SANDY — Gary Rogers wept as he thanked all the people sitting in the Megaplex 17 theater at Jordan Commons who helped make his five-year dream, “The Book of Mormon Movie,” come true.
As he introduced cast, crew and investors Wednesday night at the movie’s world premiere, Rogers said, “Their second goal was to see their money back. Their first goal was to see a movie that would touch people.”
About 850 people attended the screening, which filled two theaters of the Sandy multiplex. Some won their tickets through media outlets; others were friends and family of the cast and crew.
“You’re sharing with me the best experience of my entire life,” said Noah Danby, the Canadian actor who portrays Nephi, the Mormon hero who leads his people to the New World.
Danby shared the moment via cell phone with his mother, having the audience shout “Hi, Mom” to her at one point.
Rogers, director and producer of the film, sold his video production company to help finance the movie and spent five years bringing it to the screen. However, he said a movie based on the Book of Mormon “was really a dream in my mind in 1956, when I walked out of ‘The Ten Commandments.’ ”
The movie — the most ambitious project so far in the Mormon Cinema genre — opens in 30 Utah theaters Friday, and rolls out into other Western states in the next few weeks. Rogers is marketing the film outside traditional Mormon communities with a unique approach: selling tickets over a Web site and then booking the movie in cities where sufficient tickets are sold.
“We will go anywhere in the world as long as they have a base of 1,000 tickets sold,” Rogers said. So far, he said, the response is international. “We’ll be in Sydney, Australia, before we’re in Denver, Colo. . . . We’re all ready to go into Toronto,” which is Danby’s hometown.
Rogers stretched his $2 million budget relying on LDS crew members who volunteered their services. The movie was filmed in Green River, Ogden, Hawaii and a Hollywood soundstage.
He stressed that the movie is not endorsed or sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but said some general authorities were in the audience Wednesday. However, he joked, if any told him that they liked the movie, “I wouldn’t tell you that they said it.”
Rogers faces a major hurdle in marketing his movie to Mormons: a PG-13 rating, earned for a violent scene when Nephi kills Laban, the evil ruler of Jerusalem.
“You cannot do justice to the book without putting in the emotion that would get you a PG-13,” Rogers explained.
Wednesday’s audience gave the movie a respectful ovation at the close, and some waited outside the theater to collect autographs from the cast and filmmakers.
The movie concludes at the fifth chapter of the second book of Nephi, and Rogers plans eight more movies to tell the whole tale.
That will depend, he said, on this movie making back its money, adding, “If Volume 1 is not successful, the Book of Mormon will end with Nephi.”