After two unsuccessful movies, producer Doug Stewart turned to his past successes to find the key ingredient that made it all work back then, figuring that if he could pinpoint that ingredient, he could use it again and concoct another success.
He believes he's got the right recipe for success this time. The crucial ingredient? Premortal life.Stewart's biggest smash was the theater musical, "Saturday's Warrior." The play made his name a household word for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah.
The play opens in a premortal existence where a family and several friends make plans for all they will accomplish in mortality. The story then picks up with the same people in mortality and shows the influence of their premortal commitments on their mortal struggles.
Although the play never once uses the words "Mormon" or "Latter-day Saint," the people are clearly LDS. The play's lengthy popularity back in the 1970s created a genre of religious musicals that played in regional theaters for a decade after the opening of "Saturday's Warrior." Each aspired to the success of "Saturday's Warrior." Each fell short - even Stewart's own subsequent musicals.
Stewart had successes before and after "Saturday's Warrior." He has written several screenplays. He is particularly pleased with the scripts he wrote for "Baker's Hawk," "Where the Red Fern Grows," and "Against a Crooked Sky." He won an award for "Where the Red Fern Grows."
But no production carved so deep and secure a niche for itself as "Saturday's Warrior" did.
A few years ago, Stewart gave up writing in favor of producing. That's when his career dipped. His two movies, "Solo" and "Red Fury," did not do well.
That's why Stewart decided to use a premortal theme in his next, and biggest, project.
He is putting together funding for a movie called "Previous Engagement." Like "Saturday's Warrior," the new movie shows the influence of premortality on mortal life.
"There was a love theme in `Saturday's Warrior' between two people who made promises to find each other on earth," Stewart said. "I developed a premise based on that love theme. I took it to a Hollywood writer because I purposely did not want it to be slanted to the LDS point of view. This is not religiously oriented. He is a Jewish writer. He just loved the idea. He came up with a screenplay I think is original and very commercial."
The plot centers on a young man who nearly dies, is on his way to the post-mortal world and inadvertently ends up in the premortal world, where he meets and falls in love with a woman waiting to be born.
Doctors are able to save the young man and he is hauled back into mortality. Through some time-travel arrangement, she, too, ends up in mortality, close to his age.
He discovers her again while they are both guests on a live television talk show, Stewart said.
Stewart is tying down funding for the movie. The budget is $6 million, he said, three times the budget of his previous movies.
"I see this as my coming out as a national filmmaker with a little credibility,' he said. He is after big stars to go with his big budget.
Stewart isn't knitting doilies while he's waiting for funding on "Previous Engagement." He has rewritten another popular musical of his - "Star Child." "Star Child" was a sequel to "Saturday's Warrior" and also deals with premortal themes. The musical achieved a respectable success of its own.
But Stewart felt like there were some serious flaws in the story, so he rewrote it. The new "Star Child" and the old "Saturday's Warrior" are opening in repertory in six Western cities next month.
Stewart has hired six producers and six different casts to keep his shows going in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, St. George and Provo.
He has written a third musical, "Beyond." If the first two musicals do well in their respective cities, Stewart will add "Beyond" to the repertoire in the spring.