Mormon Artist

Episode 16: T.C. Christensen, The Cokeville Miracle

Show Notes

Episode 16 thumbnail
Courtesy T.C. Christensen

In this episode Mormon Artist podcast host Katherine Morris interviews filmmaker T.C. Christensen about his upcoming film, The Cokeville Miracle, released in theaters June 5th.

  • Interview date: May 16, 2015
  • Movie website
  • Note: Podcast music and sound by Saint Roxcy. Copyright © Saint Roxcy 2015. All rights reserved.


Katherine Morris: Welcome to the Mormon Artist podcast. I’m your host, Katherine Morris. Today we’re speaking with T.C. Christensen. Hi, T.C.

T.C. Christensen: Hi! I’m here!

Katherine: T.C. Christensen is a filmmaker known for Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration, Emma Smith: My Story, Gordon B. Hinckley: A Giant Among Men, 17 Miracles, and Ephraim’s Rescue. His new film, The Cokeville Miracle, will be released in theaters June 5th.

Today that’s actually the film we’re going to be talking about. I saw The Cokeville Miracle at the LDS Film Festival in March, and it had a great reception there. It was a sold-out showing. It’s coming up, so I’d like to talk about it.

One of the things that I just realized this morning is that today’s the anniversary of the events that the film depicts.

Episode 16
Courtesy of T.C. Christensen

T.C.: Yes. It was May 16th, 1986. Twenty-nine years. That 29 years has left its mark still on quite a few people who were involved in the incident. It was really a tough thing for those folks in that town to have to go through.

Katherine: So, for those who haven’t seen the film, you can check out the trailer. It’s about the Cokeville Elementary School hostage crisis, which occurred on May 16th, 1986, in Cokeville, Wyoming, where the former town marshal, David Young, and his wife, Doris Young, took 136 children and 18 adults hostage at the Cokeville Elementary School.

That’s the story depicted in the film, and there were a lot of large and small miracles surrounding that event that a lot of the children and adults experienced that are also depicted in the film.

T.C.: Let me just say that what you just described—the hostage situation—that’s the “movie of the week” idea: Oh, kids in peril. But what interests me in the story is what happened after. In the days and the weeks following the event, several of the children began to talk to their parents and say, “Mom, you know why I got out safely? There was a lady in white, and she stood by me and told me what I should do.” There were several of those kind of miraculous incidents, so that was mainly what I wanted to explore with this film.

Katherine: I wanted to ask you about that—how you became acquainted with the events depicted in the film, and what made you decide that you wanted to put that story to film.

T.C.: Well, we had a premiere for another film of mine, which was about seven or eight years ago. At that premiere, my cousin Stan and Norma Brunswick—they came up to me and said, “Boy, have we got a story for you.” Well, I thought, “My cousin’s going to tell me a story? Cousins don’t know movies.” But I listened to it. He gave me about a paragraph of the idea, and I thought that sounded good.

I took a meeting with a friend of theirs and he gave me books and videos and all kinds of things. I went through it and thought, “This is really a good story—and the type of story that I would like to tell.” But at the time I had a few other projects, 17 Miracles and Ephraim’s Rescue being some that were lined up. I was focusing on them, and once I finished Ephraim’s Rescue, I started looking at what I wanted to do next.

That jumped out at me, so it’s been two years since I’ve been working on it, researching it, and getting it ready. Then we shot it last summer.

Katherine: So, tell me about doing that research and preparing for the film. Because, I know that it took a lot of preparation—there was a lot of background interviewing and such I’m sure that went into that. One of the survivors of the hostage situation in an interview with the Deseret News said that you were “unusually sensitive to the survivors’ needs and desire for the story to be told right.”

T.C.: That’s nice. That’s a good thing to say.

Katherine: I know that it is a sensitive story, and it’s a story that’s very close to the hearts and minds of that community. What was that like to research it and approach that?

T.C.: Well, the pioneer films—when I make a film about Levi Savage, he’s been dead for over 100 years. Now here I’m stepping into a different boundary, where these people are almost all still with us. So, I wanted to be sensitive to what they thought the film should be about and that they would like it.

