T. Ryan Little and Professor Sharon Swenson, Theater and Media Arts
The objective of this project was to write a screenplay for a film that would share gospel insights without being didactic in its presentation. Did I succeed? I believe I’m on the right track. I felt that a good place to start would be to view films made by LDS film makers such as Keith Merrill, Blair Treu, Matt Whitaker, Russ Holt and Stan Ferguson. Some of these wonderful films are The Lamb of God, Mountain of the Lord, Nora’s Christmas, Easter Dream and Legacy. These are great films that have touched the lives of members of the church as well as many investigators. In addition to these films each of these film makers have done professional projects outside of the Media Department of the church. This is where I tried to focus most of my research.
The next thing I did after watching many of these church films was to view films by these film makers that were intended for the general public, such as Blair Treu’s Wish Upon a Star and Stan Ferguson’s Split Infinity. In both cases these films seemed to carry gospel type themes and insights, yet they did not seem heavy handed in the way they were presented. I had the opportunity to sit and talk to all of these film makers about their films and how they felt about sharing the gospel through the medium of film. All of them were confident that the main attraction to film making was from the possibilities of sharing the gospel through it. Each of them use film as a tool to express their beliefs and share their testimonies of the gospel. In an interview with Stan Ferguson he said “ How can you not share the gospel through your films, it’s a part of you and every decision you make.”
Matt Whitaker who works for the church Media Department expressed many ideas in our interview about sharing the gospel through film. He talked to me about how the characters in your film can symbolize great people from the scriptures. In part of the interview Matt said “You can endow the characters you create with the great qualities of the people of ancient times. Whether people can equate the characters in your film with those from the scriptures doesn’t really matter. If the audience sees a character doing good and noble acts the spirit will testify that those are good things.” Matt and I also discussed how the audience members will each come away with an experience that is unique to them. I found that this could be related to how the Lord taught his parables. There were some that could hear the spiritual truths being taught by the Lord and they applied them in their lives. There were also those who’s understand may not of been as deep, yet they too could understand what was being taught on a different level.
I took many pages of notes from my interviews to use as a base to work from. The next step was to decide what kind of story I was going to try to develop and what kind of spiritual insights I was going to try to share. Due to the expensive nature of making films I had to be somewhat conservative in my approach. Such things as lighting equipment, a large crew and cast, exotic locations, and special effects can all increase your budget drastically. I decided on a small cast of two main characters and a simple location outside. After taking into consideration the budget as it related to the films parameters I then started working on the script. It should be noted that in most cases the screenplay is written ahead of time because the budget of the film is usually large enough to cover what is in the script. In my case I had to construct a script around the budget I had. This basically included what was either free or very inexpensive.
I took time to think and pray about what in the gospel has had the most profound effect on me. I also took into consideration about what I felt passionate about sharing with others. After some time I realized that for me the Lord’s sacrifice for mankind was the center of my life. With this in mind I tried to write a script with characters that were endowed with Christ-like attributes. This is where the spiritual dimension of the film comes from.
I took three months to work with Screenwriter Virginia Sanderson. Together we developed and wrote a story about a German soldier who gives his life for another soldier. In this story this German soldier finds a wounded American soldier. Instead of killing him or leaving him to die the German soldier carries his enemy for many miles in search of shelter from the approaching winter storm. When they finally find a shelter the German soldier tries to befriend his enemy through offering food and other acts of kindness. The American soldier is stubborn in his ways and resists as much as possible by trying to keep a boundary of hate between sides. It isn’t till the next morning when the American awakes that he realizes the full unselfishness of his enemy. He finds that the German soldier has covered him with his coat to keep him warm through the night. The American soldier makes a change for the better and instead of killing the German soldier he takes the coat and covers the German Soldier. On closer observation he realizes that the German has died from the cold. This becomes a catalyst for the American soldier’s new view of war and his enemies.
This script went through four drafts, and an assortment of different titles. The project originated as “Fields of Light” which was a working title, but now it is official known as The Last Good War. After the script was in final draft, it was presented to the LDS Motion Picture Studio. They liked what was presented and donated over $10, 000 dollars in service and equipment for use so that this film could be completed. The ORCA grant and other outside funds have made this project possible. In the month of January we will go into production with the intent to show it at different film festivals including the Final Cut film festival at BYU at the end of March. It has been a great blessing to receive so much support for this exciting project.