M* Interviews: LDS Film-maker Richard Dutcher

The following is a transcript of a conversation I had yesterday with LDS writer-producer-director-editor-actor Richard Dutcher. Mr. Dutcher spoke very frankly about his excellent new film God’s Army 2: States of Grace, filmmaking, and the state of Mormon cinema. The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Some of your recent press has referred to you as the “Father of Mormon Cinema.†How does that title feel on you?

Well, I suppose that would have been true at one time, but the father may be leaving the family soon.

You mean you might be charting a new direction now?

Well, I may not really have much choice.

Depending on how States of Grace does—it’s exactly the kind of movie that I want to make, and the kind of film that I think should be made in the LDS community. So if it’s not accepted by the LDS community, then I’m going to still make the kind of films I want to make. If I can’t make them here I’ll make them somewhere else.

Have you felt a little confined in what the audience is accepting, regarding films you might want to make?

Not yet. I was disappointed after the lack of financial success of Brigham City. I was very disappointed for a while because that was the kind of film that I wanted to make, and so I was hoping for the support of the community so that I could continue to make films like that. In making States of Grace, I wasn’t ready to give up on that. But there were a lot of marketing and distribution mistakes made with Brigham City, so one thing I wanted to do with States of Grace was to return with a similar kind of movie. Naturally you can’t make all the right decisions on the release, but at least give it another try and see how it would go. So I guess we’ll watch and see how States of Grace performs.

Well at least critically you’re doing very well. Are you pleased with the buzz so far?

Yes, very much so. The film definitely works for the audience. But it’s always just a challenge of getting an audience into the theater. So we’re getting very good word of mouth, excellent reviews. In fact, I couldn’t ask for better reviews—couldn’t pay for better reviews.

Well, I thought the bar was set pretty high by the reviews, but this show lived up to everything I’d heard. It seems like in this movie you’ve condensed into a single narrative a lot of the fundamental elements of a very Mormon story, but at the same time it does come off as pretty relevant to everyone, beyond just Mormons. Is this a Mormon story for Mormons, or a story for everyone, or both?

I would see it as a story coming out of Mormonism that’s accessible to, if not all people, then all religious people. Naturally someone who doesn’t believe in God at all, this isn’t a movie that they’d respond to. But hopefully they’d respond at a human level. I was trying to tell a very true human story. Hopefully on that level, others can relate to it regardless of their own background.

That was my first reaction to the movie-— how human it is. To me it’s almost a surprise to see that in a Mormon film because so much of LDS cinema is so self-conscious. This movie has no defensiveness, and also no self-mockery. There’s no need to explain or laugh at Mormon quirks, etc. The upshot is that the religion and the people come off as less strange than in works that try harder to defend Mormonism. How did you get to a place where you could portray it that objectively? Is there something in your background that gives you a more neutral perspective?

I don’t know. My early childhood of course wasn’t LDS. I didn’t grow up in Utah. You know, my father’s family was Baptist, and my Mother’s family is Pentecostal—and they still are. When I visit my grandmother, I attend Pentecostal meetings with her. When I’m in L.A., I attend Catholic Mass. I think in my life I’ve been exposed to, and I’ve participated in, other religious communities. So I definitely have a respect for all of those belief systems. And real affection for the people too—it’s not just that I tolerate their beliefs. There are things I appreciate in those cultures that I want to bring into my own life. And I think that does come across in the film, where there are things like Baptist and Pentecostal music, since there are characters that are Baptist and Pentecostal.

I liked how that kind of Ecumenical view seems to come out in the film, in that everybody doesn’t have to be converted at the end. So you have one theme on the one hand where redemption is available to everyone. But on the other hand you have a very strong recurring motif in all of your movies of the importance of Priesthood ordinances. So in saying that everyone can find grace, how does the special-ness of Priesthood ordinances, that are just for the LDS people, play into that?

Hmm- that’s a good question. I think in this film I wanted the ordinance to play into the story as part of the cultural environment. But I didn’t emphasize it as I did in the first God’s Army. I didn’t make any statement on it—I just observed it. And I think that’s the direction I’ll continue to go in the future, as more of an observational approach than making a value judgment on the ordinances, whether they be Mormon, Catholic, Baptist, whatever. I think I’m finding that I’m becoming more comfortable just letting them be what they are, and not making statements on them.

Here’s what I see as the central problem in Mormon art: Often the artist wants to bring the audience to a moment of redemption, but you often have to show some sin and grief leading up to that. The choice is to be honest about the ugly stuff and risk alienating a sensitive audience, or soft-peddle the sins, and get to a redemptive moment that often lacks weight. I notice a progression in your films of becoming more and more confident in the former option. Did you consciously make that choice?

This is something I really hold myself to when writing and directing. I’m just trying to tell the truth. And that gets difficult, as there are a lot of different interpretations of the truth. So I take it from my point of view, and my experience. And that plays out in so many ways, not just the kind of story that I choose to tell, but where the story goes, and what happens within the story.

Does that analysis take any account of what the audience is willing to accept? Is that a confinement for you in writing?

(Laughs) No. Especially not when I’m first going through it, I really don’t think about it. And this is what I think is the main problem in the LDS arts, and specifically in LDS filmmaking. It’s that with LDS filmmakers, all they’re thinking about is the audience. Only in a few instances has it even begun to be an art form of personal expression. Nobody’s expressing anything personal, nobody’s exploring anything personal or meaningful in the doctrine, the history, etc. I refer to it as a Burger King way of making films—special orders don’t upset us, if you don’t want pickles on it, okay, we’ll take the pickles out. That really disturbs me and I think it handicaps our cultural and artistic progress. And that’s what produces this kind of art that talks down to an audience. When a filmmaker is judging what the audience is going to want—they will take this and they won’t take this—he doesn’t even know. He’s doing a lot of supposition. So I think that’s a real problem, and something I try to avoid. It may work, it may not. That’s where I am right now. I’m giving the audience a lot of credit, and saying I hope they take this. But if they don’t, I’m not going to change it, and I’m not going to go make Halestorm movies if it doesn’t work. I’ll just go find an audience that will take it.

