Richard Dutcher, the guy who more or less created the LDS film genre, thinks Mormon cinema “has gotten too safe for its own good.” Filmmaker Mark Hale thinks the market for LDS films may be tapped out. Sorry guys, you’re both wrong. The reason LDS movies aren’t successful is because they stink.
People went to see God’s Army because it was something new and unique. The same goes for the Single’s Ward and a number of the other early LDS-themed movies. Sure, the quality was low, but hey, these guys are just getting started, right? The trouble is the quality of film didn’t improve, and the novelty has gradually worn off, hence the “diminishing returns” mentioned by Hale.
Church Ball had potential, but the movie was massacred during production and perhaps post-production, so much so that the writer almost took his name off the movie. Simply put, the movie stunk. I’m not a sophisticated film critic so I can’t point to all sorts of details and use jargon to make my point, but what I do know is that the movie wasn’t fun to watch. It was torture. It would pull you in for a minute or two, and then push you away by being overly cheesy, or by not making sense, or by bad acting. It could have been a good movie, but somebody dropped the ball, no pun intended. I assume that means bad direction, because the director is the one ultimately responsible, right?
The problem we Mormons have is that we’re satisfied with mediocrity because we believe in mercy. Well, the free market isn’t merciful, and if you think it’s telling you that LDS folk won’t pay for LDS-themed films, you’re off base. What they won’t pay for are movies that aren’t entertaining. They want their LDS films to compare to those created in Hollywood. Why can’t a Mormon make a Book of Mormon movie that is comparable to Braveheart? Why can’t a war movie with LDS themes compare to Saving Private Ryan? Why can’t a movie about the expulsion of the saints from Nauvoo compare to Schindler’s List? Because when it comes to filmmaking, the filmmakers aren’t holding themselves to the same standards as Steven Spielberg or Mel Gibson (I’m talking about filmmaking standards, not public drunkeness standards). LDS filmmakers are competing against themselves, rather than competing against the best in the industry, and so they haven’t got a hope of attaining anything approaching true professional filmmaking.
“Oh c’mon, nobody compares to Steven Spielberg.” Nobody with that attitude ever will, that’s for sure. Do you think it’s too much to ask someone to make movies that are better than Spielberg? Is it too much to ask a Mormon to make movies that are better than Spielberg? I thought Mormon culture taught that we should excel at whatever we do, not settle for just giving it a good try.
If LDS filmmakers want to make films that attract attention, whether in the LDS community or with a wider audience, there’s a simple formula–make good movies.