There was another project done about 20 years ago. They did not like and support it, and I can see why. I saw it, and I did not want to make that type of film. So, my partner, Ron Tanner, and I—we went up to Cokeville and held a couple of town meetings.

We interviewed everyone we could who would talk to us about the incident and their feelings about it, and we just tried to let the community know that we wanted to know what they think and that we support them. We want to make a film that they would be proud of.

They were terrific. That’s a great town. There are a lot of wonderful people in that town, and they have been terrific to us. We’ve got to know many of the survivors from room four (room four is the room the bomb went off in). They have helped us in many ways. We try to get them to come to premieres, and so forth. I’ve told them, “We will not show the film until we’ve shown it to you.”

We had an early screening. You mentioned you came to the LDS Film Festival. Well, it was that morning. We had about 120 Cokeville people come and watch the film. From then we felt, okay, now we’re okay to go out. Because, you can understand: they didn’t want to get calls from somebody down in Vernal, Utah, saying, “Hey, I saw you in this film, and there’s this character, and it’s you…” and they haven’t even seen it. I understand that wouldn’t be fair, so we went to some effort to make sure they saw it first.

Katherine: What were some of their concerns? What did they not appreciate about some of the earlier depictions of the story? What were some of the concerns and things you had to be sensitive to?

T.C.: Well, there were just things like—I don’t think Cokeville and the state of Wyoming were depicted very fairly in another project. They kind of looked like hicks and just a bunch of dorks who don’t really know what’s going on in life.

And then, of course, they just totally concentrated on the peril—that you’ve got kids with a mean guy and a bomb. To me, that’s only the setup for the story. They made that the entire story. When that ends, you’ve got another two minutes and the film’s over with.

So, they just had those kinds of concerns, and we addressed them. You can never, of course, please 100 percent of the people, but we’ve tried.

Katherine: So, did they feel that focusing on the children in peril was a little bit exploitative and only told part of the story?

T.C.: Yes, exactly. If you’re going to tell this story, the point of it is God’s hand in what happened to keep all of those kids—even though burned, none of them died. None of the adults died. And how miraculous in many ways.

The film shows, as you saw, as you get into the third act, Ron Hartley—who’s the investigative sheriff—as he’s going through and trying to figure out what really happened. It’s just one thing after another for 25 minutes of amazing things that prevented those kids from being really seriously harmed.

Katherine: It was really interesting when I was watching it, because the story arc that was chosen is exactly what you’re describing. At first I was surprised by it, because going into it, being somewhat familiar with the story—at least in a general sense—I was expecting the climax of the story to be when the bomb goes off, because that’s literally an explosive moment. That’s a very high point in the action.

And that happened much earlier than I was anticipating, and I realized, oh, the story arc isn’t hostage crisis building, building, building, building and then resolving. The story arc is hostage crisis situation building, building, resolving—and then that arc is framed in a larger story arc, which is this family’s spiritual journey, and in particular the father, who’s having somewhat of a crisis of faith.

T.C.: You’ve got it, yeah. That’s exactly the deal, and once I laid that out—that that’s how I was going to handle the story—then the Cokeville people could see that, okay, this is something more in line with our thinking, and not as exploitative.

Katherine: Mmm hmm. Because for them—the feeling I got from the story and what you’re describing as them wanting it to be told “right,” or how they experienced it—for them, it sounds like the main events, or the events that were important to them were not so much Doris and David Young coming in and taking children hostage. But to them, the events that have stayed with them that are significant and are the main story, even, are the miracles that happened around it—and the experience they had with children seeing their ancestors, or women in white protecting them. That’s what stayed with them later.

T.C.: Yeah, exactly right. And that’s what I wanted to tell about, also.

Katherine: So, the reception was pretty positive, then, when you showed it to the Cokeville residents.

T.C.: That experience was kind of tense. We’re going to drag them back through these terrible memories, and they’re going to have to sit and watch it and have things come to mind that they haven’t really dwelt on and thought about for many years.