Do you feel any sense of affirmatively trying to challenge the audience?

No. I don’t have a cause. I’m not trying to lift Mormon arts or anything like that. Here’s a story that’s important to me, and I’m going to tell it as honestly as I can. And because I’m Mormon, and Mormonism is such a fundamental part of my being, Mormonism is going to come out in it. But I’m not trying to change the audience. This is my story, that’s it. You see, I know there’s an audience for my kind of films. And my approach is different. I don’t see an audience and then make a film for that audience. I make a film, and then try to find the audience that will like it, or hope that it will find it’s own audience. The difficulty is of course that maybe the audience that is there for it isn’t quite big enough to justify the budget you need to make a movie. But still, my investors know what they’re getting into. And they invest because they’ve seen what I’ve done before, and they know what I’m doing. We all know that it may or may not work. But even if it doesn’t work financially, I’ll be proud of States of Grace til the end of my days. There’s two parts to it, and Mormon filmmakers often just think about the one part—is it going to make money. I think that’s unfortunate, because as much as I’d love to make a profit for my investors and to make money, I’d much rather have spent a couple years of my life on something I’m proud of.

This is the first time you’ve done a film that you haven’t starred in. How did that change your approach to directing?

Well, I liked it more in some ways, and less in some ways. I noticed it freed me up to play a little more, as a director, which is a lot of fun. But I also noticed it was very much a different experience, because when you’re acting in something you connect with the material and with the other actors in a different way. It gets inside you more. When you’re a director, you’re like the chef, putting it together and adding the ingredients. And when you’re acting, you’re eating it. So I noticed that I had a different relationship with the film than I would have had if I had acted in it. And I had a different relationship with the actors and characters in the film than I would have if I were in it. So I definitely enjoyed it, but it was a less complete experience.

As we’ve seen a gradual increase in talent and sophistication in Mormon cinema, do you think you might be tempted to be more collaborative in future projects, or will you stick to the writing-directing-producing- editing-acting thing?

I’ll probably be less collaborative as time goes by, unfortunately. Although I did a rewrite on a script called Fly Boys last year. And that was interesting to take their script, rewrite it, give it to them and walk away. I saw the film recently and it was such a gratifying experience to just be able to write something and see somebody else go out and go through all the hell to get it made. So I can see that, I can see writing and walking away from things, or acting and walking away from things. But when it comes to the films that I’ll direct and produce, I’ve found that you put yourself so much at risk, and it takes so much of your life that I can’t anticipate being passionate enough about somebody else’s script. I certainly wouldn’t produce for anyone else, because I don’t enjoy producing. So to go through that kind of hell it has to be something that I really, really believe in.

People have misinterpreted my way of filmmaking as some kind of egotistical exercise. But to me, if I can do something, I want to do it. If you paint a big canvas and then have someone else paint this little corner, or someone else come paint this because I don’t do figures very well, that’s what this feels like. If I can do it, I should do it. I leave the things that I don’t do well to others. I let somebody else do the music composition, etc.—put the frame on the canvas. But I think every film would benefit from the filmmaker doing absolutely as much he can. I guess the trick is recognizing what you don’t do very well. If someone can tell you that though, you’re okay. Like Mel Brooks—somebody should have told Mel Brooks “stay out of the movie, just stay out of it!â€

This year would have been a pretty good time to release your Joseph Smith epic, “The Prophet.†Has it been bittersweet for you to be releasing States of Grace this year instead of “The Prophet?â€

Well, I would have loved to release “The Prophet†too. But I’ll get to that one.

Is that up next?

That’s up whenever I can get it made. I keep referring to it as my “Gangs of New York.†It may take 20 years, but I’ll do it. And when I do it, it’ll blow everyone else’s version of Joseph Smith out of the water. But that’s been an incredible experience over the past four years trying to get that going. And yes, I’d love to have done it by now. But every year that goes by I get to develop it a little bit more, the script gains a little more depth, a little more truth.

Is financing the main problem? Has the financing picture in LDS films gotten any better in the last five years?

It’s all financing problems. And no, the picture hasn’t gotten better. It’s gotten very bad. The films are just not performing very well at all right now. If Mobsters and Mormons had been released two and a half years ago, it would have done much better. Even though that film has some technical problems, it’s by far the best of the LDS comedies—by far. But because of where it’s coming in the timeline, it’s performing far below what the other films did.

Is this just a problem of saturation?

Yes. Well, not so much saturation, but that there’s so much crap that’s come down the pipeline.

So we need a winnowing?

Well, it’s worse than that. It’s not going to be so much a winnowing. It’s going to make it very difficult for anyone to get films made in the near future. The Work and the Glory, the new one, is performing far below what the first one did, and what it needs to do in order to come close to being profitable.

And that’s despite some pretty decent reviews.

Yes, and I thought Sterling Van Wagenen, the director, did a wonderful job with it. It’s interesting to me, because I was out of it for a while after God’s Army and Brigham City, where all these films have come out in the meantime. And when I came back with States of Grace, and started jumping into the marketplace, there was such a dramatic difference in the energy—the interest of media, the interest of audiences, the interest of everybody. It’s been a real uphill battle. It’s not so much saturation. If we’d had great movies, the excitement would have built. The audience has become very jaded, and they have such low expectations for Mormon film that they don’t get too excited about going out and seeing one. That’s something I’ve really been battling.

Returning to this ‘elder statesman’ role of yours, tell me your broad prognosis and prescription for what you think is going to happen in this genre.

I think over the next year things will fade away. And there will be a real dry spell for several years until an audience starts to want to see these films again. Hopefully there will be another generation of filmmakers, or the current group will have honed their skills a little better, and there will be a resurgence. Next year, you won’t notice it so much because there’ll be leftovers of things that were made this year, but I think it’s really going to trickle away.

Do you see any solutions?

The only thing that could work is a successful box office for the films that will come out over the next six or eight months. But from my vantage point, I don’t see it happening. I see what happened to Mobsters and Mormons, and I see what’s happening to The Work and the Glory 2. And again these are two of the best films we’ve had in their respective sub-genres of our genre. I see what’s happened there, and I see the uphill battle I’m fighting with States of Grace, and it’s tough to know what to do.

