.
Having a benefactor didn’t mean that Scott had carte blanche to spend all the money he wanted to spend. In fact, he was so careful in producing The Work and the Glory that he did for $7.4 million what would have cost $20-25 million if the same movie had been produced by Hollywood.
For one thing, he filmed the movie in Vermont and in Tennessee instead of in New York, where the action allegedly takes place. Why Tennessee?
“There are no hardwoods in Utah,” Scott explained, so filming had to take place somewhere in the East. But New York was out of the question. For one thing, Palmyra winters are “two months longer than Tennessee, and we were in a hurry.” Also, if the movie had been filmed in New York it would have been subject to New York Studio union pay scales. Paying union rates to the film crew “would have doubled the cost of the movie.”
Once the money was taken care of, Scott said there were numerous other instances of divine intervention throughout the production, “right down to casting and control of the elements. We had dilemmas that became opportunities and in hindsight were exactly what was needed” to make the film work. “We had prayer every morning before we started, and we made it a habit of seeking the Lord’s help daily. Any faults in the movie are our own, but anything that works, I’m happy to give heaven the credit.”
Although the hand of the Lord was apparent from start to finish, that didn’t mean there were no difficulties in the filming of the epic picture. Just making a film that was true to the story and that still had a soft enough rating for Mormon audiences was a real challenge.
“The biggest obstacles involved weaving the characters, showing the conflict, and still getting the film to conform to an intense, hard-hitting drama that wasn’t rated R,” he said. “There’s a big difference between the ratings movies get for violence compared to the way they’re rated for sexual scenes. My film Testaments, which is shown every day in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building [adjacent to Temple Square in Salt Lake City], would have been immediately given an R-rating because of the crucifixion scene. When filming The Work and the Glory, if we’d have gone two steps farther as far as intensity was concerned, we would have gotten a PG or even an R-rating.
“Another challenge was casting,” he added. “In my experience, the words ‘temple-worthy Latter-day Saint’ and ‘excellent actor’ rarely occur in the same sentence. This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been some fine acting in the LDS movies that have been produced so far, but the talent pool is small. The challenge was to find actors who were temple worthy and yet still had the life experience that is necessary to give an actor the depth that is needed. We got our cast from London, New York, Knoxville, Atlanta and Los Angeles, as well as from the Wasatch Front. Many of the key actors are not members of the Church.”
Although the making of the movie was difficult, the rewards were commensurate with the effort. Scott said the best part for him was “when the first dailies came back and we got to watch them. After months of conjecture whether we could really raise the bar as far as making films for an LDS market was concerned, seeing those dailies was pretty gratifying.”
Fans of the series will be glad to know that the movie closely follows the first book in the series, Pillar of Light. Screenwriter Russ Holt worked closely with Elder Lund to keep the story as true to the original text as possible. Although the Steed family is fictional, their lives were crafted from the lives of real people of the era. And it goes without saying that the incidents in movie that are based on Church history are accurate, and are footnoted in the books.
If this film is a commercial success, other volumes in the series may also be translated to the screen.
Although Utah fans will be able to satisfy their curiosity about the movie on Wednesday, the nationwide release of The Work and the Glory is scheduled for January of 2005. The film’s website, www.workandtheglory.com, provides a feature that allows fans who live in the United States outside of Utah to get email updates telling them when and where the movie will be shown in their hometowns. Click here to see when the film will be playing in your area.
Although The Work and the Glory will initially appeal to fans of the book series, the film will only be successful if it finds a fan base outside the Intermountain West. Although Scott and others who are affiliated with the film hope the movie will provide a good introduction to the Church, the movie was not designed as a missionary tool. Its goal is to entertain viewers as it tells the story of young people trying to overcome the obstacles that come when any two families come together through marriage – especially when the families that should be united are divided by religious controversy.
The agony that often accompanies romance and love is one of the universal themes of life. Young lovers – and even people who haven’t been young for years – can identify with the strife that often goes hand in hand with the process of courtship and marriage.
Test audiences in four cities (Ontario, CA; Richmond, VA; Denver, and Salt Lake City) have confirmed that non-LDS audiences can identify with the Steed saga. Some 59-69 percent of the non-LDS test viewers rated the film as very good to excellent.
“I don’t know what potential this has as a crossover film,” Scott said, “but this is a little crack in the wall. I hope it will show non-LDS audiences a little bit of Mormon history and culture.”