SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah filmmaker is close to completing the first phase in a process he hopes will lead to making his dream film — an epic movie based on the war chapters of the Book of Mormon.
To get there, Southam's plan is to make a concept short film version that can be used to impress investors and generate the necessary financial support for the bigger project. Last month he created a Kickstarter campaign to raise a minimum of $150,000 for the project. With about a week to go (Sept. 14 is the deadline), the campaign has already raised $108,000, making it one of the most successful Kickstarter film campaigns, Southam said.
"Nothing has driven me like this once-in-a-lifetime chance to bring Captain Moroni, grand and epic, with all his electrifying passion for freedom and captivating verve as a military commander, to a worldwide audience through cinema," Southam said.
Southam, who played Ephraim Hanks in the 2013 film, "Ephraim's Rescue," said he was first inspired by the Book of Mormon and the story of Captain Moroni and the title of liberty as a teenager.
"Reign of Judges," set in the 73 B.C. pre-Columbian world, will have plenty of action and focus on the life of a young soldier and leader as he leads and defends his country from its enemies. Think Braveheart's William Wallace raising his sword and freedom banner in Nephite times, Southam said.
In 2014, Southam tried various methods to garner financial support for his independent Book of Mormon film, such as letting people read parts of the screen play and pitching the idea to wealthy investors. At times he was discouraged but something kept drawing him back, he said.
"There is a power within this project," Southam said. "I felt an undeniable pull — an unquenchable burning desire to not rest until this film was made into a physical reality. This is what has kept me going for three years. There were many times we felt like giving up — many times. But we know, above all, persistence is king of all achievement."
The idea of concept short films helped movies like "Napoleon Dynamite," "Deadpool" and others to secure funding, so it's been done before, Southam said.
One obstacle has been the belief that there isn't a significant market for an epic based on the Book of Mormon, foundational scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some critics point to the 2003 film, "The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey," which failed to draw audiences, as proof.
While acknowledging it won't be easy, Southam also doesn't buy that it can't be done. The Book of Mormon is among the most read and influential books of all-time, he said.
"It just hasn't been presented (in film) the right way yet — epic," Southam said. "Our film is not a heavy-handed religious story, it's a war film. But the power is in the reasons for the conflict. They are fighting for their families, for their wives and children, and for their freedom. This story will ignite a worldwide spirit of freedom like we have never seen before."
Donations from non-Mormons have also given Southam confidence. He cited two examples, with one commenting, "Your movie sounds great, I'd love to see it." A full-time pizza delivery guy donated $5,000 and a complete stranger pledged $20,000 last week, Southam said.
"The film we make will be just as powerful to those who do not believe in the Book of Mormon," Southam said. "The epic stories of the Book of Mormon were never meant to be exclusively for Mormons. They are for the entire world. We are presenting this monumental book to the world in a way the world can understand — epic — and it's already attracting people of all walks of life."
If the Kickstarter goal is achieved, Southam hopes to produce the concept version of the film by no later than April 2018.
"This isn’t something we have done just for the purpose of making this blockbuster concept short. We have done this to prove our film has an audience. More specifically, to prove there’s an audience for a Book of Mormon war epic," Southam said. "People have exercised tremendous faith in this endeavor. We have seven days to make a powerful statement."
For more on "Reign of Judges" or to pledge to its campaign, visit the Kickstarter page.