But a film like States of Grace has some pretty broad themes. Is there a chance to cross-market it to other audiences?

I’m doing my best to do that. We tried to make inroads into the non-Mormon Christian community. Unfortunately we haven’t had much success there because there’s such long-term prejudice there to overcome. And we’re trying to go the independent road as well. We just take it day to day, trying to see where a new audience might be. But it’s an interesting film in that respect. We submitted it to the L.A. Film Festival and the director of the festival loved it-wanted it in the festival. Then he submitted it to the selection committee and every single one of them came back with a reject on it. And the reason, he told me, was that they said it was ‘too Jesus-y.’ So that gave me an indication of how the independent community would take it. And it’s too Mormon-y for the Christians. So it may take a while. We’re trying to do something that’s really difficult, and that’s the sad thing about the Mormon audience becoming less enthusiastic and less supportive of LDS film.

Well, regardless of how it works out financially for States of Grace, you’re to be congratulated on making deeply moving film. This is the first time I’ve considered a Mormon movie to be art, and I loved it. I appreciate your time. Good luck with all of the campaigning to get this film out where it needs to be.

Thank you.

59 thoughts on “M* Interviews: LDS Film-maker Richard Dutcher

  1. Wow Ryan. You’re becoming quite the journalist. Great interview.

    I lament the comment from the LA film festival about its religiosity. The board might have been referring to the tastes of its audience, but either way, that’s some pretty good evidence of an anti-Christian bias in Hollywood. You’d think the Passion would have changed some minds, but these people clearly maintain a bias.

  2. Ryan, great interview, loved your questions. Richard is exactly right, Mobsters and Work & Glory 2 are two of the best. We are already palying Mobsters at our $1.00 theater because it didn’t last very long at the first run theaters. They were going to give it to us even later, after they gave it a chance in other markets. They decided to give it to us now before it lost all it’s name recognition in “Happy Valley”.

    We’ve had the LDS film festival at our theater the last two years in a row, and the quality of the LDS films has dropped. Hopefully God’s Army 2 will bring some life back to the LDS market.

    Pass the word and get your friends to see it.

  3. A fine interview, but I think the subject got off easy on a few of his answers. I would suggest that the reason the ‘Mormon Audience’ has become less enthusiastic toward films offered by LDS film makers has more to do with the lack of quality within the genre than their desire (or lack thereof) to support other LDS in the arts. A good story, properly marketed, will find an audience. In this internet age, the same can be said for music, literature, and the other arts as well. No artist should expect his or her creation to be embraced by an audience based on religious ties or community identification. Some facets of our identity will never be accepted by society at large. Lamenting the L.A. Film Festival’s lack of interest is a waste of time, while trying to appeal to them would be a waste of effort. When LDS artists begin writing, releasing films, or composing and singing with the talent and passion of a Martin Scorsese, U2, or Mark Twain, the audience will be there.

  4. Ouch. What a depressing interview. Mormons aren’t interested in Mormon movies because of all the dreck (contra Mr. Carlston, Richard Ducther is very upfront about this) and, its hinted, because anythign heavy divides the Mormon audience, Christians aren’t interested because there’s Mormons in it, and the secular world isn’t interested because it doesn’t appeal to their prejudices. Aargh!

    Unfortunately (again contra Mr. Carlston) we’re seeing that quality doesn’t create its own audience.

  5. I need to mention one facet of LDS cinema that Richard may be missing. I hope he reads the comments here. I absolutely LOVED God’s Army. On Sundays I would take it out and show it to my kids and to members of my ward. It was uplifting, inspiring and faith-promoting. I have probably seen it 10 times, and my kids have seen it just as many. Yes, explaining the prostitutes was a bit rough, but we got through that. I LOVED Brigham City even more. Artistically, it is an even better film. Great performances. Michael Medved, a great movie reviewer, really liked it. But there is one big problem: I have never let my kids see Brigham City, and I probably won’t until they are teenagers (although obviously they may see it on their own). The violence would simply upset them too much. They get nightmares very easily, and dead red-haired women would give them nightmares for weeks. I have never invited people from my ward over to see it either. Obviously, some of the adults would enjoy it, but what do you do about your kids while you’re watching it? Now, when Richard looks at why Brigham City was not as successful as he wanted commercially, he needs to consider the fact that Mormons have lots of kids and are protective of their kids. Many Mormons I know are likely to let their young kids buy and watch a PG movie but not a scary PG-13 murder mystery. So, if you’re going to sell to Mormons you need to keep in mind the buying and viewing habits of your audience. Yes, Brigham City was a wonderful movie, and I’m certain that States of Grace is too. But if it is extremely violent, as I think it is, I will be responsible for showing it to fewer people, and I think a lot of Mormons will do the same thing.

    I have no problem with artists expressing themselves however they want. But for the first 40 years or so of film, artists were able to express themselves without resorting to swearing or extreme violence. Why can’t artists do that today? (Please keep in mind that I do not live anywhere where States of Grace is playing so I cannot comment on its content — this is based solely on my assumptions given that it has a PG-13 rating).

    Another point: is is possible that the second Work and Glory movie is doing poorly at the box office because it is PG-13, instead of PG as the first one was? Again, I haven’t seen it because it didn’t show anywhere near where I live, but I know that I would take my kids to a PG movie without a problem whereas I would not take them to a PG-13 movie without seeing it first. (And this applies to Harry Potter and the last Star Wars movie as well).

    Before the chorus of snarkers start complaining about my over-protective and unsophisticated movie-watching habits, keep in mind that I am not alone. Many, many Mormon parents (perhaps a majority?) make movie-watching decisions similar to mine (although they don’t come on the internet to defend them). So, at the end of the day, Richard Dutcher may have a dilemma. He wants to make PG-13 movies for artistic reasons, but he will get less of an audience than if he made PG movies.

  6. I don’t see mormon movies at all (dreck factor), but I plan to see this. Thanks for the interview.

  7. Thanks for the interview. I’m really looking forward to seeing this film, and the reviews have been outstanding. Is there any word on when it will be showing outside Utah/Idaho?