When it was over, I felt like there was a sigh of relief—that they felt, okay, this isn’t making fun of us, and it’s done with respect and hits the right points. And then the most amazing thing that I noticed was how many of the survivors and the people from Cokeville at the end of our screening did not want to leave.

Many of them hung around for two hours after, talking about it and the incident, the film—and talking to each other, someone they hadn’t seen for a long period of time. Really, a great kind of feeling of a family reunion, and I think just a big [sigh]. Everything’s okay, now we can feel good about this.”

Katherine: Kind of a catharsis or closure of some kind.

T.C.: Yeah.

Katherine: That’s really interesting. So, you talked to a lot of the survivors directly.

T.C.: Oh, sure.

Episode 16
Courtesy of T.C. Christensen

Katherine: Did you have some skepticism when you first heard about the story?

T.C.: Do you mean skepticism as to whether it was a true story?

Katherine: Yeah.

T.C.: No, and here’s why—and here’s what I think is a really good point that I’d like to make about The Cokeville Miracle and this experience up there. There have been other miraculous incidents that have happened in our culture and in the Americas in the last many years that—it was all about one person, and then you find out later it was a hoax, or that they were untrue in what they were saying.

A great thing of this film is that it’s not one person; it’s several people. Even though they’re kids, there are several of them. They have different experiences, but they all corroborate with each other, and so it’s like “In the mouth of two or three witnesses.” You have a much more solid testimony of what happened.

Katherine: They were stories that were told separately but were corroborating the same kind of event occurring.

T.C.: Yeah, and so let’s say somebody at some point were to come forward and say, “You know what, I made that up.” Well, you’ve got a whole bunch of other ones that would have to do the same thing, because it was not one person.

Katherine: Yeah, that’s really interesting.

I’d like to talk about actually shooting the film. I was really interested in the casting. I thought the acting was quite good, particularly the villains—David and Doris Young. They gave some excellent performances.

I thought Doris Young was a really fascinating character. It was really interesting, because she was obviously very devoted to her husband—this is how it’s depicted—very devoted to her husband, thought he was very brilliant, but at times you could kind of see in her face, “What if he is crazy?” She was played as a very complicated character, I think. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

And then, David Young, who was played by Nathan Stevens—he did strike this balance between very menacing and unbalanced, but at the same time had his—I don’t know if charming would be the right word—but he’s not just a monster. He’s also human—a very unbalanced human—but also human. Just in the little ways he’d interact with the kids, that would kind of come across. I feel like that would be really difficult to portray.

How did you find those actors?

T.C.: Let me comment first on what you’ve been talking about, and then I’ll come back to that.You are right that they are complicated characters. I had a psychiatrist helping me to understand what these types of people are going through and what they’re thinking.

Katherine: Oh, interesting.

T.C.: Basically, at this point in their lives, they’re both crazy—mentally unstable in some way. It’s very common with Doris, the wife, that she’s just under his thumb and trying to keep the peace and trying to just kind of make it okay. Lots of kids in that classroom said that they liked her. She was kind and listening and fun and played games with them, and so forth. I think she was just trying to make up for his meanness and craziness.

But with David—my idea of David Young is not just that somehow he became mentally ill and was crazy, but he was steeped in sin. He became worse and worse—and Doris is involved with this too—to where I don’t think they knew what was right and what was wrong anymore. They were just overcome with all of it, and then of course the mental stuff comes in and plays with it.

A great experience I had with this film—you know, my pioneer films—there’s really no antagonist. There’s no mean guy, really, that follows the Willie Handcart or the Martin Handcart Company. It’s the weather. That’s really the only antagonist you have. But with this film, I got a mean guy. It was kind of fun to figure out how to play him and make him bad just visually and with audio and music. Because the more bad he is, it makes the goodness and the miracles even larger.

So, for casting—you know, my hero in filmmaking is Frank Capra.

Katherine: Oh, yeah?

T.C.: He was a great director of the thirties and forties. It’s a Wonderful Life is his most famous film now. And Frank Capra said 80 percent of directing is casting. And I take that to heart. We spent a lot of time, we have a lot of sessions, we bring them in a lot of times, trying to figure out who’s going to play this and pull it off.

