It is midnight and we are just arriving at Ogden, Utah’s Union Station, which has been transformed by the crew of Saturday’s Warrior to look like the pre-mortal world. That may sound like some fancy trick, but with lights glowing through white, sheer fabric, hung down from doorways, and a bit of camera magic, you can get the idea.
Wasn’t the pre-mortal world a bit like a train station anyway, with lots of people waiting to take the trip of a lifetime? At this late hour, the publicist had told us to go through the dark door and head toward the light, so we should have known right away, this would be a unique evening.
When you are shooting a movie and you can’t have random people in your shots, you have to do things like keep the cast and crew up all night to shoot in an emptied train station.
Alex Boye’, dressed in gold, right down to his gold shoes was acting as a sort of maitre’d’ of heaven, directing people where they should go. People everywhere wore white satin gowns having just emerged from singing in a heavenly choir.
And right in the center of this were Tod and Julie sitting on a bench. Yes, we had arrived just in time to see the iconic film scene that has changed the lives of a generation of Latter-day Saints, who since they saw this play have thought they, too, must have fallen in love in heaven.
For those who don’t remember, or for those who just don’t know, here’s the scene. Tod and Julie are in love and she’s about to leave for earth. She asks him if on earth he will date other girls, and he responds that he might because he won’t remember who she is, at which point she is miffed. How can he even consider dating someone else? Julie pouts and Tod tries to reassure her. How long have they loved each other, he asks. “Forever,” she acknowledges.
While the scene is filmed, we whisper in the back, behind the camera with Lex de Azevedo, one of the two originators of Saturday’s Warrior, and the producer of the film, and, of course, begin by asking him a pertinent question.
Meridian: So many people have been impacted by the idea, presented in Saturday’s Warrior, that they’ve made a romantic connection with someone in the pre-mortal world—and many hope that’s true. Doesn’t that actually plow new ground that isn’t doctrine?
Lex: This comes up every now and then. Saturday’s Warrior is a fantasy. This is not a Sunday School lesson. It is not an article in the Ensign. This is not a talk in General Conference. It has no pretense of being doctrine. It’s fantasy and it’s a musical comedy at that. It is out of the realm of doctrine.
Here’s something that people need to understand. It is what I call extra-doctrinal. There are things that are undoctrinal. These are things that directly conflict with the doctrine. But something extra-doctrinal is something that is outside of the doctrine. You could take everything we know about the pre-existence and you could put it in a tiny paragraph. So anyone who writes anything about the pre-existence, they are going to be exploring territory that is extra-doctrinal. But here is the irony of it.
Through the years I’ve had thousands of letters of people whose patriarchal blessings said they did choose each other in the pre-existence. Do we throw out all of these patriarchal blessings?
It is extra-doctrinal—and does it hurt anybody? No. If we were to say something undoctrinal, that would be different. To say that God wasn’t an anthropomorphic being, but is just a big spirit out there, that would actually be destructive to faith. But to say that we loved each other and cared for each other for eternity, does that hurt anything? How do you deal with all these patriarchal blessings?
Meridian: Orson Whitney did say, of course, we expect that the relationships that we build in this life we will take to the next life, and, of course, we expected that the relationships we built in the pre-mortal world would come with us here.
Lex: We’ve also had our Church leaders caution us that singles shouldn’t be waiting for the one and only.
Meridian: So you’ve had people hound you over the years to do a film version of Saturday’s Warrior. Why do it now?
Lex: Why do this now? For forty years I have resisted. I have had people through the years want to fund it and approached me about doing it, and I resisted, mostly because I didn’t know how to do it, nor did I think it could be done any better than it was done as a stage play.
Saturday’s Warrior is kind of hallowed ground. It is hallowed by the lives that it has changed and for 40 years hardly a week has passed when someone hasn’t come up to me and expressed with great emotion how it has changed their life.
I’ve always thought I’d rather let it rest in peace than do something less than it deserved.