  8. For those interested, I just posted my podcast interview w/ Richard at: http://sunstoneblog.com/?p=24.

    In this interview, he made a few very important comments, including:

    • Mormon Cinema is in big, big trouble in terms of producing unprofitable films
    • More importantly, Mormon Cinema is at big risk of losing its soul…by doing too many silly and unsubstantive movies, and not enough serious, relective ones (like God’s Army 2)
    • This incredible film is in trouble…because if more people don’t go and see it by next weekend, it will be pulled in preparation for Harry Potter. This could have serious implications for the future of serious Mormon Cinema (vs. Silly Mormon Cinema)
    • As a result, Richard himself considers it possible that this could be his last film directed squarely at Mormon audiences, and I would consider this to be a big shame.

    Thanks to M* for promoting this very important movie. Kudos to you….

    And to all of you within the sound of my textual voice, PLEASE GO SEE THIS MOVIE, and PLEASE TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS!!!!! I promise you will not be disappointed.

  9. This is a great interview, Ryan. Since I rarely if ever get to the movie theater, I’ll be waiting for a DVD release.

  10. One of the reasons why the Director of the LA Film Festival would want it in is that from what I’ve read, States of Grace is very good, and he’s LDS. (He used to be my EQ President before we moved from Santa Monica. I believe he’s in the bishopric now.)

  11. Comment #13 raises an interesting question. I understand that DVD sales are becoming a very important part of movie revenues. I can’t remember exact figures, but my recollection is that the increase is on the order of hundreds of percent in recent years.

    Two factors work against the success of Mormon movies in theatrical release. One is the prohibitive cost of taking a family to a full price movie in a theater. Two is the fact the much of the Mormon audience is now too widely scattered to support theater runs outside of Utah/Idaho.

    I’m wondering if maybe in order to survive Mormon cimena needs to readjust its economics toward a DVD-driven model rather than a theatrical run model. Such a model offers less prestige than a strong theatrical release, but it seems clear from the factors referred to above that Mormon cimema isn’t going to get much respect in the movie world anyway no matter how good it is.

  12. George, I’m surprised you think it’s a waste of time to try and find a broader audience for this movie. Getting into independent film festivals is always a crucial step in such campaigns. I understand your pessimism given the result of Dutcher’s attempt, but I don’t think it was a waste of time.

    I think your confidence in the market is naive. Good films often don’t find audiences. It happens all the time. To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that marketing, distribution, and flukes have nothing to do with cinematic success. They all do, so when the marketing message is off, the distribution channels mis-read the geography and demography of the audience, or some other random event changes the scene (weather, ratings boards, etc), a good film might not find an audience at all.

    Further, Mr. Dutcher has clearly stated what he thinks is the ‘fluke’ that is making it hard for good Mormon films to find the audience. There is just too much junk coming out. A few months ago I was vaguely aware of the releases of Baptists at Our Barbecue, Suits on the Loose, and Mobsters and Mormons. Because I don’t know a lot of people who see Mormon cinema, I had no way of knowing, short of seeing each of these films, which of the three was the one worth seeing. I told Dutcher after our interview that there is indeed a message problem, as I (a casual but interested observer of the Mollywood scene) had never heard a word distinguishing M&M from those other comedies. I’m glad he’s now told me that M&M is worth seeing, but it’s too late for that show now. He fears we’ll lose that director from the LDS cinema scene now, because it’s just not worth it for him to stick around here.

  13. JWL, I differ with your last statement. I don’t think anyone’s said that LDS cinema simply can’t survive because of inherent problems with making movies for Mormons. I think the allegation is that because of our specific history, in which the field has been completely filled with 90% garbage, the audience has become weary, wary, and indifferent. While Dutcher predicts a real dry spell in a year, I can’t imagine that the genre won’t come back more mature and thoughful some time after that, having learned the lessons of the bubble, like all sophisticated industries do. But you’re right that even the best movies, marketed under the best circumstances, to the most enthusiastic audiences, can only go so far if made exclusively for Mormons. That’s a fact of life, until we start converting more people.

    I think Geoff B. makes some really good points about audience demographics. There’s no question that a really good movie that caters to both adults and kids could do very well. States of Grace is not that movie, and it’s not meant to be. In fact, I won’t recommend this movie to my parents, who love quality religious films, because they have an extremely low violence tolerance. So no, this movie just isn’t for everyone. But I wouldn’t wish for this movie to have been toned down for the kids, or my parents. It’s fantastic as is, just has some demographics problems.

  14. You may discount my following comment by the fact that I have no interest in Mormon movies, except that to the extent that there are people who enjoy watching them and people who enjoy making them, I wish them well.

    But why would it be bad for Richard Dutcher to go make other movies for a time? If he became a successful mainstream movie guy (I’ve seen none of his pictures but because I presume the praise of them is merited that he could be), wouldn’t he then be in a much stronger position to return and make his Mormon epic and get it the attention he wants? Kind of like John Travolta and “Battlefield Earth,” except good?

  15. So, I am watching the gospel doctrine vignette of Captain Moroni telling Zarahemnah to put down their weapons of war, a few years ago, and I think to myself, ‘Wow, the guy who plays Capt. Moroni does a really good job!’ I then turn on Singles Ward a few years later and what do i see, but Capt. Moroni, but to my chagrin he has returned from his mission, is inactive, hates the YSA, wants the hot little YSA rep, and is trashing mormonism through his so-called talentless stand-up gig, and then at the end of the movie he has the hot little RM YSA rep, has seemingly repented, and is now in a Bishopric. Capt. Moroni has done it all! There is a reason some actors should not cross that character bridge, this may be the best example of this ever!!

    Why would I go and see this dreck we are so supportively in love with when all I may see is ‘Capt. Moroni’ in various states of grace and because it is ‘Mormon Cinema’? So unbelieveable and so ridculous. Mormon cinema is dreck and so silly that it has no context to any sort of movie knowledgeable going person. I would be the only person laughing at the laugh track in the theatre because nobody else can relate!

