The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is bringing to life the stories and doctrine of The Book of Mormon, considered sacred scripture by the church, through a series of new films.
The first installment of these videos will debut Sept. 20. The church’s hope is the production of these videos will give people throughout the church and the world a visualization of the Book of Mormon.
“The Bible videos were first,” said Jaelan Petrie, a producer. “Next is the Book of Mormon; it has always been in the works.”
In short, the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Christ, shares the story of Lehi, a prophet from Jerusalem, and his descendants as they leave the holy land in 600 B.C. and travel to the Americas and build civilizations. Those in the Book of Mormon live the Mosaic law as they prepare for the coming of the Messiah. These LDS scriptures teach that a resurrected Christ appeared to the people on the American continent.
Petrie admits telling the doctrinal stories of the Book of Mormon is a big undertaking, as are the goals of the video series.
“There are two purposes,” Petrie said. “The first is to bring anyone who watches closer to Christ. The second is to extend the reach of the Book of Mormon.”
Petrie added, “Videos can go places we can’t. Members share with friends. It will be on YouTube and all kinds of places.”
In two weeks the cast and crew will put a wrap on the third year of filming. This year, they filmed storylines in the Book of Mormon from the time of King Benjamin to the later chapters of Alma.
In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin was a beloved leader and prophet of the people. His speech to the people is stirring, according to Petrie.
“You don’t realize this was a life-changing event for all those people responding to King Benjamin,” Petrie said.
Petrie added this week they filmed the martyrdom of women and children thrown into the fire, as told in the scriptures.
“I didn’t expect the emotion. These weren’t just characters, these were humans,” Petrie said. “It was very emotional when Abinadi (a prophet in the Book of Mormon) burns to death.”
Petrie said they aren’t necessarily picking all of the great stories of the book, but the great doctrines taught in the book.
The videos are sponsored by all the church’s departments, and they have come together to give support to the project, Petrie said.
Elder Le Grand Curtis, a General Authority Seventy, said the Book of Mormon project was approved November 2016 by the First Presidency. In August 2017, he became the leader of the steering team of general authorities along with Sister Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the General Presidency of the Relief Society.
“This is not just a media product,” Curtis said. “We are staying true to the doctrine.”
The sets range from grass huts to large sound stages, foreign set locations to computer-generated imagery. The most recent production was done on elaborate indoor and outdoor sets at the LDS Film Studios in Provo.
Curtis added, “I love the Book of Mormon. When I read it I will think of these portrayals.”
That may not be too hard. According to Curtis, in coming days the public will be able to see new note references in the electronic and online version of the Book of Mormon, leading to the video connected to that scripture story.
Adam Anderegg, one of two directors on the project, has worked all three years of production. He said one of his favorite portrayals was that of Alma the Younger, a rather rebellious son of Alma, another prophet portrayed in the Book of Mormon.
“Alma the Younger I love more than ever,” Anderegg said.
Alma the Younger has a life-changing experience, similar to Saul in the New Testament, that alters his life and his service to God.
Anderegg said that most of the cast are members of the church, but there are plenty who are not. Cast members must be LDS if they are portraying a prophet or member of deity.
The two main set designers are both indigenous — Kee Miller and John Munoa. They did the set designs with several indigenous influences from South and North America, according to Anderegg.
“It’s a really special opportunity for directors who love the Book of Mormon,” he said. “What we are doing is a visualization as compared to a dramatization. There are lots of ‘aha’ moments where I’m blown away.”
Curtis said one of the stories that will be released this month is the story of Lehi’s dream of the tree of life.
“You see people taking the fruit and being filled with joy,” Curtis said. ”When I see the mockers in the great and spacious building, I can visualize it. Nothing takes the place of the book, but the hope is it will help children and investigators (of the church).”
“We still need to film Christ coming to the Americas. That will be a daunting task,” Curtis said.
No one knows that better than Elizabeth Hansen, the lead writer. Hansen has been a screenwriter for many years and is a member of the American Screenwriters Institute.
“I approach this with a great deal of reverence and respect,” Hansen said. “What I’ve found is the book came alive.”
Hansen said she feels fulfilled when she hears of church leaders reading and approving of the script.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he liked what he read. For Hansen, who admires Holland immensely, she admits the book becomes real, sometimes leading her to tears.
Hansen said that one of the General Relief Society sisters also asked that the women in the Book of Mormon have a voice — not a whiny or complaining one.
“We accomplished that,” Hansen said. “I think my favorite is yet to come. I just did 3 Nephi 17.”
Hansen referred the section in the book when Christ is depicted visiting the Americas and blessing their children; he was moved to tears speaking about it.
“I can come across a simple passage and be just weeping. Then I know I’m connected,” Hansen said.
Amber Weiss, from Oklahoma, plays Abish, a servant to King Lamoni’s household. She is secretly converted to the gospel and gathers members of the village to see the miracles in the palace.
“Abish interacts with the queen and performs a miracle and brings the queen out of a deep sleep,” Weiss said. “I think Abish is so cool. You don’t hear stories of women using faith.”
Weiss said she has done research on Abish and feels like she is much like her.
“Sometimes it’s hard to say if it’s Abish helping me or me knowing how to portray her,” Weiss said.
The church will finish the entire Book of Mormon video series sometime in the next year.