Then, we were living in Brazil last year and we were on a “mission.” We had sold our house in Utah and we thought we’d be there for about three years. One night I heard a voice in the middle of the night. It prompted me and said, “Go home and make Saturday’s Warrior.”
What is the craziest thing is that my daughters two years ago had been pushing me to make it and I said, “No. It’s a stage play. Leave it alone.”
Then the next night I had this same strong prompting. We had just bought a car in Brazil, but I said to my wife, “Honey, I think we are supposed to go home and make Saturday’s Warrior.”
We came home, but I didn’t know how we were going to do it. Once I had finally made up my mind to move ahead with the project in successive nights I saw the whole show laid out before me and knew how we could do it. Now I am so excited because it will be better than the original stage play.
We’ve opened it up in a way. This movie is less about religion and church and more about people, and about the idea that there’s more to life than just what we see.
Meridian: What are the differences between this new film and the stage play that was so popular some time ago?
Lex: The problem with the video that was created from the play is that they filmed the stage play. That doesn’t work. Film is a different medium. When you go from one medium to another you have to adapt to the medium.
What we are doing is Saturday’s Warrior, but it is more complete. In the original stage play you didn’t know anything about the parents. Who was Mr. Flinders? Who was Mrs. Flinders? You didn’t know anything about Tod who was betrothed to Julie in the pre-earth life. They pledge their love in the pre-earth life and then he just shows up in the park.
What we have been able to do in the film is flesh out these characters. We make it San Francisco in early 1972, hippies in the park and bell bottoms, long hair and the whole thing. That keeps the theme zero population meaningful, because the book The Population Bomb came out and that was a big issue. When you do a period piece you do it about the issues of the day. If you set a film in the thirties, your issue is prohibition. Prohibition is not an issue today, but you still enjoy the piece. The family is caught up in this zero population issue because they are a huge family.
In this new version of Saturday’s Warrior, Mr. Flinders had wanted to be a professor at Columbia in New York and she was a talented singer, dancer, and actress. She wanted to be on Broadway.
They had plans to go to New York when they got married, but what happened? His Dad got sick, then they had twins, and then life happened, and he ends up as a music teacher in a small town.
So he has this big family and they have a family act like the Osmonds or the Partridge Family, but their oldest son, Jimmy, is a highly gifted singer/songwriter/guitar player. Think Jim Morrison of the Doors. Along with playing with his family band, he’s also in a counter-culture band like the Grateful Dead or the Doors.
He and the band write a song called “Zero Population” which zooms to number one on the charts, launching the band to be the top band in the United States and just devastating the family. It affects their livelihood because he was kind of the Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five or Diana Ross of the Supremes. So you have that conflict and then you have that he would write this song.
The other thing we do is give Tod a back story. We see Tod’s life when he sings “Paper Dreams.” When he comes to earth he is born in a trailer to an abusive father, alcoholic mother. The kid gets beat up by bullies. He wonders, “Who am I? Just a wandering kid, a cypher on the wall, not really brave at all.”
In the song we see him as a teen, picks his Mom up and puts her in bed, kisses her, picks up his knapsack and leaves home to see the world. He goes to India looking for truth, hoping to find a guru, he goes to the Big Sur area in northern California. He is a seeker of truth and an artist and he ends up in San Francisco, Golden Gate Park where he runs into the missionaries. We now know who these characters are and we care more about them. That’s the big difference and we’ve set it in a musical setting. It is a musical family with their own band. Jimmy is in a group called Warrior.
Meridian: How is the music different from the original?
Nobody has ever heard the music to Saturday’s Warrior that I envisioned. The reason being what became the original stage play was a stake production which we did in LA and I did a demo recording for the cast and choir—just me on piano, drums and bass and the thing took off and we couldn’t stop it and that is what people think the music is.
