The man behind the movies: Mitch Davis

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Movie writer and producer Mitch Davis directs the actors of his latest film, "Stuck." (Photo courtesy Mitch Davis)
Movie writer and producer Mitch Davis directs the actors of his latest film, “Stuck.” (Photo courtesy Mitch Davis)

It’s 6 a.m., and the director is up and ready to go.

He eats a rushed breakfast and hurries to the sound stage to prepare everything for the day’s scenes. There are sets to arrange, actors to prep and equipment to set up. The crew shoots, the cast performs, and all the while the director supervises.

By 11:30 p.m., it’s finally time to wrap things up for the day, just in time for him to catch some sleep before doing it all over again the next day.

That’s a scene from the life of Mitch Davis, a BYU alumnus whose career in filmmaking has led him to write and direct films like “The Other Side of Heaven.” Davis’s desire to uplift is evident by the way he treats people and how he tells inspiring stories through his films.

“Before I went to BYU, before I began to study at a university, I think that like most people, I viewed movies merely as entertainment,” Davis said.

Davis, a freshman at BYU in 1976, took an introduction to film class that changed his outlook on film. The professor required his students to watch Frank Capra’s 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which Davis had neither seen nor heard of.

“When I saw that movie for the first time, it was not a cinematic experience. It was a spiritual experience,” Davis said. “I felt the effects of that movie for three days. For 72 hours I walked around campus in a daze.”

Davis originally majored in English to fulfill his passion of writing novels and poetry. He felt inspired by the works of novelist Willa Cather and poets William Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold and Robert Frost. But his fear of being unable to provide sufficiently for his family as a writer led him to start working as a computer salesman instead.

Poetry became a source of inspiration and strength while he worked to support his young family. Davis recited poems to his wife each night before bed, many of which he can repeat word for word to this day. Poetry kept his dream of writing alive during his days as a salesman.

He soon found an outlet that would allow him to write and make a decent living. He began working as a screenwriter but was displeased with the way some directors executed his work. He realized screenwriters lose total control of their material after selling it.

He decided to become a director so he could direct his stories the way he imagined them. His knowledge of the film industry grew, and he learned he had to become a producer so he could hire himself to direct his own movies.

“That’s how I became a filmmaker top to bottom; I was kind of backed into it,” Davis said.

Davis sold his home and cars, uprooted his family and moved to Los Angeles so he could attend graduate film school at the University of Southern California. He worked as a creative executive for Disney after graduation and worked on many well-known films, including “Dead Poet’s Society,” “White Fang,” “The Rocketeer” and “Newsies.”

His own films focus on celebrating the human spirit. Characters like LDS missionary John Groberg from “The Other Side of Heaven” and the Jewish man who falls in love with a Palestinian woman in “A House Divided” try to overcome their struggles through courage and faith.

Davis’s latest film,”Stuck,” which is currently in post-production, follows a similar theme. The film is a dramatic comedy that takes place on a Christmas Eve in New York City. It follows the stories of seven groups of people who get stuck overnight, most of them in elevators. The film is a parable of the human condition.

“We all get stuck at one time or another in our lives,” Davis said. “Whether or not we choose to get unstuck, whether or not we succeed in getting unstuck depends a lot on who we are, how hard we try and who we have to help us.”

The movie, filmed in Bulgaria, stars Patrick Stewart, Jon Heder, Gary Cole, James Roday and Cheryl Hines. It will feature in the film festival circuit, and filmmakers will release it in November 2015.

Steve Lee, co-producer of “Stuck,” said Davis was one of the best directors he has worked with.

“Mitch is very professional and he’s also very laid back, so you can feel like what you have to say he’ll listen to,” Lee said.

Ty Arnold, director of photography for “Stuck,” said Davis “allows people to bring their talents to the table instead of dictating what he wants.”

Davis’s wife, Michelle, recalls when her husband and his crew finished shooting in Bulgaria, one woman in charge of running the studio mentioned she had worked with Americans for 16 years. She had always disliked them for how they had treated her and her co-workers but said of Davis and his crew, “You guys have redeemed the way we feel about Americans.”

Mitch Davis enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren whenever he isn’t filming in exotic locations around the globe. He is the one in the family who plans the fun activities, according to his wife.

“He has joy in seeing them have a good time,” Michelle Davis said. “He is incredibly devoted to his family.”

Mitch Davis uses his films as a unique way to share a universal message of hope for humanity, to LDS and non-LDS audiences all over the world.

“The Savior’s injunction was to ‘Go ye into all the world.’ He didn’t say, ‘Go ye into the Wasatch front.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Enter to learn, go forth to earn.’ We have a job to do,” Mitch Davis said. “Our common humanity, as LDS to the non-LDS world, is our greatest asset when it comes to sharing the gospel and spreading light.”

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