    Mollywood is not he center, this Dutcher fellow needs to get out of there if he is that good then and move from Ivory-towers-ville of Utah, and then come back with the respect he may gain from paying his dues in the ‘real cinematogrphic context world’. Mormon cinema has no chance otherwise, and for what is put out currently, has no chance anyways because it has no viable and reality based context to the regular movie-paying public and that is why it is complete ‘Dreck’!

    I saw one quote above that thought that ND was a mormon-based movie which is utter fallacy just because the only reason that you could say that is because a ‘Mormon’ played the part and made the movie. Next thing you are all going to agree with is that the new movie ‘Walk the Line’ is mormon-based because it has a Mormon as one of the main actors — ummm, yes it does! ND found a good following because it has nothing to do with Mormonism and everything to do with the pop-culture of the day!

    DRECK, DRECK, DRECK, I SAY!!

  16. As a film-maker (I just finished editing my first film) I must say that I am disheartened by the lack of excitement that LDS have for LDS movies. But I must blame the film-makers for that.

    Lets face it, to me most of these LDS movies are really bad. I’ve only seen a couple and can say, they were really bad.

    Now my film which I made, a year later I have issues with it, but its not a mormon-y film. Its a real film. We need more real films. You dont have to have a shot of a book of MOrmon on the table, or some other church related artifact to show your LDS in the film. Just maek a movie.

    I honestly think that some of these film-makers need to make some movies for mainstream, I dont mean make boogie-nights 2, or some other dreck, but good movies, like Glory, or the Others, something that has a story, good production and values, but isnt churchy.

    I love church y stuff, I really really do. But I will be the first to admit, I respect it too much and dont think I have the skills to pull off something with a very religious tone, I’ll let the Church make those. I could never have made : Legacy, Testament or Restoration.

    But I can make a film that is about people. People who are good, or bad, mormomn or not and tell a fun story.

    Honestly I think skills brings butts to the seats. If you aint got the skills, people aint gonna see it, and lets face it, lately the LDS movies aint got skills.

    AJ

  17. I tend to agree Andres. While States of Grace sounds like one I might actually see, I’ve just not been interested in most of the LDS films. Further it seems like in a lot of ways people lowered expectations a lot simply because it was about them.

    I do think a lot of Mormons do make films that aren’t primarily Mormon. While there are lots of problems in working in Hollywood for obvious reasons, it does seem like there are many successful Mormons there.

    Personally I think the most successful LDS film is Napolean Dynamite precisely because it wasn’t so blatantly LDS and because it did communicate so well to non-Mormons. I’ve not seen it yet, but I’ve heard Saints and Soldiers does this as well. I’ve heard that it’s not as great as some LDS have made it, but it does manage to cross over well and not wear it’s Mormonism on its sleeve. (i.e. one could watch it and not be aware that it is Mormon)

    The other problem that many have pointed out is commercialism. The LDS market is a small one. Now that the novelty has worn off, is there enough that one can make money by only catering to the LDS audience? I don’t think so.

  18. The problem is not with the filmmakers, Andres. It’s with the consumers. The filmgoers like really bad content with no artistic value. That’s why Halestorm is making a lot of money and Brigham City bombed financially. Halestorm is simply capitalising on that.

  19. I think one big problem about the marketing of Dutcher’s movies is that they’ve done almost nothing to leverage the Internet. A simple blog about Dutcher’s upcoming work and thoughts would build great publicity for his films. But instead we get a complete dearth of information on his web site–no updates for years, with an almost contentless web site consisting of only a few pages.

    Another important thing to consider would be a simultaneous or near simultaneous release on DVD or iTunes video to reach a wider audience.

  20. glad I didnt pitch my idea to Halestorm last year! hah!

    well, if its the consumers or film-makers, to me thats almost a chicken before the egg question, or a art immitates life, or life immitates art question.

    I think good movies get seen. Its simple as that. Word of mouth has saved so many things and has brought many great movies the knowledge of the masses.
    My point is to make a good movie and people will get into it.

    I’m sure that dvd sales are what these companies count on, especially with the nitch LDS market. So people jsut need to talk about good ones.

    I personally would love to be able to buy the Work and the Glory DVD somewhere besides a LDS bookstore. I was so mad, driving to Best-buy, Walmart, Frys everywehre all over town to look for it, to find that I can only get it at a LDS book store which is like in LA ( I live in Ventura) or online. that sucks people.

    Please lets get them a distrubution deal for the dvd.

    oh and forget about christians seeing LDS movies, to them, that would be against thier faith and amount to watching a satanic ritual. Unfortunately I am not exaggerating.

  21. Ryan, the following comment of Dutcher’s was improperly edited: “I keep referring to it as my ‘Gangs of New York. It may take 20 years, but I’ll do it. And when I do it, it’ll blow everyone else’s version of Joseph Smith out of the water.”

    Dutcher never said that in the podcast. He said, “And when I do it, it’ll be better than that movie.” (meaning better than Gangs of New York). Dutcher comes off as much more humble in the podcast than you make him out to be in your editing job. Otherwise the transcript seems okay.

  22. “I think one big problem about the marketing of Dutcher’s movies is that they’ve done almost nothing to leverage the Internet.”

    Can’t argue with that. I would think that one minimum-wage intern paid to post updates on a website and run a chatty little blog would have more than justified the expense. Mormon movies primarily appeal to a niche market. This requires niche marketing techniques. Behold the Internet!

    And if you’ve done this previously, like, say, with God’s Army, then hopefully you have a collection of email addresses that you can use to inform people about your new movie, aka, God’s Army II.

    But this is the counsel of perfection. I’m not blaming Dutcher and I’m sad that initial returns have disappointed. I’ll buy the DVD, for sure, so I can at least see the movie.

  23. Carl, just so you know, this interview was a completely separate conversation from the Podcast done by John Dehlin over at Mormon stories. I transcribed the tape of my interview myself, and it is completely faithful to our conversation, with minor edits for ease in reading, and leaving out a few of the more minor questions and answers.

