Movies As Entertainment

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A few years ago, I sat in the front parlor of the LDS film maker, Peter Johnson, discussing film making as Latter-day Saints, his walls decorated with beautiful fine art by James Christiansen and other refined artists. As a faculty member in Brigham Young University’s film program through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, his signature works included “The Mountain of the Lord” and “A More Perfect Union” (the former was produced by the Church and the latter by BYU).

A few years ago, I sat in the front parlor of the LDS film maker, Peter Johnson, discussing film making as Latter-day Saints, his walls decorated with beautiful fine art by James Christiansen and other refined artists. As a faculty member in Brigham Young University’s film program through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, his signature works included “The Mountain of the Lord” and “A More Perfect Union” (the former was produced by the Church and the latter by BYU).

At the time of our visit, he was in the post-production phase of the comprehensive documentary, Journey of Faith, covering the journey of Lehi and his family down the Arabian peninsula, across the oceans, and their arrival in the Americas. It was definitive preparation for an even larger scale project, a narrative account of the beginning of the Book of Mormon. That same year, elsewhere another film had been hastily made about the Book of Mormon, it saw a small release and quickly disappeared on DVD.

Back in Peter Johnson’s front room, he spoke with me about the challenges of producing a film such as a narrative about the Book of Mormon and related to me the development process that he had gone through on the script for that film. He was very interested in others’ opinions and feedback as he developed the script for this adaptation of the Book of Mormon.

Because of his connections to the film program at BYU and his experiences in producing films directly for the Church, Peter Johnson enjoyed contact with Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and even the First Presidency. As he related to me the development of the Book of Mormon film script, he told me that Elder Ballard was given a copy of his script to review. Elder Ballard’s feedback, though I am not quoting him nor Peter Johnson, was that it must be entertaining!

Here was a script that had the backing of intense historical research, a script that only took artistic license in two places to elaborate upon events not depicted in the Book of Mormon to create a more cohesive narrative. Here was a script that was trying accurately, reverently, faithfully to depict in film the events from this sacred text, and the predominant thought on the mind of an apostle who was given a copy of the script to review it was that it be entertaining?!

That surprised me. But Elder Ballard was right. It must be entertaining.

This was the beginning of the formation of an idea, an idea that seems so ridiculously obvious that only the most engaged readers will understand the need to define such an argument. Nevertheless, here I define and defend my case for film making and movies.

Movies must be entertaining. Perhaps I should qualify these statements slightly. I believe that educational film has it place, as does the historical documentary, scientific exploration, or training film. What I refer to is the independently produced, commercial or otherwise targeted, feature-length film that can be considered a communal experience. They must be entertaining.

I do not have fancy terminology to explain my position or backing of scholarly discourse to prove it, but I feel that, nonetheless, this point is fundamental to any future discussion on the topic of forming or formulating an LDS Cinema. I will, as time permit, offer further examples of my position and will respectfully consider other points of view in this discussion.

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Brent is married to a very supportive woman, is father of a large family, and went into business for himself in 2006.

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