Because I tell you, when you cast the wrong person, you spend all your time and energy just struggling, trying to get an acceptable performance. But when you get the right person, you just hold onto their skirt, and they just carry you right through the film. They’ll come up with things, and take two is marvelous, and you don’t have to do more than that, and there you go.

So, in looking for these characters, of course I had pictures of them, and I wanted to have somebody who looked a little bit like them. I can’t just say I’m going to try to make them look totally like them, mostly because people don’t know who they are representing. They don’t know what David Young looked like when they see the film.

But with Nathan, I had worked with his brother and knew he was very good. His brother came in, and I was considering his brother with a few others, and then his agent called and said, “Well, you need to see his brother. He’s great too. You shouldn’t leave him out. At least look at him.”

Well, Nathan came in, and to me, he was the guy—almost right off. When I saw him, I thought he looked great, and I just thought, “Oh, I hope he can act. I hope he can do this.” He really blew us away in the read-through in his casting session, so he was in.

Katherine: Yeah. He just kind of masters that quietly menacing—

T.C.: Unbalanced; you don’t know what he’s going to do next—

Katherine: Yeah. Erratic kind of feel, for sure.

T.C.: And then with Doris—for many years I’ve worked with Kym Mellen. I specifically called her in. I said I wanted to see her, because I thought she might be interesting in the part. Kym doesn’t actually have much resemblance to the real Doris Young, but I’d take a good actor above looks any day. To me, a great actor can overcome any of that. They’ll convince you that they’re the character very quickly, and then you don’t even think about it anymore.

Katherine: They put in some great performances.

You had a lot of children in your film, and they were all in one room. That sounds like fun. It also sounds like a bit of a challenge. What were some of the challenges of filming, just in general?

T.C.: Well, that’s a good one that you’ve pointed out. Let me tell you, I considered that. I knew we were going to be in a not very big room for two weeks with these kids, and they’re all between kindergarten and sixth grade. That’s a recipe for driving me nuts.

Katherine: So, some of that restlessness may have actually been real is what you’re saying.

T.C.: So, what I tried to do to help that situation—we can’t afford with our small budget to have 154 people (that’s how many were in the room). We can’t afford to have that every day for two weeks. So, one thing that I did is that I cut it back. We only had in that room—it was more like 60 people. Because of that, we had to kind of fudge and lower the amount of the ransom and a few things. Not because I didn’t know what the ransom really was but because we couldn’t deal with that many people.

And then our assistant director and his staff, Bob Conder—they worked hard to keep the kids under control, to get them out of there sometimes and let them play and have a break and then bring them back in. And, truthfully, if there was a kid who was not listening and obeying and doing what we needed them to do, after a second chance, I would just say, “Take them out.” And we’d take them out and tell their mom that they’d go home now. Because you just can’t deal with that.

One thing that was hard with those kids is they have to be quiet. They have to look like they’re playing, but they can’t be talking and yelling and clanging things around or we can’t get clean dialogue with what we’re recording. So, they have to pantomime it and fake it. Well, they’re not actors—they haven’t been trained in that. But they did a great job in doing that. And, really, it was a great experience. Those two weeks in that classroom really was not anything that was a problem at all.

Katherine: Yeah, I was impressed by the performances of the children. And the actor who played Jason Hartley was—he was really good. He seemed to give quite an intelligent but innocent performance.

T.C.: Well, that kid, Lego Stinger—Kimball Stinger (I call him “Lego”)—Lego was only I think eight years old when we filmed that, maybe seven. You don’t really get looking at the film what a little kid he is, but he really—he and his family (he’s from a family of actors)—they get it. They have a great mom that helps them and runs them through their scenes. By the time they come to me, I just push them a little bit one way or the other, and he did a great job.

You asked about what challenges there are with making this film. One of them I wanted to tell you is—it’s just like always—it’s a low-budget film. In terms of feature films, this is minuscule to what Hollywood spends.