  24. I keep meaning to watch the DVDs we have of various LDS films. Maybe I’ll do that as a reward for getting to 25,000 words done on my first-draft novel. I’m sort of the opposite of Bryce — I want to see theatrical productions in a theatre. I sort of doubt there’s much point in trying to convince our one artsy theatre here in Columbus to play LDS movies (though there are 50,000 Mormons in Ohio… maybe if everyone in the Columbus stakes agreed to see it? hmmm) so I know I’ll never get a chance to see most of these movies in a theatre. And spending $10-20 on a movie you’ve never seen (and no one you know has seen), in order to see it on a small screen in your living room with cats jumping on you and the phone ringing and so forth, is a big gamble for someone on a limited entertainment budget.

  25. In my previous comment, I forgot to point out Mark Cuban and Steven Soderbergh’s plans to release a small budget film simultaneously on DVD, in theaters, and over satellite/cable PPV. This could be a possible model for smaller films if it works.

    Cuban and Soderbergh can afford to take gambles, though.

  26. It boils down to quality, in the end. You can make a movie that hits the market just right–like ND–and make a lot of money real quick. But it’ll fizzle out after the infatuation dies. But how about a movie like the Wizard of Oz? How much has that thing made over the last 70+ years? You know, it wasn’t a box office hit when it was first released. But over the years it has become one of the most beloved films of all time. Could it have become so if it were second rate? Over time it will always, ALWAYS be quality that will make the difference.

    I also think that Geoff B. makes a very important point about the LDS audience. If you want them to buy, then you have to be sensitive to the “standards” they (generally speaking) place above their committment to great art–which is nothing to scoff at, IMO. But even so, if it ain’t good it ain’t gonna last. Yeah, you may get a nice little flash of magnezium in the pan, but you can forget the long lasting embers that burn their way into our social consciousness.

  27. “That’s up whenever I can get it made. I keep referring to it as my “Gangs of New York.†It may take 20 years, but I’ll do it. And when I do it, it’ll blow everyone else’s version of Joseph Smith out of the water.”

    As if that were some great feat. And furthemeore, it comes across a little presumptuous because one never knows what might happen in a span of twenty years. There might be a world class LDS film-maker yet to make his/her mark who’s still in diapers.

  28. Another problem with Mormon films is there are not that many Mormon stories to tell. How many different missionary, home teaching, returned missionary etc. stories are there? Even the historical films have limits. We only have a two hundred year history. And we have heard all about our history a thousand times in sunday school/sacrament meeting/young men and women/primary. I already spend ten or more hours a week doing mormon stuff. Why would I want to see a movie about it? Its kind of like going to see a movie about my job.

    I go to a movies to be entertained, to escape.

  29. The movie has already been pulled from a number of screens this weekend. Let’s get out in force, Utah and Idaho bloggernaclers, and show that there is an audience for this movie.

  30. if church work was like ‘Office Space’ the movie, then perhaps it would make a good movie, but oh, wait a minute people have already taken those latter-day slants (nice segway) with ‘RM’ and ‘Singles Ward’, etc., and they are tired now! what’s next, ‘EQ’ or ‘YSA Gone Wild’ or…see boring and predictable…Mormon cinema is dying quickly, nuff said!!

    I just do not want to see a(nother) movie try and portray the melodramatic LDS lifestyle because there is no story there we have not heard of over the past however many years!! Tired and Boring!

    Suspected dialogue from future Mormon cinematic extravaganza:

    ‘Oh great, what now, am I being tried again? I don’t know if I can make it this time! I so hope I can pay my tithing in time to be able to have enough faith that I will be blessed enough to afford the MP3 player my child keeps having a temper tantrum about! Oh, I know this church is true because of the hope it gives me that all will be well; I won’t be able to pay fast offering though this time through, but God will love me anyways, right?!?’ ACCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKK, I’VE JUST BEEN DRECKED TO DEATH!!

    Let’s not make movies like this anymore!!

  31. Dutcher may be making the same mistake the studios were making for years. In my first 6th grade reading/writing class the teacher empasised that I need to know who my audience is. What films make the most money? Family oriented, well made films about a conflict involving good and evil (good triumps).

    Sounds formulaic, my goodness, a formula that works. Well, I wrote letters to Speilberg and others about what type of movies make money and a few years later studios seemed to focus more on PG-13 than R rated movies. I’m sure many wrote similar letters and the numbers don’t lie. The highest grossing R-rated film was Passion of the Christ and there are/were only 3-4 R-rated films in the top 50.

    Mormons are even more conservative than the country as a whole and if you’re making movies for them you need to think about what they want to see, not what you want them to see. At the very least you should find a workable balance.

  32. Just returned from seeing States of Grace with my wife tonight. Outstanding. I was reluctant to go, despite really enjoying God’s Army and Brigham City. I think the problem is as mentioned above–without watching them all, who can distinquish between Baptists at the Barbeque and Mobsters and Mormons. There is always some local “critic,” loyal to the genre, who hypes them all equally. As for financial viability, Mormon film has come of age and now joins the ranks of Mormon music, Mormon fiction, Mormon art, etc., etc. Talk to any serious Mormon artist–almost without exception, they are frustrated. They either make what they (and honest critics) consider good art and subsequently starve, or they copy the latest thing that seems to be selling at Deseret Book and feel like a sell-out. Why does most Mormon art look like Thomas Kinkade? Because thats the look that sells. Why does most Mormon music sound the same? Because Shadow Mountain won’t fund anything that parts ways with their loyal core audience for fear it won’t sell. Why are the only sculptures found in Mormon homes either a ceramic replica of the Cristus or some Captain Moroni bust? Because Mormons don’t know much about art (or music, or literature, or film.) Good grief, we can’t even get dissemination of good scholarship. If you want to be depressed, get the subscription numbers for BYU Studies or Dialogue. Hats off, at least, to Larry H. Miller and Richard Dutcher, for trying to make a difference.

  33. I side with Heli a little more than I do with Robert O–or should I say, O Robert! (nyuk, nyuk) Not only do the more “accessible” films invite a larger audience, they also tend to made of the stuff that sticks. I was dismayed when I read an article on Robert Wise (which was occasioned by his recent passing) wherein it was noted that “The Sound of Music” had become sort of a black mark on his resume as a film-maker. The critics were troubled by the fact that it had attained the lofty status of being the most viewed film (for a decade or so). I find it sad that they can’t see beyond what they feel is nothing but a lot of mush. Taken as a whole, “The Sound of Music” is truely great, with themes that resonate with most good folks everywhere. But even so, if it were poorly done there’s no way that it would have been so popular for so long regardless of how thematically endearing in might be.

