By Rosemary Pollock
The Life of Groundbreaking Film Maker Richard Dutcher
PROVO, UTAH -- Looking back at his life, film writer,director and
producer Richard Dutcher, 37, can say it has been like a movie.
Telling the story of a young boy who fills his long hours alone at
home by writing his own novels, working long days in hot oil fields,
holding multiple jobs in pizza joints and nursing homes, coupled with
a father who chased women and worked in bars and a step father who
ultimately found himself behind bars, Dutcher had only had to reflect
on his life for stories he has put on the screen. Best known for
"God's Army" and "Brigham City," Dutcher, a devout member of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't afraid to talk
about his religion.
"There were four new gay-themed films opening in L.A.," Dutcher said.
"I was so frustrated. Why do they get to make movies, and I don't?
Why can't Mormons do the same thing? Each film doesn't have to be for
the whole world." "I drew on my own experiences. I took two years and
condensed them. They tell you to write about what you know. I knew
this was absolutely right."
"God's Army" was largely a husband-wife production. Gwen, who is a
talented sculptor in her own right and mother to their four children
was a line producer for "Girl Crazy," Dutcher's first film that he
calls 90 minutes of fluff that took five years to make. She helped
with costumes, marketing, sets and publicity for "God's Army." "She
would use her maiden name so we wouldn't sound like a mom-and-pop
outfit," Dutcher said. "It was just Gwen and I until a couple of
weeks before the movie actually opened. I was working constantly. We
were in over our heads."
Ultimately, "God's Army" has played in 240 different cities
nationwide, grossing $2.6 million at the box office before being sold
to video. This paved the way for "Brigham City," another of Dutcher's
films that went mainstream, but was not as successful as "God's Army."
Dutcher has used the difficult experiences of his youth to portray
parts of his life and various characters in "God's Army." The
missionary with the pedophile father is Dutcher with his stepfather.
The missionary who had the emotional religious-conversion experience
is Dutcher again. "I've had some dark, ugly kinds of experiences I'd
rather not experience again," he says.
"He has succeeded through an incredible force of will," say wife
Gwen. "Like pushing a huge boulder up a hill." "He's so free of
baggage for someone who went through what he went through. It
astounds me. He's got confidence. He had to be independent at an
early age. At 14, if he wanted clothes he bought them, and if he
wanted meals he cooked them. I admire him for how he was able to come
out of it without resentment and with a positive outlook on what he
Dutcher has aspired to make movies since he was a young teen in Mount
Vernon, Illinois but the new mix of Mormonism and movies has proved
touchy. "There are tons of Mormon filmmakers who are telling Mormon
stories and then take Mormonism out of it. It's cowardly and greedy.
They do it because they think they'll make more money at it, but
they're doing a disservice to their own people."
"I never considered doing anything else," Dutcher said. "It would be
either films or novels." At the age of 13, Dutcher was profoundly
moved by an article he read in the Ensign, a Church published
magazine, in which church President Spencer W. Kimball urged LDS
artists to tell the Mormon story.
It wasn't until he was 14 that Dutcher said he was truly converted.
"I had read the Book of Mormon a couple of times, as well as the
Bible, and I had been very active, but I never felt that experience
of having personal revelation that it was true," he said.
"I was at a crossroads, if I was going to keep going. I was sitting
in the Carthage jail where Joseph Smith was martyred, and I bowed my
head and asked if it was real. I began sobbing and I couldn't stop.
Everybody was looking at me and wondering what was happening. It was
powerful and wonderful. I was just filled with light. It didn't come
from within, it came from without. I was just a participant. It is
still something I draw on and go back to," Dutcher explained, not
knowing this experience would prove to be the main thrust of one of
Dutcher's high school senior year found him living in his car, being
active in the student body and editor of the school newspaper. After
high-school, Dutcher spent a year at BYU and then took a series of
jobs to pay for his mission. During this time he never stopped
writing stories and sending them off to publishers. "I thought the
only way to get one of those jobs was to publish a book or sell a
script," he said.
After his mission, Dutcher returned to BYU and began to audition for
locally produced movies. After his 1988 graduation, he and wife Gwen
moved to Los Angeles. "We certainly got to see what it was like to
struggle financially, but they were incredibly happy years," Gwen
said. " "We lived paycheck-to-paycheck occasionally. The worst it got
was when we maxed all our credit cards. All we had was our gas card,
so we'd get our groceries at the gas station."
Waiting for the big break that never came, Dutcher decided to make
his own movie. "That's where I learned how to make films," he said.
"That was my graduate school." It took five years to complete and
Dutcher sold the movie to HBO, but didn't make enough to cover his
costs. He was told that he must add nudity every seven or eight
"It was at that moment that I wondered what am I doing here," he
said. "I knew I wasn't going to do that. I walked out really in
despair. I thought there is no way I can be LDS and be a successful
filmmaker. It was a real turning point." "I was lying in bed one
night and saw where I was heading and it wasn't a good place. I was
really going down the wrong path."
It was at this time that Dutcher considered leaving the business and
going into teaching. While barbecuing hamburgers in his backyard,
Dutcher's eye fell on the L.A. Times movie section and he was
disgusted with what he saw. It was then that he decided to be a voice
for the Mormon story.
Currently, Dutcher has put his energy into another Mormon-movie
project: "The Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith Jr." It will be his
biggest financial undertaking so far at $10 million. It will use
"recognizable actors" and this time he will play only a minor role in
"I feel peaceful about it," he says. "There's something very fitting,
going back to that experience in the Carthage jail. It feels right.
I'm surprised nobody has beaten me to it." "Most of us don't really
know that much about Joseph Smith. I found that out myself." "If the
Lord can use flawed people to do his work, there's hope for all of
us," Dutcher concluded.
Richard Dutcher, Mormon moviemaker
Deseret News 17Jun01 A2
By Doug Robinson: Deseret News senior writer