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Book of Mormon hits silver screen

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As a teenager in 1956, Gary Rogers walked out of a movie theater having seen the famous spectacle, "The Ten Commandments," and thought, "Someday, somebody's got to do a movie on some of the stories in the Book of Mormon."

He had in mind a commercial venture, something like the Bible epics that Hollywood has created over the years.

"The question is, why hasn't anybody done it," Brother Rogers said in a recent Church News interview.

He said that back in 1956, "I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I'd be involved myself."

As it happens, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey," a film he produced, directed and co-wrote, opened in Utah and Nevada Sept. 12, with openings scheduled in other states later. Anticipated to be the first of eight or nine volumes over the next eight years, and filmed in Ogden and Green River, Utah; Universal Studios in California and on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, this first installment covers events in 1 Nephi and part of 2 Nephi.

The filmmaker emphasizes it is an independent enterprise neither sponsored nor endorsed by the Church. Even so, as one who professes a fervent and lifelong love for the Book of Mormon, he hopes this and any subsequent motion pictures in the series will "open some doors."

Bringing the book to the screen fulfills a goal he has had for five years, a goal he says he could not have reached until now, and not without what he regards as a series of miracles.

One miracle, of course, is the technology, "such that to do what we have just done would have been impossible a few years ago." The making of a movie such as "The Ten Commandments" or "Ben Hur" would be too expensive today without digital layering and other tools that are available to today's filmmakers, he explained. As it happens, the Book of Mormon Movie was created for the relatively minimal sum of $1.5 million, with another half-million for prints and publicity.

Other miracles were more personal. Two veterans of Hollywood technical wizardry, Latter-day Saints, approached him on separate occasions and offered their services.

One was set director Allen Lafferty, who had worked on such successful ventures as "Titanic" and "Independence Day." He had recently returned to Utah, for reasons that were not entirely clear to him. "When he gave me his bid after we talked about the sets that needed to be designed [including Laban's palace, Lehi's home, Joseph Smith's cabin, the bowels of the ship] I just broke down and cried."

The other "miracle" worker was Clark Shaffer, who had recently moved to Utah from his lifelong home in California. He has spent his career making miniatures for motion pictures which are filmed to simulate life-size objects onto which actors and other elements are super-imposed to create the illusion of reality. "When you see the Starship Enterprise in the movie 'Star Trek,' Clark built it," Brother Rogers said. "When you see the Batmobile in 'Batman,' Clark built it. When you see the 'great and spacious building' in our movie, Clark built it and many other effects."

The musical score was created by Robert C. Bowden, long-time director of the now-defunct Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus and a former associate director of the Tabernacle Choir. He experienced his own personal miracle of what he regards as divine help after several frustrating tries to create a suitable score. Ultimately, the music was recorded by the Prague Symphony in Czechoslovakia.

E-mail: rscott@desnews.com