  34. My problem is with the idea Robert O promulgates, specifically that anything that sells at Deseret Book is not artistic. The idea that good art is necessarily unpopular is so pervasive among the self proclaimed media intelligencia that people begin to believe terrific movies like The Sound of Music are not quality because it has a large following among the masses.

    This idea that an artist needs to choose between making “good art” or copy what sells. Hello, good art sells. While much of what we define as good classic art did not originally meet with praise among the critics of the day, you can take comfort that those artists starved as well.

    I don’t know if this logic applies to film or music especially in the LDS art world. Eminem might be true to his artistic self (NOT) but that would never sell to an LDS audience. Cuss Rap, even with LDS themes, probably would not be allowed by most mission presidents or parents, and would be avoided by righteous youth. I’m not saying Dutcher is promulgating anything like Cuss Rap, but he is trying to be “edgy” which is like Eminem to a lessor degree.

  35. I guess it gets down to whom do you trust as your art critic. I think it’s fairly self evident that the person who buys that Frieberg print at Deseret Book thinks its “good” art. My mother swears the Thomas Kinkade print over her fireplace was created by the greatest artist of all time. So we can all be egalitarian and dismiss the notion that there are objective standards for quality or we can try and become educated. It’s the old “I know what I like” being in reality “I like what I know.” I love Seinfeld but I’m sure not under any illusion that its great art.

    It’s not that there aren’t quality artists out there. It’s just hard to be a professional artist. I know personally that the folks at Shadow Mountain are very concerned about music getting “ahead” of their audience. If you ask most LDS musicians, they will acknowledge that the quality of non LDS contemporary christian music out there is far ahead of where we are. The main problem is that almost no one can afford to become a musician full-time in the LDS market. 90% of musican incomes come from concert receipts. In the church, almost all performances are uncompensated. You can’t even sell CDs at the venue. An artist gets at most 8% back from CD sales and thats after all the production, advertising, and marketing costs have been recouped. That doesn’t even begin to deal with all the illegal CDs burned for friends which is a huge issue for the label as well as for the audience. So we are left with part time hobbyists rather than full time professionals.

    Finally, “edgy” doesn’t need to be synonymous with profane. Edgy is simply anything people haven’t heard or seen before. And if by the comment, ‘While much of what we define as good classic art did not originally meet with praise among the critics of the day,’ you mean to imply that years from now “Charlie” will be considered a literary classic. . .

  36. Robert O.,

    I actually agree that there ought to be some sense of an “objective standard” as you say–though (sadly) I think that kind of standard will only be defined by a consensus among the “art-ologists.”

    That said, I think there’s a little hitch in your argument–

    You voice a concern having to do with the idea that good art doesn’t sell and therefore those artists who stay true to their craft are really more hobbyists that professionals–as they are unable to make a living. I think this must be true to some extent–though my guess is that we’ll find ourselves disagreeing over the exact extent to which it is true. The hitch is: you don’t believe that mormon cinema (generally) is failing financially because it is two lofty for the average mormon audience?

  37. Actually Jack, I believe that there is no truely objective standard. Artists produce in their respective medium and so-called experts are a group of people who have decided they like something specific.

    Let me clarify one other thing that I may have been unclear about. If art is good it will sell. The amount it will sell depends on how big the group that likes that particular genre. A country music artist can be just as talented as a classical music composer, but because more people like country music it will sell better. Sales and success depend on supply and demand, not quality or artistic integrity.

    I don’t beliee Mormon film is failing, just going through a learning phase. I definitely don’t think the films being made are “lofty,” were you being sarcastic? Its hard to tell sometimes in text. It sometimes sounds like Dutcher and other artists attempt to justify their lack of success by attacking the audience. If they didn’t like or go to my film they must not be sophisticated enough. Because they go to the cheesy comedies and not the more serious dramatic pictures doesn’t make them unsophisticated.

    What I’m really trying to say is if you want success then learn your audience and make a film they will like, it can be as intelligent as you want, but don’t attack or belittle their faith or belief. I hear a lot of artists say that Brittany Spears or The Back Street Boys are talentless, they why don’t they go out and sell 5 million albums in the first month? Same with Mormon music and movies, if you can sell the most records or tickets you must have talent. Sorry, I’m starting to ramble, hehe.

  38. Heli,

    Yes I was trying to have a little fun with the sarcasism. My point was that you can’t say that mormon film is failing financially (as Dutcher seems to believe–even if only temporarily) because its artistic quality is over the audience’s head (as Robert O. seems to imply when he equates it with what sells or doesn’t sell at Deseret Book). It doesn’t sell primarily because its second rate (generally speaking), not because the audience isn’t “educated” enough in the art of filmography to enjoy a good film.

    On the other hand, yes, you’re right. If an artist wants to make money, then “know thy audience.” One must strive to be the Yani of new age, the Webber of broadway, the Brittany Spears of pop, etc. etc.. However, I would like to think that an LDS artist would have a desire to comunicate with his/her audience regardless of whether or not the goal is to make a living.

    That said, I do have to agree with Robert O. in that a little education can go a long way in raising one’s level of consciousness toward good art. The fact that trashy romance novels fly off the shelves while the best literature is left unread doesn’t necessarily mean that those who are writing the good stuff don’t care to know their audience. I don’t think it’s entirely unappropriate for an artist to challenge his/her audience, but I would hope that the challenge will be tempered by the principles found in section 121–at least as it relates to LDS art.

    Lastly, I think you are right “theoretically” when you say that there is know truely objective standard to art. However, as I said before, I believe there can be a *sense* of that objective standard. And that sense comes from being familiar with “great art.” Of course, the question of what is truely “great” is always up for debate. However, some works are NOT up for debate as far as an ever evolving consensus of artists/educators/apreciators is concerned.

