BYU students grow beards, long hair for Book of Mormon videos

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Christina Torriente-Robey, center, one of three unit directors for season two of the Book of Mormon Video Library project, directs a scene on set near Springville, Utah, on June 13. (Mormonnewsroom.org)

BYU students are playing a significant role in the production of a series of Book of Mormon videos in a project that started in 2011 with a video series on the New Testament.

General Authority Seventy Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. is on the project’s steering committee. “What we are producing through the videos and the still images that are being captured are tools that can be used in helping to introduce people to the Book of Mormon,” Elder Curtis said.

Year three of filming begins in spring 2019, and BYU students involved in the project have been asked to stop cutting their hair immediately to capture the essence of historic Book of Mormon characters like Nephi. 

BYU freshman Jacob Jefferies was cast as an extra for the films and received a hair length waiver through December 2020. Jefferies previously had long hair in high school, but this time he’s excited to grow it out for a cause.

BYU freshman Jacob Jefferies received a hair length waiver through December 2020 for being in the Book of Mormon Visual Library Project. (Sam Bigelow)

“In high school I would serve with the football team doing things that were more labor intensive, so as a cast member for the Book of Mormon films I’m excited to serve in a new way,” he said. 

Jefferies said he is eager to begin filming and has already enjoyed his new journey as a cast member.  

“I started the application process in summer and as I’ve gotten more involved I’ve found how much I enjoy acting and casting for church films,” he said.

Those cast in the films have been asked to keep up a physically active and nutritious lifestyle, read the Book of Mormon daily and “consider the lifestyle of those who lived in the time of the Book of Mormon,” according to an LDS Motion Picture Studio casting letter.

BYU food science professor Laura Jeffries expressed her excitement to have her son, Jacob, involved in the films. She encouraged BYU students to be understanding of the beard and hair length waivers extended to these students.

“BYU’s Dress and Grooming Standard is a visual template of the campus culture. Without context, these students may be mistakenly viewed as non-compliant or rebellious when, in fact, they’re preparing to share the most important stories ever recorded,” she said. “I’m thrilled that they have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said receiving beard or hair length exceptions isn’t completely unheard of at BYU. There are three reasons these exceptions may be considered by the university, she said.

“A student may request a beard (or hair length) exception for certified medical reasons, approved short-term theatrical productions or religious observance and practice,” Jenkins said.

University-recognized theatrical productions “are limited to on-campus productions and productions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” according to Jenkins.

BYU’s proximity to filming locations in the Springville area make students an important casting element to the project, similar to the role beard-wearing BYU students played in The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos filmed a few years ago.

BYU student Garth Lee was also cast as an extra in the Book of Mormon films and said he was inspired to get involved when growing out his hair and beard over summer.

After sending in his picture to LDS films, he was given the role and said he’s eager to participate and grow his testimony.

“I view this as an opportunity to strengthen my testimony of the Book of Mormon by ‘living’ the stories that I have read about my entire life,” he said.

However, Lee said he also fears being seen as rebellious or different while growing out his hair on campus.

“I know that in the past I have made internal judgment of others who don’t appear to be following the dress and grooming standards of BYU, so I am afraid that others may think that I consider myself above the Honor Code,” Lee said. “I wear a baseball cap almost every day to hide it as much as possible.”

The new Book of Mormon films will provide more opportunities for missionary work and teaching in the church, according to Lee.

“The importance of reading the Book of Mormon and gaining a testimony of it through those means hasn’t diminished, (but) the Book of Mormon films have the potential to reach out to those who are unaware of the reality and truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and spark an interest in a way that was not possible before,” he said.

The videos will be available on the Book of Mormon Videos YouTube channel, according to Mormon Newsroom. They will also be available on Mormon Channel, LDS.org, and other Gospel Library applications.

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