It follows the Benjamin Steed family, who has recently moved from Vermont to Palmyra, and quickly finds itself at the center of a religious controversy that threatens to tear the family apart.
Given the enormous popularity of the series, Russ Holt, the movie’s director and screenwriter (best know for The Lamb of God, and How Rare a Possession), saw the project as both a great opportunity and tremendous challenge. “I told Gerald Lund that I feel a great responsibility to him, the characters, the story, and the millions who love his books, and also to the millions who love good cinema,” said Holt. “I feel a responsibility to all those parties to make sure they don’t come away disappointed.”
From the looks of things, the movie will be able to live up to those high expectations. The Work and the Glory producers have been able to assemble a top-notch group of cast and crew thanks to a very healthy budget by LDS film standards. The film’s price tag of $7.4 million (financed entirely by Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller) makes it the most expensive LDS film to date.
Producer Scott Swafford, best known for his work in IMAX (Mysteries of Egypt, Amazon), has high expectations of his own—including the objective that this movie will speak not only to LDS audiences, but to all audiences.
“We spend a lot of time in this culture talking to ourselves,” says Swafford. “We have our own special language; we have words no other culture uses. Most of the wonderful media that’s been created by the Church is created generally by people in the market for the market and speaks largely to Latter-day Saints. I think that what we’re creating with this film is a Latter-day Saint story that has universal values in the general market.”
It would seem that the plot has all of the components for a blockbuster. At a press conference announcing the film, Sheri Dew read a letter from Elder Lund (who is currently on assignment in Europe) in which he explained that his books contains “all the elements of great drama—conflict, courage, betrayal, treachery, love, sacrifice, violence.”
The cast put together to portray such an intense drama, and to an audience with such high expectations, had quite a task ahead of them; but, according to Russ Holt, they’ve been able to find just the right group. “We wanted to bring in the very best talent we could find that hasn’t been over exposed in this market, said Holt. “We thought it was important to see some fresh faces. We think they’ll be able to bring a depth and a maturity to the roles, which we feel is really important.”
One of those actors is Eric Johnson who plays Joshua Steed, the oldest son in the Steed family. Johnson (who played “Whitney” on the WB’s Smallville) is not a Latter-day Saint, and though he has done one other project dealing with Mormonism, his knowledge of Joseph Smith, the time period, and LDS history was quite limited before beginning this project.
“It has been interesting to find out a little bit more about the Latter-day Saint culture,” said Johnson. “I did a made-for-TV movie about polygamy, so I ended up having to do some research then, but that was years ago, so doing this now, I’ve been able to find out even more. I’ve found out about the man Joseph Smith, which has been really interesting; the fact that he was such a passionate man and realizing what he accomplished in such a short period of time is really incredible.”
“I even read a quote that he liked to wrestle!” continued Johnson. “That’s the thing that stood out in my mind the most. Prophet…Leader…Wrestler. You don’t usually put those things together! It’s been great to get to understand him a little better on a different level.”
That personal insight, regardless of the viewer’s faith, is just what director Russ Holt is aiming for. “We want to immerse them in the world of 1820s western New York and the controversy and challenges that were surrounding people at that time as they came in contact with Joseph Smith,” said Holt.
“We want them to feel what it was like to live in Palmyra at the time that this young farm boy was starting to be scrutinized and criticized, and what it would feel like to just be a regular townsperson, without all of the background that we have now.”
“What would it be like to make your way through that experience and what would your feelings and thoughts be in trying to make sense of it all? We want people to feel like ‘I’ve been there now. I know what it’s like to live in the time of Joseph Smith. I understand him more. I have a better understanding of what he went through.’ I think that would be a great accomplishment.”
The Work and the Glory will open in sixty markets and will be released around Thanksgiving in 2004.