You can feel it whenever you bring up the subject. You can sense it when old LDS movie titles creep into the conversation. Mormon filmgoers are terrified of the genre. Trust has been compromised. DVDs have ripped off too many consumers. And now the subject itself is a joke. A hiss and byword.
We sensed this phenomenon in the air even before our movie, "Passage to Zarahemla" hit the theatres. There were even some newspaper reviews posted of "Passage" in the Tribune and Des News before the movie had even been seen! Folks were already lampooning the idea of a movie about Nephites. Frankly, most of it just sounded like a general lampooning of LDS movies in general, and a total lack of faith that there would ever be anything worth viewing from this genre again. (Indeed, many felt there never HAD been anything worth viewing.)
What a mountain this left for us to climb! And we hadn't even delivered our product to customers! I've sensed some of that feeling with the release of the DVD last week, but some of the ice seems to be melting. Though the "low budget" characteristics of "Passage to Zarahemla" are not invisible, the overwhelming consensus is, invariably, "That's not as bad as I thought it was going to be." This comment is so common I can almost ask someone who just watched it, "So how was it? Not as bad as you thought it was going to be?" "Yeah! How'd you know???"
Wow. It's amazing just how much preestablished prejudice we had to overcome before folks would just relax, sit back, and take the movie in and enjoy it for what it was worth? And though there have definitely been naysayers who have brutalized the film from the get-go, most of these kinds of reviews or comments don't seem genuine--like there was an axe they wanted to grind long before my film gave them a possible opportunity. So many people just HATE LDS films! And, sadly, this is something LDS filmmakers brought upon themselves. In many ways, we deserve this sentiment.
Still, I'm very pleased at all the positive responses we've received. The most common complaints seem to be too many subplots, or Kiddoni's wig, or the fact that I wore so many hats. (Chris did WHAT? He wrote it, directed it, acted in it, AND wrote the music? Can you say meglomaniac???)
Some of these criticisms are certainly valid. But overall, I'm thrilled with the things people have NOT criticized. Such categories would include: the performances (of main characters), the make-up, the costumes, the Gadianton Robbers (except that small children were sometimes terrified), the production design (love Gary Sivertson's rift!), the weapons, the special effects, the casting choices (except for me) and (proudly) the music. Yup, no one has yet criticized the quality of Sam Cardon's score or the appropriateness of my songs. (Though some have thought it was weird that a director would write songs. (What about the dirctor's wife who wrote the Academy award-winning song for "Return of the King?")) Sentiments about the story are sometimes a mixed bag. People like to use the word cheesy on occasion, especially when describing that kiss at the end. (Kisses are ALWAYS cheesy to some--usually teens.) But overall the story seems to have held people's attention. Do you realize how hard that is? No one has ever expressed to me that they were BORED. Not one single critic. And most seemed highly entertained--even some who still only wanted to give it three out of five stars.
And in such cases, I'd like to think I earned those three stars when compared to ANY Hollywood movie, not just low-budget LDS movies. If that's the case, then MAN! we've done remarkably well!
Here's the facts. I know the film has flaws. I was there, remember? But I'm still very proud of what was acheived. No one but me and those closest to the production and post-production will EVER know what nightmares we had to endure to acheive final results. And I express my pride for this movie with making no apologies for the low budget. Our special effects had to compete with every other effects film out there, and we've received surprisingly little, if any, criticism for such quality. Two factors insured that--my relentless insistence that we would not compromise on quality, and the talents of Stephen Sobisky's crew at Sandman Studios. In short, the effects added to the story. They did not detract.
Still, it's been difficult to outmaneuver the wolves who want to tear the movie apart, in most cases just because it's an LDS movie. These wolves are, for the most part, "out-maneuverable." But I feel confident that time will allow this film to float to the top of the heap as far as LDS movies are concerned. I'm certainly not a neutral party in making that prediction. But I feel I can, in quiet moments, disconnect myself enough from the movie-making experience to say that, "This one works rather well." We'll just have to see if time, and history, prove me right.
Friday, June 13, 2008