The biggest factor that means to me is we have to do the whole movie in about 22 days, where Hollywood would do it in about 42 days. So, you have so much more work to do per day that the pressure of, oh, we gotta get to the next scene, and we gotta do that. And then if something’s going wrong or a problem, or I realize, “This is good. I want to explore this scene a little more and do some more coverage and add a few lines,” it’s very hard to do that when you’re doing this type of a low-budget film.

Katherine: I thought it was a very beautifully shot film. The cinematography was really lovely. My understanding is that you have a background in cinematography. So, how does that influence your approach as a director?

T.C.: Any experience in film is good for becoming a director, because a director has to oversee every department. And in this case, I am also the director of photography, not because I think I’m the only one and I’m the best or anything like that. It’s just—

Katherine: Budget concerns.

T.C.: Yeah. I can direct and shoot. I’ve done it for many, many years, especially with commercials. That’s very common. And so it’s second nature to me. I can do it, and because I am also the director of photography, I can set up shots very quickly. I know where I want the light to come from and how long it will take. If it’s too complicated of a shot, I can think of a simpler way to do it.

So, that’s just another arrow in my quiver that I can draw on that can hopefully push us through the day quickly, also being the director of photography.

I’ve mostly been a director of photography in my career. I’m older now. I’ve got a lot of stories that I want to tell now, so now I’m doing more directing. But I still love to go back and work with other directors and other people and just be responsible for the camera and the lighting.

Episode 16
Courtesy of T.C. Christensen

Katherine: I wanted to ask you—there are so many characters who contribute to the film and to the story—but the more point-of-view protagonist character is Ron Hartley, who is a policeman in the town. He’s the skeptic; he’s kind of the Doubting Thomas of the film. What made you choose to make him the main character—and to look at those events somewhat through his eyes?

T.C.: That’s a great question. One reason was because that’s basically a true story, so I wasn’t having to make up something—an arc for a protagonist.

The second thing is as I looked at the story, for me, and really the world—what you require in a good story is the protagonist has to change. He can’t be the same person at the end of the film that he was at the first of the film. And quite a few of these people—they have changed because of the event—but the Ron Hartley character is the character that really underwent some turmoil. “You should have been there, you didn’t protect them,” even though he’s the protector of the town. He has all these conflicts between his job and religion and dealing with God. And then at the end, he’s got a whole new life. He’s got an open door into another way of thinking.

So, that was really what got me—was that Ron Hartley went through a great change.

Katherine: And that was—you said it was a true story.

T.C.: Yeah. Ron would be the first to admit. You know, I didn’t embellish much. I wrote the dialogue. But even his wife has told me that a lot of that dialogue is dialogue they had in the privacy of their own home.

Because anybody, I think, who’s been around law enforcement people—it’s a very common problem. They deal all week with the garbage of the world. And then they go to church on Sunday, and people tell them, “Oh, just pray and do this and everything will be okay.” It’s hard for them to rectify those two worlds that they live on. And Ron Hartley was no different. He had that problem, and it took him some time and some of these experiences to feel good about it.

Katherine: I think it works really well as far as storytelling goes.

T.C.: Let me tell you one other thing I like to tell about the storytelling.

Katherine: Sure.

T.C.: That style that I decided in writing the script that I was going to do came from when I was a student at BYU. One Saturday night I went to see an Agatha Christie film called Death on the Nile. That film used a different style of telling the story than conventionally is used, and it stuck in my head, and I’ve always liked it. And it basically was that really the [boom] incident happens way earlier in the film than normal, and then you spend the whole final third act examining it from different points of view.

I loved that, and as I thought of that when this came up, and that’s what I applied to writing the script to The Cokeville Miracle, I felt like that was a solid, good way to tell the story.

Katherine: Yeah, I think it definitely kept the interest. The other part of the storytelling that was surprising but also quite compelling, was that you didn’t give everything away right at the beginning. So, there were things that I was familiar with, having read about it, as far as some of the wires on the bomb being cut so they didn’t detonate and things like that.

I was watching it, and it doesn’t say—you don’t see that—or the angels or things like that (Well, you never see the angels. That’s another thing I liked about it. I think it does still give you space for interpreting the events.) But things like the wires cut—those things that were definitely facts—undeniable facts that weren’t just based on testimony (even very convincing testimony)—that those details were revealed gradually.

