Lights, camera, faith: The Shawn Stevens story

Published: Tuesday, May 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

“Shawn was riding the wave. He was a triple-threat — he was good looking, a talented singer and actor, and he had some legitimate successes," McLean said. "Then he is featured in ‘Our Heavenly Father’s Plan,’ a breakthrough approach to sharing the gospel through film, and has to carry the responsibility of being the guy who’s basically bearing testimony about several fundamental principles of the gospel. Probably not the best career move for an actor in Hollywood, but a pretty courageous leap of faith for a relatively new convert.”

The movie, about 28 minutes long, was filmed on the Alpine Loop in American Fork Canyon. While saddling a horse and camping in a beautiful mountain setting, Stevens talked about the purpose of life, a loving Heavenly Father and his own conversion experience. Music, video clips and pictures supplemented his narration.

“He did a really nice job,” said Elder Allen, the film’s executive producer.

“Our Heavenly Father’s Plan” was released in 1986. Over the next seven years, Allen, McLean and others produced “Together Forever,” “What is Real?,” “Labor of Love,” “The Prodigal Son” and “On the Way Home,” all based on themes from the first missionary discussion. In the decades that followed, these short films were translated into dozens of languages and shipped around the world to be distributed by missionaries.

“These six films were pretty historic. … By tracking referrals and orders for free materials, we know that at least 600,000 people joined the church as a result of those campaigns, and that’s a conservative number,” Elder Allen said. “So they had a big impact on the church.”

It was standard procedure, Elder Allen said, to encourage the actors in these films to live exemplary lives going forward so as not to take away from their performance.

“It’s not like we hired someone off the street in Hollywood to be a Mormon. We’d say, ‘Listen, your testimony is going to come through in this, and we want it to come through, because this is real for you,’ ” Elder Allen said. “We really need you to live your life in the future so that there is not a double standard, so people don’t see something else with you in it and say, ‘Well, that was all fake.’ ”

Although he was already striving to live a faithful life, this suggestion caused a serious stirring in Stevens’ soul. For the first time, he considered seeking a new career.

Initially, the idea was like a bombshell. He wanted to do the right thing but had no backup plan. Even so, the more he prayerfully considered the decision and discussed it with his wife and trusted friends, the more compelled he felt to move away from acting, much to the consternation of his Hollywood colleagues.

“Try explaining that to your agent," Stevens said.

But he did it. Soon, Stevens was driving a bread truck and struggling to make a living for his wife and baby daughter.

Act IV — A hard road

The next year was one of the hardest of Stevens’ life.

“The wages of a bread truck driver and an actor were very different,” Stevens said. “I left a lot of tears in that truck.”

As he struggled to earn extra money, Stevens resorted to entertaining passers-by on city sidewalks and was always impressed with others’ generosity.

Things got so bad at one point that Kaylene said she considered leaving Shawn. Their financial problems placed an enormous strain on their relationship. But in the end, she stood by her husband and trusted in the Lord’s promised blessings.

“It was very painful. I wanted him to bring home those nice paychecks, but I had to go back to work,” she said. “We put our faith on the line and were blessed in other ways. It was what we needed to do.”

Agents and show business colleagues figured Stevens had cracked up, and many tried to persuade him to return. But the decision was made.

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