SALT LAKE CITY — David Austin's two-day visit to Utah was
packed with meetings, presentations and discussions about finding and producing
Mormon-made films that might appeal to the general Christian inspiration
market. A blizzard hit on the first day, Dec. 8, messing up the tight schedule.
But Austin didn't mind.
\"I'm from Michigan, so it feels like home,\" Austin
said of the weather.
Austin is vice president of sales and marketing at Bridgestone
Multimedia Group and was here at the invitation of filmmakers including Lyman
Dayton and BYU's Dennis Packard. Bridgestone distributes family-friendly
Christian movies and music to Christian bookstores and churches. For 20 years,
Bridgestone has been distributing some of Dayton's classic films from the
1970's including \"Where the Red Fern Grows\" (1974) and \"Against
a Crooked Sky\" (1975).
__IMAGE1__It is the latter film that provided the impetus to bring
Austin to Utah. Dayton is working with BYU to remake \"Against a Crooked
Sky\" and wanted Austin's advice on shaping it for a broader market. Austin
is glad to give advice — and to look for other possible films to distribute.
It can be tricky, however, to present a Mormon-made film to
\"We are looking for films that don't have any direct
denominational connections, that won't exclude or cause any group within the
Christian community to be adverse to them,\" Austin said. \"The better
job we can do to make them have ecumenical appeal, the better chance they have
for commercial success and a regional larger audience.\"
One film that should have fit the bill was \"Saints and
Soldiers.\" But Austin said the packaging emphasized a connection to a
specific denomination: the LDS Church. This was off-putting to some Christians
of other denominations.
\"We had a small group of people ... who didn't like
that connection and pressured some of the Christian bookstore chains to not
carry it,\" Austin said.
It isn't so much that the producer of a film is a Mormon
that causes problems. \"It is the direct connection to the church itself —
the perception that financial benefits that came from the commercial use of
those products is going to benefit the church itself. That's really where the
big rub comes in,\" Austin said.
Sometimes it doesn't take much to make a Mormon movie have a
broader appeal. A film produced by Greggory B. Peck for example, \"Only
Once,\" had a few minor denominational references. \"We asked if he
would edit (the references) out, and he did, and we've had great success with
the film,\" Austin said.
The same sort of minor changes could find new audiences for other
films made by Mormons. It is this sort of expertise that brought Austin to
Utah. His itinerary included visits to the LDS Church audio/visual department,
the LDS Motion Picture Studios, BYU's Theater and Media Arts Department, BYU
Television and Covenant Communications.
A large part of Austin's visit is to talk about shaping new
projects — like Dayton's new \"Against a Crooked Sky\" — for that
larger Christian audience.
\"Ultimately, I'd be the person doing the distribution
— trying to help them come up with a finished product that's going to be more
suitable and successful in the current marketplace,\" Austin said.
\"The mark of a professional is that you are always
working with distributors,\" said Packard, who is working on the BYU-side
of the film production project. \"You're not just going off, 'This is a
wonderful idea and I'm going to do this thing because I love it.' You are
always thinking of how it is going to be sold in the end.\"
Some of the advice Austin had is not directly related to
scrubbing Mormonism out of films. \"I might push them to have more
faith-based content in their script. Don't try to walk the fence and do as the
world does so often and dilute the faith element of the characters. Be strong
with it — there are plenty of people who will identify with the character if we
present it in a positive way and produce a very high-quality production,\"
\"He's not talking about preaching in (a) film,\"
Packard added, \"but showing people living their lives according to
Christian principles: Praying about things. Conferring in a religious way.
Looking at scripture for guidance.\"
Austin has seen some evangelical filmmakers shy away from depicting
faith with hopes that it will increase the chances of success in the general
film market. He said that there are films, however, that don't hide faith and
find a large audience because so many people can identify with the characters.
\"Fireproof\" is a movie that proved this, he said.
\"Be straightforward. Tell a good story. Do a good job
at it,\" Austin said.
Austin's advice for Mormon filmmakers is to make something
that has as broad appeal as possible within the Christian community. \"And
then create work that competes with the kind of work that the world is putting
out. You can't put out any second-rate inferior product.\"
Austin will join a panel at 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, Dec.
9) to discuss how to create films with Christian standards and values and how
those values are in decline in general films. The discussion will be held at
BYU in room 321 of the Maeser Building. \"Most Disney live-action films,\" Dayton
said in a press release, \"no longer have parents that are role models. Instead
children are pitted against parents.\"
Three Latter-day Saints; Dayton, Travis Anderson from the
BYU's philosophy department, and Tom Russell from BYU's Theater and Media Arts
will join three evangelicals; Austin, Dean Jackson, and Greg Johnson on the
panel. The event is free and open to the public.