So, you see the event—the hostage crisis situation—and then in the second half of the film, or the last 30 minutes, you go back and revisit the film, and you see those little details, and it slowly fleshes out, so you get a bigger, more clear picture of the story. Which I thought was really smart, because it kept my interest throughout the ending of that film. It could just be a very long resolution that wasn’t very interesting. But it actually adds interest continually to the events that you’ve just seen.

T.C.: Well, and beyond what you’re mentioning, we do “plants” where we plant something earlier on in the film and then later explain it. But for a while there, you don’t know what it is.

Katherine: Right. It reminded me a little bit of The Sixth Sense in that way. There are these little hints here and there of what’s actually going on, and then as those details become revealed later on, it kind of refers back to it, and you say, “Oh, that’s what was happening. That’s so interesting.”

T.C.: Yeah. Mmm hmm.

Katherine: Well, so what has the reception been like so far? You said it was pretty positive with the residents. I was at the LDS Film Festival and struggled to get a seat, so I know that it was a sold-out showing and the reaction was very positive. So, what have people been saying about it to you?

T.C.: Well, no film is going to be 100 percent loved. We’ve had a few people who have a few criticisms, but really the response has been overwhelmingly good. Now, we’ve had probably to this point 10 different screenings, and they’ve all been more like invitation-only, private screenings. But, I’m excited for June 5th when it’s thrown out there to the public, to see how they react to it. But based on what we’ve done so far, I hope it’s going to be very positive.

Because the story is great. I’m not tooting my own horn about it for the movie. The story is powerful. It’s for our time. It’s needed for people to see God’s hand can be in our lives now. Having done those pioneer films—over and over I would have people come up to me and say, “You know, God’s still around. That 160-year-old stuff is fine, but why don’t you ever do something contemporary?” And this is. It’s 29 years, but it’s still in our day. So, I feel pretty good about putting this story out to the public.

Katherine: I have read some of the reviews of the film. I know some of the concern—and this was something obviously anticipated by you and other people in the film—one of the concerns was there were so many miracles in this hostage situation, but why weren’t those same miracles manifest in other hostage crisis situations? And is that going to be painful and difficult for people who are in these other situations to see?

What would you say about that?

T.C.: Well, we actually address it with a little piece in the epilogue of the film, where we say other people in other hostage situations—their problem hasn’t turned out as well as it did in this, and I don’t know why. I don’t know why these people were blessed and the people of Columbine and other incidents weren’t, but what I do know is that the people of Cokeville were blessed. So, I think it behooves me as a storyteller not to shy away from that, because we did see God’s hand there. We saw miracles, so why should we be embarrassed about it? We should talk about it.

And I know that some people will be hurt, and some things will come up—some bad memories and so forth from other things that did not turn out as well, but I believe that the good that can come from this is way beyond the bad that will come from it. So, we just go ahead and do our best and let her rip.

Katherine: So, what would you hope that someone would get out of seeing this film?

T.C.: Well, I hope that they come away realizing prayer is important. It should be part of our lives. God can be in our lives. We can ask for things and receive answer to prayer. And I hope that they just learn more from this Cokeville miracle story that the—I don’t think that many people know about. The few people that I run into that really know the story—all they remember is guns, bomb, mean guy. There’s way more to the story than that. And now they have a chance of knowing what really went on on that day in 1986.

Katherine: There was an article in the Huffington Post just yesterday—I don’t know if you saw it—by Liz Carlston. She a survivor of Columbine. Someone had told her about The Cokeville Miracle, and so she wrote an article about her thoughts as a survivor of Columbine who has talked to some of the survivors of the Cokeville miracle.

She’s Christian, and so she has a particular viewpoint on those. But she did quote one of the survivors of the Cokeville miracle, who said that the point of them wanting to get their story out there is not that they feel like they’re special but that prayer is special.

Of course, then the question could be “Well, other people pray, and their prayers might be answered in a different way.” But she seemed to feel that the Columbine story is important—to tell her story as a survivor—but that this story could also be useful for people to hear and think about.

