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'That's a wrap': LDS Church's Bible Videos series leaves legacy of history and faith

Published: Friday, May 24 2013 4:05 p.m. MDT

Scott Smiley, yellow shirt, watches a scene being filmed during one of the final days of production on the LDS Church's Bible Videos series.

Joe Walker, Deseret News

GOSHEN, Utah County — Scott Smiley leans against a 3-year-old wall that looks positively ancient, created by skilled craftsmen in Central Utah to have the look and feel of old Jerusalem.

“My favorite thing,” he says, glancing around the unique movie set over which he has presided for most of the past two years, “is to walk around here and say, ‘That’s where the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary.' ‘Here’s where Jesus cleansed the temple.’ ‘This is where Peter preached.’

“Of course, I know this isn’t where those things actually happened,” Smiley continued, smiling. “But being a part of this has given me an opportunity to feel like I was there.”

The thing of which Smiley has been a part is the Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos series produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Smiley is director of the church’s Film and Video Division, which is wrapping up a three-year project that has resulted in close to 100 short videos taken directly from the pages of the King James Version of the New Testament.

The Bible Videos series is not like the History Channel’s recent, acclaimed and popular "The Bible" miniseries, which wove Bible stories together with interpretive long-form storytelling. The Bible Videos are precisely that: short videos — some less than a minute long, others as long as seven minutes — that tell Bible stories as vignettes, not as a continuous movie. There is no interpretive explanation, no speculative dialogue to advance the story or make it more accessible to modern audiences. It simply dramatizes what is in the King James Bible, with no dialogue except the dialogue that was written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

“We’ve tried hard not to make interpretations,” Smiley said. “We want it to be as straightforward and accurate as it can possibly be.”

The videos were originally intended to serve instructional and illustrative purposes in the teaching organizations of the LDS Church. But when church leaders saw the beauty and value of the videos that were being produced, they offered them as a gift to the world.

“We’ve had a lot of responses from people who have watched them and used them in their own church congregations,” Smiley said. “We are delighted for people of all faiths to use them to convey the good news of the gospels.”

To create this gospel gift the LDS Church has constructed an unusual movie set on land that was once part of a church-owned dairy farm in rural Central Utah. The area has some useful features, including rolling hills and a winding river that are at least vaguely reminiscent of the hills of Judea and the Jordan River.

“We did a little excavating to make sure our set was low enough so you can’t see the ‘Jerusalem Rockies’ in the background,” Smile said, chuckling. “That wouldn’t be right.”

The set is unusual in that it has been built to last.

“We built it like you would build a home,” Smiley said. “Most movie sets are built with taking them down in mind. So you build it so it can be taken apart easily. This set was built to last for 30 years. We’re not taking it down. It’s here to stay.”

From a distance the set looks like one big old building, with the monolithic form of an ancient temple or palace. But as you roam through the structure you see that rather than one building it is many buildings all interwoven into one, with streets, alleys, temples, palaces, marketplaces, wells and individual dwellings. Every angle becomes a different setting. You can stand in one place and, by rotating slightly, see several completely different locations.

And all of it is carefully researched and historically accurate.

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