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The work and the money

The LDS epic 'The Work and the Glory' opens Wednesday

By Jeff Vice
Deseret Morning News

      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.
An elaborate set to represent upstate New York during the 1820s was built in Tennessee for the filming of "The Work and the Glory."

Excel Entertainment
      "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 investment."
      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 bills.
      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 (Jonathan Scarfe).
Nathan Steed (Alexander Carroll), left, listens to Joseph Smith (Jonathan Scarfe) in "The Work and the Glory."

Excel Entertainment
      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.
      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 epic."
      "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."
Elder Gerald Lund, left, Larry Miller and movie producer Scott Swofford. Miller has provided much of the financial backing for "The Work and
the Glory" movie. The film opens on Wednesday at Utah locations.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
      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.
      "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 January.
      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 beginning."
      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."

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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