Film Festival Musings

Those of you who are more culturally aware probably know that there’s a film festival going on here in Utah.

No, not that Sundance thing — I’m talking about the Fourth LDS Film Festival.

My boss was gracious enough to allow me to take an extra-long lunch hour to go hear LDS author and movie producer Dave Wolverton (a.k.a. David Farland) speak about screenwriting.

Much of what he said applies to screenwriting (or writing) in general, but he had some interesting things to say about LDS movies. For example, he said that LDS films tend to back away from romance: “How much can you do with lingering looks?”

But the most important point he made was that so far, the demographic targeting of LDS films seems to be off. Where are the family movies, movies in which kids play an important part?

I think he has a point. Family films seem like they would be a natural fit with LDS filmmakers, but in looking at this list of box office recipts for LDS films, it seems all of the ones not involving young prophets are about people of college age or older.

Is it time for LDS filmmakers to shift their focus from missionaries and young single adults?

18 comments for “Film Festival Musings

  1. I wonder whether LDS cinema might not still be working with a “home literature” model; that is, (some) LDS film aims to provide home-produced and community-standard-compliant entertainment to replace inappropriate content from Hollywood. In the case of family-oriented movies, the Hollywood versions of which are (presumably, though not necessarily) already family-friendly, there’s no need for the home-produced replacement.

  2. I also think that it’s easier to market films to Mormon young adults and teenagers — that’s the crowd that is going to repeat showings, go as a group, buy the dvd for repeat showings (at FHE, etc.) — and doesn’t have to pay for babysitting.

    Thus the success of The Singles Ward, etc.

  3. Oh yeah — and along with that — it’s the demographic most likely to hear about things through word of mouth and the Internet.

    It’s much more difficult to reach the older Mormon market for something time sensitive like a film showing — my guess is that the older market is more likely to hear about LDS products via mailings or trips to an LDS bookstore. Neither of which really works for film.

  4. Eric James Stone’s idea about The Alliance being made into a movie is a good one. I liked that book too. I hope I’m not being naive and responding to a sarcastic comment. :)

  5. Mission movies aren’t going away anytime soon — the dramatic possibilities are too great. For that matter, the comedic potential is pretty high as well. It’s a ready-made genre. Stories involving missionaries provide a perfect platform for exploring issues of interest to Mormons without having to strain to find a situation in which those issues might arise.

    Note that some non-LDS filmmakers have exploited the rich vein of associations surrounding Mormon missionaries.

  6. The Alliance!

    A pretty decent sci-fi book. Not great, but enjoyable – and it would make a really cool movie.

    Plus – it would be based on a book by a general authority!!! (We have a sci-fi writer as a General Authority now – how cool is that?)

    I’m all for it.

  7. By the way, for those who check the link and read the list of movies that are up at this LDS film festival, my cousin Greg Neil was highly involved with the creation of the movie “Think Tank.” I don’t know much about it but I’ll be interested to see it when the opportunity arises. I hope the movie is well received and is a success.

  8. What about the recent release of “Work and the Glory” in Utah? My mom and I went and saw it over Christmas, and I thought it was decent. Not groundbreaking film, but certainly better than almost all of the Mormon cinema I’ve seen. I went on Christmas day, but the theater was packed. I wonder if getting beyond the youth demographic means spending enough on production value to get noticed in the mainstream news media? i.e. the better the “home literature” films get, the more money will be spent, the more audience, the better the films….

  9. I’m not convinced that lack of budget is the biggest obstacle to creating great LDS films. No doubt, lack of budget can be a formidable obstacle, but no amount of budget can fix bad writing. We need good writers. We need writers who can handle the core elements (i.e., story, script, score, etc.) with some degree of artistic maturity so as to not be seduced by fleeting novelties.

  10. Jack –

    hmmm. I think the same thing should apply to 80% to 90% of the scripts filmed in Hollywood. I don’t think lack of good writers is strictly an LDS thing – it’s a film industry thing.

  11. OK, I’m a bit weird. On some level I’ve enjoyed just about every LDS movie I’ve seen. Granted, there are some I’ve enjoyed more than others. I think the best drama is “Brigham City” hands down. The Sacrament Meeting scene at the end always leaves me blubbering like a baby. This movie teaches me a lot about forgiveness and redemption. Although now that I think of it, “Saints and Soldiers” is a pretty close second…

    The best comedy (as defined by the one that made me laugh the most) is either “The RM” or “The Sons of Provo”. Which I reviewed recently at my blog…

    I haven’t seen “Work and the Glory” yet, but it’s on my list.


  12. Ivan,

    Yes you’re right, the same holds true for hollywood – generally speaking. My concern is that we (not just LDS) tend to approach film more as a technology than a literature. Therefore, what we have is a mechanistic view of what ought to be an organic creation. I think film is most meaningful when it is considered literature. And when the literature is well conceived and understood then it will serve as the root out of which all other facets of the art will grow. When film is considered more of a technology then there is a tendency to work from the outside in. And when we’ve got it backwards no amount of money will insure that we’ll get it right. No amount of money would have corrected the Book of Mormon movie because there was no comprehension of the literature (and I don’t mean the BoM per se). They may have produced a “prettier” movie but it would have remained seriously flawed.

  13. Jack –


    That’s what went wrong with the Star Wars franchise. Lucas is so in love with the technology of it (look, every scene has at least 31 digital effects in it! Look, we filmed the entire film in digital – no film stock!) that the story became secondary or even tertiary.

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