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‘Joseph’ film hits snag — no cash flow

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Wanted: rich Mormons to fund big-screen movie about Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, starring Val Kilmer as Joseph and F. Murray Abraham as Illinois Gov. Thomas Ford. Written and directed by Richard Dutcher, creator of "God's Army," and father of the LDS movie genre. Movie has built-in audience of 12 million Mormons. Call Richard Dutcher. Need $10 million or, short of that, next week's groceries.

The last time we checked in with Dutcher he was riding out the surprising success of "God's Army," waiting to see how "Brigham City" would fare and plotting his next move. Having survived poverty and 4 1/2 years of hunting for investors for "God's Army," he had finally found success. He bought an acre of land and planned to build his first house on it.

Now he's virtually right back where he began. For a man whose first major movie grossed millions of dollars, he doesn't have much to show for it. He had to sell the land. He went into debt. He lives month to month, waiting for royalty checks from "God's Army" and wondering how he'll make his next house payment.

"Every time someone buys 'God's Army,' I can get a loaf of bread," he jokes over a Caesar salad in a Provo restaurant.

Dutcher is doing what he has always done, chasing art and dreams instead of money. Instead of sinking the profits from "God's Army" into the stock market or a bank account, he ignored his accountant's advice and funded his dream project — "The Prophet," the Joseph Smith story.

That got him this far: He met Kilmer at his New Mexico ranch and by the time he left "(Kilmer) was absolutely on board with it," Dutcher says. "He's just waiting for me to get the money." Dutcher had the sets designed, the wardrobe ready, the locations chosen, and all but the role of Emma Smith cast. He was six weeks away from starting to shoot the movie.

And then he ran out of money.

"Isn't it crazy?" he says. "Seriously, if there's one story we would want to see told . . . "

Dutcher, who has never considered a major studio as an option because he would forfeit control of the story, has had several big hurdles to clear in winning over investors in the two years since his last movie, "Brigham City," was released.

First, "Brigham City" bombed. Sure, Mormons will see "Austin Powers" and the James Bond movies — films that are decidedly raunchy and certainly more violent than "Brigham City" — but apparently they were uncomfortable with the mix of toned-down violence and their religion. They might not be ready for the juxtaposition of sacrament meetings and bloody mayhem. Some see Dutcher as an "edgy" filmmaker, which makes investors nervous when it comes to making a movie about Joseph Smith.

Second, the idea of putting the life of Joseph Smith on the big screen, which at first seems an obvious subject for LDS movie audiences, makes Mormons uncomfortable. Especially potential LDS investors. Every one of them has asked him how he would handle the subject of polygamy. How about the failed banking venture?

"Once you go in-depth enough to understand these things, they're not a big deal," Dutcher says. "Unfortunately, people hear just a little about these things and it scares them."

Running out of money, Dutcher recently decided to begin production of "God's Army II," which he actually wrote three years ago. He has a wife and five children to think of.

The irony is that Dutcher started the LDS movie genre, but others are capitalizing on it. Consider the movies that have been released since "God's Army" — "Singles Ward," "Other Side of Heaven," "Out of Step," "Charley," "R.M." Three more are on the way.

"It's fun," Dutcher says. "I went to an LDS bookstore recently and the video section looks a lot better than it did a few years ago. There weren't just kids movies. There was some personal satisfaction in that."

As for the Joseph Smith story, he vows, "Eventually, it will get done. If it comes down to me having to get a loan, I would get a loan, even though it could destroy me. That's how passionate I am about it."

E-MAIL: drob@desnews.com