As the mid-day sun beat down upon central Utah’s desert, Jackson Vanderwerken, 17, and other actors repeatedly crested a small hill leading a heavily-loaded camel.
It was hot on the set of the Book of Mormon Visual Library at the Church’s Motion Picture Studio South near Goshen, Utah. Animal trainers ask visitors on the set to give the camel a wide berth. Producers made sure everyone was drinking a lot of water. Actors sought refuge from the sun under umbrellas between takes.
It was hard work, but Vanderwerken — who plays Book of Mormon prophet Nephi — said he is literally living a dream.
“It feels like I am portraying a hero,” said the teen from upstate New York, who put on 15 pounds of muscle in the months before traveling to Utah for filming. “I have become this character that people seem to think is so righteous and so unreachable, but in reality he is just a kid who made some serious decisions to choose the right in crucial times of his life.”
Vanderwerken is part of an effort by the Church to bring stories from the Book of Mormon to life in a new live-action video series. Filming for the project is expected to take up to six years to complete.
The main objectives of Latter-day Saint senior leadership “is to build the faith of the members of the Church and to proclaim the message of Christ,” said Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy.
“There is no book that builds one’s faith and carries a more potent message of Christ than the Book of Mormon.”
The videos, a cross-departmental effort, will be used by parents, seminary and institute instructors, missionaries, teachers and youth leaders, and others “seeking their own edification,” he said. “This is going to be a great blessing to the Church.”
Elder Anthony D. Perkins, General Authority Seventy, said Church leaders are working to produce the Book of Mormon scenes because the world has changed and is visually oriented. “We are not doing this to replace the text of the Book of Mormon,” he said, noting the videos will enrich the experience of those studying the sacred text.
The first Book of Mormon videos are scheduled to be released in the fall of 2018. The Book of Mormon video series is being filmed in English, but will eventually be available in additional languages.
Elder Perkins said filming this summer will include scenes from 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon. The Church will find a different location — maybe on LDS property in Florida — before filming scenes from Book of Mormon lands, he said. The videos will cover elements of about 60 percent of the chapters in the Book of Mormon.
To produce the video, the Church has a crew of more than 100, some 150 actors, actresses and extras, as well as five camels, four donkeys, goats, sheep and horses, said Executive Producer Bill Elliot.
The new Book of Mormon videos will be similar to “The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos” that were completed in 2016, said the producer. When finished, this Book of Mormon visual library will include up to 180 video segments three to five minutes in length, as well as up to 60 more running 10–20 minutes each. Producers are keeping the script close to the scripture text of the Book of Mormon, but some dialogue has been added to help tell the book’s stories, explained Elder Perkins.
“All the video productions the Church has done over the last 30 years, including the Bible videos, have prepared us for this,” he said. “The Book of Mormon is the cornerstone of our religion. It is the heart of our faith. All the other things were preparatory to build the skills and capabilities to do this right. I believe we are doing it right.”
Sister Reyna Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency said the videos will be available on the Internet, free of charge.
“We hope that people will be able to find these videos on searches and that they will be able to understand even more that we are followers of Jesus Christ, that we believe in Him, that we are trying to follow His example,” she said.
Kymberly Mellen, who plays Sariah in the scenes, said she feels a heavy responsibility as she portrays the wife of Lehi.
“So many women are waiting to see how Sariah will be portrayed,” she said. “I think she is an easily relatable character. There are many women in the Church right now who are trying to figure out how to create a sense of family unity and marital unity, and how to follow the directive of religious leaders.”
Sariah’s depiction in these episodes deals with these issues.
Director Dan LaPray said he hopes people will watch the videos and “feel something that allows them to learn something about themselves.”
The LDS Church News is an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The publication's content supports the doctrines, principles and practices of the Church.