||The work and the money |
The LDS epic 'The
Work and the Glory' opens Wednesday
With an $8
million budget, "The Work and the Glory" is the most expensive independent
local movie ever made. And the risk is not lost on the filmmakers.
"That might not sound like a lot of money, especially when you're talking
about $100 million budgets for major Hollywood movies," said producer
Scott Swofford, "but for us, this constitutes a major
elaborate set to represent upstate New York during the 1820s was
built in Tennessee for the filming of "The Work and the
He quickly added that it was
necessary, however — the "bare minimum" for which a quality period film of
this magnitude could be made.
Local audiences will
be able to judge for themselves beginning Wednesday, when the film opens
around the state.
"Obviously, a budget of a
million dollars is the financial scenario under which you're going to be
successful and make your money back," Swofford said. "But if we made this
picture for a million dollars, people would be burning the book in the
streets, and us in effigy. So it really had to be a larger film, epic in
nature, and it had to look incredible."
Fortunately, Swofford and screenwriter/director Russ Holt (best known for
the 1987 LDS Church film "How Rare a Possession") had a patron saint of
sorts, in the person of local businessman/entrepreneur Larry H. Miller,
who agreed to serve as executive producer and foot most of the
Miller said he is optimistic that the movie
will be a success. In fact, some pre-production work is already being done
on a second movie in the "Work and the Glory" series, with an eye toward
making as many as half-a-dozen movies in all — adapting the nine volumes
in the best-selling series of "Work and the Glory," novels written by LDS
general authority Gerald N. Lund.
The first film,
titled "The Work and the Glory," is based on Lund's novel "Pillar of
Light," which follows the Steeds, a Vermont family of farmers, on a
journey that ends in Palmyra, N.Y. There, two of the Steed sons (Eric
Johnson and Alexander Carroll) fight for the love of a local woman
(Tiffany DuPont), and also encounter LDS Church founder Joseph Smith
Elder Lund said that seeing his book turned into a film is a dream come
true for a lifelong movie fan. "I've always liked to believe that I write
cinematically," he said with a chuckle. "But I believe it really is the
ideal format for this story. It was written with a film in mind, believe
it or not." But it wasn't until Swofford became involved that the movie
version really got going.
Steed (Alexander Carroll), left, listens to Joseph Smith (Jonathan
Scarfe) in "The Work and the Glory."
Swofford, who has
produced number of films, including the Oscar-nominated IMAX documentary
"Amazon," has been involved in several LDS Church productions (including
"Legacy"), and he was convinced that the time was right for "an LDS movie
"I remember having lunch with Russ Holt to
talk about the emerging LDS marketplace for film," Swofford said. "And it
suddenly hit me. Why not do something like this? The books are practically
a cultural phenomenon, and you've already got a built-in audience. The
books have sold millions."
Miller says he "came in
late in the game," both with the films and the books. He began reading
Elder Lund's series with the fourth book and quickly became "one of those
people who was writing to him to ask when the fifth one — and sixth one —
were coming out."
And his "passion" for the books
fueled Miller's desire to help see them turned into films. "I feel
fortunate to be on the edge of a movie voyage that may take us five or six
years to complete."
There is a lot riding on the
success of the film. And both Swofford and Elder Lund say that if it
doesn't at least break even, it may not be worth continuing the series.
"This is a commercial venture, so we do have to be realistic and do have
to look at the bottom line," Swofford said. " But we're hoping that won't
be the case and that it won't come to that."
However, both also say they were heartened by the success of
the LDS independent drama "The Other Side of Paradise," which cost $7
million to make and which did well in its theatrical release — so well
that the home-video rights were eventually acquired by Disney, which
released the film on DVD.
Gerald Lund, left, Larry Miller and movie producer Scott Swofford.
Miller has provided much of the financial backing for "The Work
the Glory" movie. The film opens on Wednesday at Utah
Smart, Deseret Morning News
"That shows there is an
audience for good stories, ones with LDS characters," said Elder Lund.
"And it also shows there is an audience outside of this state. That's
obviously who we're hoping will come see the movie."
Which leaves things in the hands of local film-distributor Excel
Entertainment, which scored the first big hit in LDS filmmaking with the
much more modestly budgeted 2000 film "God's Army." Excel also hit the $1
million mark with the World War II drama "Saints and Soldiers."
The company has an ambitious release strategy for "The Work
and the Glory," releasing it the day before Thanksgiving in Utah and then
in some already established markets before the end of the year. The
company then hopes to expand its release to many larger markets in
In at least one respect, "The Work and
the Glory" has already been successful. Elder Lund, who offered input
during Holt's screenwriting process, has officially given the project his
stamp of approval: "I trusted Scott and Russ to do the story justice.
Their passion for it was very quite obvious to me from the
Swofford said he knew the film was on
the right track when Elder Lund showed up on the set (in Tennessee) for a
grand total of one day. "He turned to me and said, 'I see what you've
built from nothing here, and the way you've handled the setting of my
book, so I trust you with the rest of it. Make it into a film.'
"Then he got into a van and drove away."