At $7.4 million, the film will have the biggest budget of any movie in the recent spate of Mormon-themed films, including “God’s Army,” “Brigham City” and “The Book of Mormon Movie.” “The Work and the Glory” film will be entirely financed by auto dealer magnate and Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller.
“It’s a project whose time has finally come,” Miller said at a news conference Wednesday announcing the movie.
The first book of the nine-volume The Work and the Glory series, Pillar of Light, focuses on the Benjamin Steed family in the 1820s as they move to upstate New York — where they meet Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The books, written by Church General Authority Gerald N. Lund, have sold more than 2 million copies in the series. They were ranked “the most important [fictional] books of Mormonism” in a 2001 survey of LDS scholars conducted by Brigham Young University’s Department of Church History and Doctrine.
“This is not an ordinary series of books. It’s a landmark series of books,” said Sheri Dew, chief executive of Deseret Book, which publishes the books and will distribute the film on home video after a theatrical release sometime in late 2004 or early 2005.
The film is being produced by Scott Swofford, a one-time producer for Oscar-winning director Kieth Merrill, who made an LDS-sanctioned film, “Legacy” and has produced IMAX films for National Geographic Society and Disney.
The writer and director of The Work and the Glory is Russ Holt, who has directed more than 30 films for the LDS Church.
Though the script is only two-thirds done, initial second-unit photography begins in about two weeks in Vermont, Holt said. The bulk of the shooting will be done next year. Casting will begin soon in London, New York City and Los Angeles.
Holt describes the story as “multifaceted and multilayered” and an epic look at the beginnings of the church, but he emphasized that the movie will first be a love story.
“It’s a ‘Gone With the Wind’ type of approach,” he said. “You’ll see the broad scope, but you’ll also see the intimate lives of these people.”
Miller, who is friends with Lund and called himself a “background confidante” to the author during the writing of the books, has always wanted to turn them into movies and said he expects to make at least the first three films unless the first one bombs. They hope to tell the entire book series with five or six films.
“It’s an exciting concept, [but] it’s always risky . . . on how it will be received,” Miller said.
It’s an especially hairy gamble since movies in the recent Mormon cinema trend have failed to reach audiences outside Utah or beyond church members.
The latest, “The Book of Mormon Movie,” took in only $282,000 in its first two weeks. Another film based on a popular LDS-themed book, “Charly,” amassed only $813,000 its entire run.
The exception is “God’s Army,” director Richard Dutcher’s look at life on an LDS mission, which took in $2.6 million at the box office — modest by Hollywood standards, but nearly nine times the movie’s budget, according to The Numbers.com, which tracks theatrical box office figures.
Despite tepid theatrical revenue, though, these movies tend to make much or most of their money back in video sales. A publicist for Salt Lake City-based HaleStorm Entertainment, which produced “The R.M.” and “The Singles Ward,” said those films, although they each made more than $1 million in theaters, were especially made to make money on the home-video market.
So far, more than 15 LDS-themed movies have been produced for theaters since the success of “God’s Army” in 2000, and a half-dozen or so others are planned for the next year. Two will hit theaters in the next two weeks: the mock-documentary “The Work and the Story” and the courtroom drama “Day of Defense.”
Also coming are Dutcher’s “God’s Army 2” and “The Prophet,” about the life of Joseph Smith; the World War II drama “Saints and Soldiers”; and the comedies “The Home Teachers,” “The Best Two Years,” “Church Ball” and “Eat, Drink and Get Married.”