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Why ‘Trek: The Movie’ almost didn’t get past the screenplay

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SALT LAKE CITY — Hold your horses, folks — ”Trek: The Movie” is coming to theaters April 6 and it's going to be a wild ride.

Released by Excel Entertainment — the distributors of “17 Miracles,” “The Work and the Glory” and “The Cokeville Miracle” — “Trek” tells the story of a teenager named Tom and his peers as they participate in a re-enactment of the Mormon handcart pioneers and learn lessons of faith along the way.

But not long ago, the screenplay of “Trek,” written by David Howard ("Galaxy Quest") and Jon Enos, was all but forgotten. Although Howard had sent the script to director Alan Peterson 12 years ago, he had received no real leads on it and left it on the shelf in favor of other writing projects.

“You kind of see it like fishing,” Howard said. “You throw out the line, and you throw out another line and another line. You don’t sit around waiting for any of them to land, you just wait and hope that something happens somewhere down the line.”

But as it turns out, Howard got a bite. Years later, Peterson heard his son talk in church about his own trek experience and the director thought it would make for an excellent movie. Remembering Howard’s screenplay, Peterson read through it, gave Howard a call and contacted Arthur VanWagenen at Deseret Book. Once Deseret Book was on board and investors were lined up, it took only 16 days to shoot the movie, which they filmed in various locations across Utah.

“There were miracles that happened every day on this movie,” Peterson said. “Some of them were little tiny ones, other things were significant. And to just see the Lord’s hand in that process was very powerful for me and I hope a lesson that I will not soon forget.”

Howard likes to call this new film “Mormon Meatballs,” invoking the 1979 summer camp comedy featuring Bill Murray.

“Let’s turn these kids loose and see what craziness can happen when you get all these teenagers out in the sticks with the leaders trying to corral them,” he said. “That’s where (the idea for this film) started.”

The cast of "Trek: The Movie." The film opens in theaters April 6.

The cast of “Trek: The Movie.” The film opens in theaters April 6.

Provided by Excel Entertainment

But while the trailer looks lighthearted, there’s a serious note to the film as well. Amid the practical jokes and teenage drama, the protagonist Tom is also struggling with his belief in God — something Howard was keen on exploring in the film.

“That’s one of the traps in faith-affirming, LDS, Christian filmmaking is you want to make it clean and neat and easy in a way, and life isn’t like that,” he said. “We want it to be a little bit less obvious and mathematical.”

Peterson agreed that the film is a mix of comedy and some of life’s more serious topics.

“We all ask some variation of the question, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people? How can there be a God, a loving God, when he allows bad things to happen like this?’” he said. “At the end of the day, we don’t answer all of these questions, but we put (Tom) in a situation where he exercised his faith and he has … a glimpse of the fact that there is a God … looking out for us.”

Actor Joel Bishop, who plays the leader Bob Pratt in the film, said that the movie should also help teens deal with difficult circumstances in their own lives.

The cast of "Trek: The Movie." The film opens in theaters April 6.

The cast of “Trek: The Movie.” The film opens in theaters April 6.

Provided by Excel Entertainment

“I think this movie does a really good job in … making you think, ‘How would I deal with a challenging situation? What do I believe?’ and to hopefully come and to find some answers,” he said.

Whether or not “Trek” audiences have been on a re-enactment themselves, Peterson said he’s hopeful the film will be something all viewers can enjoy.

“There are fewer and fewer well-made movies that are hopeful and that present a picture of positivity. I would like to be able to fill that need and fill that niche,” he said. “It’s a fun movie that hopefully will prick your heart just a little bit and let you feel a little hope.”