  39. Anonymoose,
    Have you seen the movie? If not, yelling ‘DRECK’ in all caps is wrong.
    If you have, then you should tell us what your specific objections are with courtesy, and yelling ‘DRECK’ in all caps is wrong.

  40. So we are left with part time hobbyists rather than full time professionals.

    What’s wrong with having musicians who are part-time hobbyists rather tahn full-time professionals? There’s no right to earn a living doing what you love. Also, there’s no shame in being an amateur, that is, doing something because you love it. Like Bobby Jones, or Paul Morphy (amateur golfer and chess master, respectively, and both professional lawyers).

  41. I think, though, that hobbyists don’t have the production capabilities and thus the quality of the music available for listening is decreased.

  42. “My mother swears the Thomas Kinkade print over her fireplace was created by the greatest artist of all time. So we can all be egalitarian and dismiss the notion that there are objective standards for quality or we can try and become educated. It’s the old “I know what I like” being in reality “I like what I know.” I love Seinfeld but I’m sure not under any illusion that its great art.”

    Well put, Robert O., especially the last sentence. There is a lot of stuff that is very entertaining, that when overly scrutinized, probably won’t hold up to the ideals and attributes of “good” or “great” art.

    If I might, I am going to vent and go off for awhile.

    There is so much garbage in all forms of media. I enjoy stuff that is uplifting, even if it is “cheesy.” For example, (and I anticipate some will tear my examples apart and try to discredit it or say my example had all sorts of contradictions, nevertheless), I absolutely love the movie Jack Weyland’s Charly, even though I have brothers who said it was cheesy. And they were probably right, and I take stock in their opinions because they are professional entertainers/musicians and they have “badmouthed” the LDS music industry many times.

    There, for example, are very few LDS artists who are producing or are being produced, music that has the quality of contemporary (in the sense that JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis were contemporaries) Christian music. Another problem my brothers have is that LDS artists try so hard to copy the sound of other music in the mainstream and still be spiritually uplifting. What’s with taking an LDS hymn and jazzing it up or rocking it out to the point that it no longer is spiritually edifying? It seems there should be some respect there.

    It is obvious (at least to me) that the financial success of any media venture (whether film or music of what have you) is important to those making it. If it doesn’t sell, for whatever kind of factor(s), then it appears that these filmmakers and musicians will only produce for so long before they get worn out by unreceptive audiences.

    I think there was a great comment about–in the Robert O. post I quoted about LDS film peaking out much like LDS music did. The novelty has worn off. Furthermore, the LDS audience and marketing to it can only demographically bring in a certain amount of money because the LDS population and specifically its sub-cultural pocket like Utah, Utah County, etc. are relatively small compared to the overall population of larger cultures and the world in general.

    My brothers also said the only LDS artist that has had high financial success in the LDS music market is Kenneth Cope. I believe the number one LDS music album of all time is his “Greater Than Us All”. (I may be disproved on that particular assertion.) If that is true and veritable, then it begs the question(s), what factored into him being successful? Was it his marketing strategies? I don’t think so. Was it catering to the expectations of his audience? No, not totally. Did it have to do with good production techniques? Yes, in a large part. Not many would have been impressed enough initially to keep listening or buying had he recorded his music, say, on a karaoke machine in his basement no matter how spiritual the messages were.

    I think his success was largely due to him creating music that was and is uplifting but also doesn’t sound like mainstream LDS music, especially the stuff he has not collaborated on with other LDS artists and musicians.

    Everyone has there their 15 minutes of fame. But there are some tangible and less tangible factors that must come into play to obtain a following of fans and appreciators that is substantial enough to keep the artist producing more art. Otherwise, the flame burns quickly and brightly and dies out and the fans go elsewhere.

    Now, if I have contradicted myself in this post, call me a hypocritical inconsisent nitwit if you want. But I have attempted to hit some points and reiterate some big points–at least to me. Thanks for your time.

  43. In the previous post, I wish to clarify a couple of my statements.

    I wrote

    “I believe the number one LDS music album of all time is his “Greater Than Us All”.”

    which should have read

    “I believe the number-one selling LDS music album of all time…”

    I wrote

    “I absolutely love the movie Jack Weyland’s Charly, even though I have brothers who said it was cheesy.”

    which should have read

    “I absolutely love the movies Jack Weyland’s Charly, even though I have brothers who said it was cheesy, because it reached me spiritually and emotionally and spoke to some experiences I have had in my own life (such as losing a mother to cancer at the relatively young age of 52 depsite priesthood blessings and many prayers, having a young baby boy of my own, relating to the search of one true love that I can fall deeply in love with for eternity).”

  44. The issues is ability. To win consistantly a team must have the horses. Most Mormon filmmakers have not paid the price yet. The still have the “Roadshow” mentality. Everyone is out there trying to be a director and saying “Let’s go make a movie and will all have a good time!”

    The gig is up and a lot of investors have been burned. Just like the 70′s, only on a larger scale.

    Richard Dutcher is doing his homework. Ryan Little/Adam Able the same. However these folks are going to need a distributor that can find their markets. Excell (Vineyard) and now Richard’s own Main Street are not going to do. It takes a bank of money and a team with the distribution horses to maximize the P&A needed to find the market. (Richard’s art just ain’t going to be seen without it. That is why it is called SHOW/BUSINESS.)

    Add up the dollars spent on all the “Mormon Cinema” since God’s Army and the box office these films did. Then ask yourself who in the world is going to keep putting money into this “Mormon Art” sink hole?

    If Mormon Cinema is ever going to make it, it will be from a director/writer who knows what they are doing and it will be a national release to a broad audience. It will reach all audiences, not just “Mormons”. Preaching to the choir just does not cut it in an industry where the costs are so high. Rembrant did it himself. A director must have an army of people and the cash to see the project through to the P&A to make it. So far no such luck.

  45. cinemaguru,

    I agree to a certain point. I still believe that, in the end, quality will make the difference. Even if there’s not enough distribution power, a good movie will find it’s way into the market–though it may be a sleeper for a little while.

  46. i just read an article in the daily herald that dutcher is screening another “mormon movie.”

    did he come back to the church?

    wow, he works fast…

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