Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
'God's Army' Shooting For New LDS Film Genre
Salt Lake Tribune 5Feb00 A4
By Peggy Fletcher Stack: Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- "God's Army," a new feature film about
contemporary life among Mormon missionaries, is slated to open March
10th on 13 screens in over 12 Utah locations and will debut its first
eight weeks in Los Angeles. Richard Dutcher, wrote, directed and
stars in "God's Army," with the hopes that he will launch a whole new
genre of films to be aimed at a nearly 11-million member Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints audience. Trailers are now playing
in about 60 Salt Lake and Utah County theatres. Within weeks the
film will move to Ogden, Layton, Logan and then on to St. George and
Cedar City. Dutcher hopes to show the film throughout Latin America
where there are large concentrations of Latter-day Saints.
"As soon as audiences realize it's about Mormon missionaries, people go
completely silent and stare at the screen," Dutcher said. "They don't know
what to think of it. They're afraid it's going to be anti-Mormon or just a
bad seminary film." Acting as his own distributor, Dutcher had no trouble
in Utah finding a Mormon market. Every theater owner who previewed the film
opted to show it.
Despite the immersion into themes of Mormon culture and vernacular,
"God's Army" deals in universal themes. Miriam Cutler, a Jewish composer
who created the film's score said, "His characters are so likable and
interesting, and his subjects so universal." "If people can get past their
own prejudices, they will quickly forget that these are Mormon missionaries
and just see them as young people struggling with big questions." The
film's editor, Michael Chaskes, also Jewish, said the question of having
faith in something that cannot be proven is "absolutely applicable to all
"I've always been irritated by the way Mormons are portrayed in the
movies," Dutcher said. "So negatively and one-dimensionally, if at all. We
never see real, true, flesh and blood Mormon people in a film." Sensitive
topics were a concern for Miller, who was relieved after screening the film.
"I didn't feel that it crossed any lines," he said. "It reflected the best
and the worst of missionaries, and from a dramatic standpoint, it was a
better story with better acting than I expected."
"God's Army" is set in Los Angeles and tells the story of Elder Brandon
Allen, a newly arrived missionary from Kansas who finds himself in
modern-day- Babylon to be paired with no-nonsense 29-year-old Marcus Dalton
as his "companion." The two live in a group apartment with "Elder Banks,"
an African-American, disowned by his family for his faith. "Elder Kinegar"
is a fifth-generation Latter-day Saint who struggles with doubts created by
the intellectual attacks of anti-Mormon critics.
Their stories are ones of faith and human frailties: missionaries who go
home early, potential converts who don't join and family problems at home.
Dutcher drew on his own experiences as a missionary in Mexico and imbued a
piece of his personal and spiritual history in creating his characters.
Like his main character, Dutcher was raised Pentecostal until his mother
married a Mormon. He was baptized a year later and also adds the shared
misfortune of Elder Allen's stepfather, who is in prison for molesting a
Dutcher studied film making at Brigham Young University before leaving
for Los Angeles, where he began writing scripts and attempted to establish
himself in the film industry. He quickly realized that only 10 percent of
such films are ever made. "You can make your living as a screenwriter and
never see any of your films produced," he said. Dutcher decided to raise
the money for a successful romantic comedy called, "Girl Crazy," which he
filmed for about $55,00 and eventually sold to HBO.
"God's Army" was shot in 18 days with a budget under $1 million. Only a
few of the actors are LDS, including the apostate missionary, the sister
missionary, a handicapped convert and the mission president. All other
actors were recruited in the Los Angeles area. Dutcher purposely chose
non-LDS experts for many aspects of production, including editing,
cinematography and music.
"In films made by the church, when a certain emotion is wanted, you hear a
certain kind of music. And there's a certain kind of cinematography that
comes along with church films--warm and beautiful and perfect. I didn't
want any of that," he said. Film editor Chaskes said what he liked most
about the project is the way the film is an understatement. "Richard has a
way of pulling back and saying more with less."
Dutcher sees LDS filmmakers ignoring their culture when making so-called
family films. He calls them "usually bad excuses for films that are seen as
all right because they are G-rated." "As a people we have many stories
that have never been told," Dutcher said. "Being a Latter-day Saint in the
United States in the year 2000 is not an easy thing. I want other LDS
filmakers to wake up and stop telling comic book stories."