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A Peek Inside the Making of the Book of Mormon Videos

by | Nov. 06, 2019

Mormon Life

Brother fighting brother. Incredible miracles. Trials, faith, love, hate. Not only does the Book of Mormon have all the needed elements for an epic story but it also calls to our spirit and draws us closer to our Savior Jesus Christ as we read it. Now we can share those same messages of faith with our families in a new format with the release of a series of Church-produced Book of Mormon videos.

If it weren’t for the glimpses of tractors and old set items behind the structure representing King Lamoni’s palace, one would feel like they were truly visiting Nephite times, walking through a marketplace laden with tools and food and pots under thatched roofs. There’s a sense of energy and anticipation on the Church production sets in Provo that have become some of the Book of Mormon lands in the Church’s new video series.

The idea to film Book of Mormon scenes has been around since the Church’s Bible videos project began nearly 10 years ago. In fact, the Jerusalem set built for the Bible scenes was designed to be used later for the Book of Mormon videos as well. But why is this project so important?

Elder Curtis of the Seventy is part of the steering committee for the Book of Mormon videos. 

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis, Jr. of the Seventy, who has been part of the steering committee in charge of all things related to the videos, explains, 

“I think the purpose of the videos is the same as the Book of Mormon: to bring people to Christ. These videos don’t replace the Book of Mormon. I think one of the wonderful things about the videos is that they can help encourage people to read the Book of Mormon.”

John Munoa, an art director for the series, further explains, “The aim of it all is that bottom line of bringing people back to the Atonement. And we thought about those things in the props we created. Even the sword of Laban has symbolism that brings you back to the temple. It’s kind of cool to be able to think those things through.”

Beautifully complementing the Bible videos, the Book of Mormon videos are intended to benefit not only members but also those who are unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon or who live in areas with low literacy rates, allowing them to access these powerful scripture stories for the first time. Producer Aaron Merrell explains, “One thing that’s really exciting about the series is that we are able to give people context so that they understand more what’s going on in the story, then they can learn from those teachings even better.”

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Producer of the Book of Mormon videos, Aaron Merrell. 

Because the Book of Mormon videos often need more background than the Bible videos did, they have been filmed in longer episodes, sometimes up to 20 minutes long. Each episode will then be broken into smaller segments. The goal is to make the videos more flexible—a Sunday School teacher might share a 2-minute piece of a story to illustrate a principle while a family with young children might opt to watch an entire 10-minute story. Additionally, Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the general Relief Society presidency, says that these shorter segments will be ideal for sharing on social media and increasing positive search results of the Book of Mormon and will resonate with families in various situations. “The producers and the screenwriters and everybody have done a good job in portraying how the family is so central in every story,” she says.

Becoming Nephites

Jackson VanDerwerken plays Nephi in the new Book of Mormon video series. Photo from Church Newsroom.

Jackson VanDerwerken, who filmed season one in 2017 before leaving on a mission to Brazil, was excited to be cast as one of his greatest role models: Nephi. He recalls working hard to put on 15 pounds of muscle in two months, training with acting experts in his area, and learning his lines. But he quickly realized one aspect of preparation he had been missing. “As we approached the shoot dates, I found myself wrapped up in the physical preparing. So, I went back to the basics; I studied the first book of Nephi harder than ever, prayed for [God’s] guidance, kept His commandments, and fulfilled all of my priesthood responsibilities.”

Liliana Corona Guerrero, who was cast as the wife of King Lamoni in the third season, had a similar experience preparing for her role. “I realized it’s not about impressing anyone or not feeling beautiful or talented or whatnot,” she says. “I’m here to help bear testimony of the Book of Mormon. It’s a powerful story about my people, and it’s empowering to finally be able to share that to the world through media.”

Liliana Guerrero talks about her role as King Lamoni's wife in the new Book of Mormon series. 

Actors also prepared by studying the scriptures closer than ever and really trying to understand who these ancient people were. Actor Ryan Wood learned more about his character, Abinadi, by pondering about what the prophet was likely thinking and feeling. He says, “I try and find out not only why would the character himself pick those words but also why did the production choose those?”

Amber Weiss, cast as Abish in the third season, studied scholarly articles about her character in addition to reading the Book of Mormon and learned a lot about this remarkable woman. But, she adds, you won’t get Abish’s whole story from the video, so she hopes viewers will go back and read it in the Book of Mormon.

Amber Weiss plays Abish in the third season of the Book of Mormon videos.
Author photo

Jannalee Sandau

Jannalee started as an editorial intern at LDS Living in 2013 and loves that she still has the opportunity to write and share articles about Latter-day Saints every day. At work, Jannalee loves mining Church history for unique stories, and at home, if she isn't spending time with her sweetheart, Matthew, and her active little boy, you can probably find her scrapbooking or playing the piano.

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