T.C.: Well, I’m glad to hear that. I think that’s a very healthy way of looking at it. The point we make about in the epilogue is in Christ’s day not every leper that lived all through Israel was healed. He didn’t heal everyone of them. He didn’t heal every blind person. But that doesn’t mean that when a miracle happens and he did heal a leper that we shouldn’t talk about it because some other leper might feel bad. I think we need to know and talk about God’s hand when we see it.

Episode 16
Courtesy of T.C. Christensen

Katherine: Can I ask you about some of the marketing choices for the film?

T.C.: Sure.

Katherine: What do you see as being your audience for the film?

T.C.: Well, our primary audience is believers—Christian people. This is not a specifically LDS film. That town is heavily LDS, but what happened there and who it happened to—it would be very narrow to try to act like this was just something given to Mormons. It wasn’t.

So, we’re really trying to market it to first of all the Christian people. But at the same time, hoping you can always get the little fray, the edges of that, where you bring in non-believers and maybe get somebody thinking about, “Maybe there is something I should be doing instead of being so agnostic and living my life without God in it.”

Katherine: I was wondering about that film, because it’s about a predominantly Mormon community, but it’s never stated in the film that these people are predominantly Mormon. And there are even points in the film—I think at one point in the film, someone refers to a “pastor” instead of to a bishop. So, “pastor” would be some other Christian denomination, and “bishop” would be Mormon.

So, were those choices made—those artistic choices were influenced by the marketing, the audience you were wanting to go for?

T.C.: Yeah. If we had made it with just an LDS point of view, with a bishop and so forth, we would never have been able to reach as many people. So, we looked at that and made that decision early on—that we were going to try to go broader.

I’ll tell you another area we’re trying to go broader is our pioneer films have tended to strike a chord mostly with an older generation. I think they see their heritage and they want to pass it on to their children and their grandchildren and so forth. But I think this film, based on some of the screenings we’ve had with young people—the young adult group. I think they have just as much an interest in this film as an older generation does. Maybe it’s the “children of peril” is a good hook. Maybe it’s just the theme of prayer and God in our lives strike a deeper chord with them.

Katherine: Well, we’ll see. It’s opening June 5th. Where can people see it?

T.C.: It’s really all up and down the Wasatch Front from Boise and Idaho Falls all the way down to St. George and Mesa on its open. But we’re in about 20 other markets as well on June 5th, which includes Dallas and Atlanta and Spokane and Orange County, California.

And, you know, I have to plead for support, because this opening weekend is so important. Theaters are all by numbers, and if we don’t get people out during that first weekend and that week, they’ll just dump it for whatever the first Hollywood show that comes out. That’s how it works. So, we’re hoping to get some support from people—that they don’t wait and just think, “Oh, we’ll get to that later.” Because there may not be a later.

Katherine. Right. So, if you want to see it, plan on seeing it opening weekend, because you might not be able to see it the next week.

T.C.: Yeah.

Katherine: Well, that’s exciting! Are you excited?

T.C.: I am! I’ve been on this for two years. I want to get it out and see how it does. We’re busily promoting and trying to go out and let people know about it. Again, with a low-budget film—we don’t have the money that Hollywood does to promote and spend millions of dollars on TV and advertising. I feel like I have to make a film that’s good enough that people come home from seeing it and say to their neighbor: you’ve got to go see that. It’s a good film. That’s the best marketing there.

Katherine: Word of mouth.

Well, I’m excited to see how it does and to see what the reception is—both in the Mormon community and then in the larger Christian audience.

T.C.: Let me mention—our distributor itself took it down to Dallas last week and had a screening for—I’m sorry, I don’t remember which Christian group. Anyway, they handed out survey cards and asked them what they thought and if anything offended them and so forth, and we did really well.

Arthur Van Wagenen from Excel came back from that—he came back from that very pumped, because it was such a warm reception. People really liked the movie and felt like it had relevance in their lives. So, hopefully we can make a dent outside just the Wasatach Front.

Katherine: That’s great to hear.

Okay, well thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

T.C.: Oh, Katherine, thank you for talking to me. It’s a pleasure. ❧

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