Fruit Heights man at center of LDS Book of Mormon filming

Sunday , July 16, 2017 - 5:00 AM

JANAE FRANCIS, Standard-Examiner Staff

GOSHEN — A project to re-create scenes from the Book of Mormon for a video and still-image library is allowing a former Hollywood producer to end his career on a high note.

Fruit Heights resident Bill Elliott is the director of media resources for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the executive director for the visual library project illustrating the church’s central book of scripture.

Elliott believes this massive six-year effort to film and photograph Book of Mormon scenes so they will be available to the public on lds.org will help people experience the Book of Mormon in a vivid way.

Working through temperatures as high as 113 degrees this summer, Elliott said filming is bringing words to life. This year’s filming effort will conclude at the end of July.

“We think we have as good of talent as I’ve seen anywhere in my career in Hollywood,” Elliott said at a media event in June on the church’s film set in Goshen, near Santaquin.

The scripts for the project follow the text of the Book of Mormon as closely as possible, Elliott said, noting dialogue is added to help the scenes flow between scriptural accounts. 

Producers said the church will create short clips of about 20 minutes in length, but no full-length film is planned.

Also the producer of Mormon Messages on the Mormon Channel, Elliott said the value for him will be stock footage he’ll now have for his productions.

“As people talk about the faith of Lehi, I now will have footage to cover that,” he said.

Elliott also plans to use the images in an upcoming illustration of a talk on the Book of Mormon given by Church President Thomas S. Monson at the last General Conference in April. Following the announcement of five new temples, the talk emphasized the need for members to read the Book of Mormon every day.

Elliott moved to Fruit Heights six years ago, leaving a career at NBC, where he was a senior director and creative content director.

Before work on the Book of Mormon videos, Elliott edited in post production on the church’s new Bible videos. He also produced 10 children’s videos.

Having joined the church as a teenager, Elliott said he served an LDS mission and attended Brigham Young University, studying film production, before he worked at CNN in Washington, D.C.

Elliott said filming the Book of Mormon stories has provided some of the most rewarding moments of his career.

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Watching the sacrifices of the large crew who dedicated long days to the project is inspiring, he said. He watches as workers on the project drive for more than an hour each way to the set and then put in 12-hour days without complaining.

“Most of us feel that we were led to be in this place at this time,” he said.

One result of his involvement has been to learn to better appreciate the role of women in the gospel, Elliott said. Kymberly Mellon, who plays the role of Sariah, the prophet Lehi’s wife, who is written about in the first books in the Book of Mormon, brought a new meaning to the scriptures for him, Elliott said.

“You see her with tears in her eyes, like any mother who has a kid on a mission,” he said of a scene when she portrays seeing her sons return from a long journey.

The actress has created a backstory in her mind to help her with the role, Elliott said.

“She is a mother. She can relate. She has thought this character through,” he said.

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All those who have worked with Elliott on scripts and filming said they believe those who view their work will come to a better understanding of Jesus Christ.

One who worked to perfect the script was Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the general presidency for the church’s Relief Society. One suggestion she made was to rewrite a script of a discussion between Lehi’s family. She thought the dialogue sounded too much like a modern family instead of one from that era.

Alburto said she was personally excited for the documentation of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life and Nephi’s vision of understanding of the dream.

“It applies so much to us,” she said. “We find ourselves in different parts of that vision.”

As women, who don’t have much dialogue in the scriptures, play important roles in the filming, Alberto said she hopes women are inspired to see the real roles women played in the stories.

“We will see dialogue back and forth with men and women,” she said. “We will see the importance women played in the decisions. ... We have been sensitive to make sure women are portrayed in a way that inspires women.”

Dan LaPray, a director of the production, hopes to achieve more than have people enjoy what they see on the screen.

 “We actually wanted it to cause people to say, ‘Wow. I want to learn more about that book,’ ” LaPray said.

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Rick Macy, who plays Lehi in the productions, said he has learned to admire Lehi even more than in the past.

His favorite moment so far in filming happened when the cameras were not rolling. While going over his lines with a coach, Macy said he had a moment of deep feeling where he suddenly understood what Lehi must have felt as he was blessing his sons.

“I was talking and speaking as Lehi and I was overcome,” he said. 

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis, Jr., project chairman and a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, said he believes those who view the videos will be moved by what they see.

“I frankly was a little surprised as we reviewed the scripts of how powerful the Spirit of the Lord attended to what we were doing,” he said. “I was reminded of the power of the Word of God.”

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or like her on Facebook at facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis. 

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