Inside the LDS movie studio

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    By Marie Davies

    The LDS Motion Picture Studio sits hidden from the street behind a high wall. It”s a bit 007. The only thing in sight is a long, thin driveway, which ends with a gate manned by a security guard.

    Once past the guard, still nothing can be seen. But after winding around the road, a warehouse appears.

    Why does the LDS Motion Picture Studio reside in such a guarded atmosphere? At first thought, it doesn”t seem like the kind of place that needs James Bond antics.

    Bill Schaefermeyer, the director of the LDS Motion Picture Studio, wouldn”t comment on MPS”s current projects, and he wouldn”t comment on how much money each project costs. Secrecy seems to define the studio. Schaefermeyer said it”s because the church needs to be careful about anything media related.

    The MPS definitely takes its role seriously.

    But it probably should.

    Responsible for creating a large portion of official church audio-visual material, the studio has created movies such as “The Testaments of One Fold and One Shepherd,” which is shown in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City, the CES seminary videos, missionary videos, visitor center videos and even “Johnny Lingo.”

    “If you talk about films, this is where they”re made,” Schaefermeyer said.

    Schaefermeyer made it clear that the LDS Motion Picture Studio operates under the direct guidance of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

    “Obviously, President Hinckley won”t be able to watch everything that we do, but it goes through approved channels,” he said. “We don”t just make them up and send them out.”

    For example, “Testaments” took about two years to make. It also took about that long just to get approval, he said.

    “We would send up proposals and when they [the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve] finally saw one that they really liked, they gave us direction,” he said. “Also involved in that is the correlation committee in the church that must approve concepts first, then scripts, and then the final finished video.”

    Cast and crew working on church films are also required to follow strict guidelines.

    “There is a standard in our hiring practice, both with the actors and the crew,” Schaefermeyer said. “They must be worthy Latter-day Saints, if we can find them. If we can”t find the expertise within the Latter-day Saint community, then we will hire people who are not members of the church, but they must live the standards of the church while they are working with us.”

    He said non-members even have to sign a MPS version of the Honor Code.

    But the LDS Motion Picture Studio has more in common with BYU than merely sharing the Honor Code idea.

    It actually began as the BYU Motion Picture Studio in 1953. They built a make-shift building, located where the Wilkinson Center now stands, and affectionately called it “The Green Barn.” Their first film: “B Y and You.”

    In 1991, church leaders decided to separate the studio from BYU and renamed it the LDS Motion Picture Studio. It is now run using only church funds.

    Like the LDS Church in general, the MPS is run by regular people – they don”t necessarily have a film or theater background.

    Schaefermeyer, looking very much like a church leader with his suit and tie, was a seminary teacher before he became the director of the MPS. That”s easy to believe based on his soft-spoken voice. Because the MPS makes the seminary videos, his background is helpful.

    The perks of working for a Latter-day Saint affiliated motion picture studio abound, said Paul Miller, the operations manager of the studio. He has a family, home, and social sciences background.

    “Here you believe in the content you”re filming,” Miller said. “I know a lot of people who have to work on the outside in film and provide for their families, and they end up working on stuff they don”t feel comfortable working on, but to feed their families they do. I don”t have to worry about that.”

    But even though the MPS often utilizes people unacquainted with the film industry, they still produce state-of-the-art films, Schaefermeyer said.

    Its equipment and studio are of the latest technology, and it makes a conscious effort to keep its films up-to-date, he said.

    “Filmmaking has progressed a great deal, and so the films that were made in the ”60s, most young people don”t really care to watch,” he said. “They want to see the fast action, high special effects, lots of music and sound effects and stuff that are being used today; so we kind of have to keep up.”

    Ultimately, the aim of the MPS is to support the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Schaeffermeyer said. That especially includes missionary work.

    Several returned missionaries on campus expressed gratitude and enthusiasm for church-produced missionary videos.

    Rich Gulbrandsen, a junior from Mesa, Ariz., majoring in finance, said he could think of “a million” incidences when missionary videos helped in conversion.

    He relayed the story of a man who, upon watching “What is Real,” realized the importance of being the spiritual head of his family and decided to join the church.

    Gulbrandsen, who served as a branch president during part of his mission, said he also saw many instances when videos helped members of the church.

    “The videos help them come together as a family unit and therefore come closer to Christ.”

    The LDS Motion Pictures Studio has come a long way from its days in “The Green Barn.” Maybe they can call the more modern super-security facility “The Underground Lair.” But their goals haven”t changed.

    “We”d like to think that it helps a lot in teaching the gospel and bringing people to Christ,” Schaefermeyer said.