The sports comedy "Church Ball" follows the hapless, undersized basketball players of the Mud Lake (LDS Church) Ward team as it faces off against bigger, more talented players.
And Kurt Hale, who co-wrote and directed the film, says he sees a lot of parallels between the Mud Lake players and his locally based production company, HaleStorm Entertainment.
HaleStorm has gained some local fame after producing and distributing a string of LDS-centric comedies on low- or next-to-nothing budgets, led by "The Singles Ward," "The R.M." and "The Home Teachers." What's more, the fledgling studio booked them in theaters, going up against Hollywood films with budgets sometimes a hundred times greater.
"When we started the company," Hale said during press interviews at the Jordan Commons complex, "our goal was to make people laugh and feel good about themselves and not spend a lot of money doing it.
"But we're outmanned, and we don't have Hollywood's resources. So ours is a classic David-vs.-Goliath situation. And we're starting to lose some ground."
While HaleStorm's films continue to perform well on DVD, the box-office receipts have been diminishing, Hale said. Consequently, he says "Church Ball" may be the last LDS comedy HaleStorm produces. "We'll just have to see if the market really is oversaturated, if our target audience has grown tired of these movies."
According to Hale, the company is planning to branch out and make films for wider audiences but still make them family-friendly. As an example, he said that "Church Ball" features fewer Utah-culture in-jokes than usual. "We're already heading in that direction."
"Church Ball" is also the most expensive film HaleStorm has produced to date, with a budget nearing $1 million. "That probably sounds pretty cheap, but for us that's huge. Hopefully people will notice a few improvements."
Those improvements include some stars in the cast or at least recognizable names and faces. Among those playing Mud Lake hoopsters are Clint Howard, younger brother of actor-turned-filmmaker Ron Howard (and a regular in his films), and former "Diff'rent Strokes" star Gary Coleman.
And Andrew Wilson whose younger brothers are comic actors Luke and Owen Wilson stars as Mud Lake's captain. "I'm their big star. At least that's what I hear. But I'm not even the most famous Wilson in my family."
Ironically, the script was written years ago with only one star in mind Coleman, who plays a diminutive real-estate agent. And Coleman enjoyed the experience of making a film in Utah so much that he bought a home in Santaquin. "Every morning I wake up with a view of the mountains," Coleman said. "I have to thank Kurt for introducing me to Utah and for giving me a part in his movie."Hale and his company also received a ringing endorsement from Howard, who said he appreciates HaleStorm's efforts to produce "family-friendly" entertainment. "There are a lot of people who want to be able to see a movie without any cussing, cursing, or sex and violence. You can say it's not art, but they're out to entertain people. That's an art if you ask me."
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