Now they’ll hear the music with orchestra, the rock songs they’ll hear with guitars, fully fleshed out. I have deleted several songs and there are four new ones in the show. It is still very much Saturday’s Warrior, but it is much more meaningful to us today.
Meridian: With trepidation I ask, what are the deleted songs?
If I tell you I am liable to get hate mail. One of them is “Daddy’s Nose.” There’s a nod to Daddy’s nose when Mr. Flinders is having rehearsal with the family he comes out and says I’ve got this great idea for a comedy song in our family act. He puts on his glasses and big nose and he says, “It’s come to me. We’ve all got Daddy’s nose and the gag is ‘even Mom’s got it.’” The kids look at their Dad and say “That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life.” That’s how we deal with it and then we throw it out.
Meridian: Tell me about the songs you’ve added.
We’ve added an opening number for Alex Boye who is in charge of this little part of the pre-mortal world. We’ve added a song called “In the Blink of an Eye”. He is the new heavenly maître d’. As he ushers people to earth, he sings life is just a blink of an eye. “Whether you’re short or tall or big or small, your neighbor’s hot, but your man is not, make the best of what you’ve got.” It’s this big gospel number.
We wrote an extra number for Tod to sing in the park. It’s called “There’s Got to Be More to Life than Just What We See”. There’s a number we wrote for Jimmy’s band—kind of a 70’s rock number, and then we’re considering putting in a final concert number for Jimmy after he’s changed his life. It’s the story of the Prodigal Son basically and he comes back home.
This is a few years later and you see him cleaned up, a new Jimmy. He is no longer with his counter-culture rock group. He’s more like a Billy Joel, and he is at the piano singing more of a dignified song.
Meridian: Will this have interest beyond the Mormon community?
Lex: We hope it will. We have made it less churchy, less religious, although it is set with an LDS family. “Fiddler on the Roof” is a Jewish story, but it’s for everybody and “Schindler’s List” is for everybody and “Witness” was set in Amish community. It’s more about there’s just more to life than just this life. It is less preachy, less in your face than the original Saturday’s Warrior.
Meridian: So when does this come out?
Lex: It’s going to come out in spring of 2016.
Meridian: How are you doing on the distribution?
We have a distribution and we’re ready to go. We won’t hit with a national distribution at first. We will launch it locally in Utah first and build up to big box offices and then take it city by city after that.
Meridian: Any signature touches in the show?
Lex: We thought it would be funny if during the park scene, there were two guys playing checkers and they were Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Harry Reid. Hatch said yes and Reid said no—and they always say its Republicans who have no sense of humor. Governor Herbert came up to do a scene with us. We even thought it would be fun during the airport scene to have a gray-haired President Uchtdorf look-alike rush down the hall as they are calling for the pilot. We’re having fun with this show.
What’s next on the docket for Lex de Azevedo?
I started doing some comtempoary classic oratorios. Many people are familiar with “Gloria” on the birth of Christ that was shot in Israel with a Jerusalem Symphony and aired on PBS stations. I did “Hosanna”, the last days of the life of Christ and I am writing “Alleluia” about the teachings of Christ. In the area of film, Carol Lynn Pearson and I have written a musical about a young girl with a religious background who comes in second place in the American Idol because she refuses to sing the song that would have won her first place. It is a cute story.
We are also talking about doing “My Turn on Earth” as a motion picture.
Here is a list of the cast and crew for the production:
Executive Producers–Lex de Azevedo, Emilie de Azevedo Brown, Rachel de Azevedo Coleman
Composer–Lex de Azevedo
Based on Stage Musical by–Lex de Azevedo, Doug Stewart
Movie Rewrite–Lex de Azevedo, Michael Buster, Heather Ravarino
Director of Photography–Mike Schaertl
Associate Producer–Heather Ravarino
Wardrobe Designer–Jennifer “Iffer” Mitchell
Heavenly Guide–Alex Boye’
Julie–Monica Moore Smith
Elder Kestler–Clinton Pulver
Elder Greene–Morgan Gunter