BYUtv supervising producer shares faith journey through Hollywood, motherhood

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Melissa Puente is a mother of five and a supervising producer at BYUtv. Her life has taken her many places, but her faith is at the foundation of it all. (Melissa Puente)

On September 11, 2001, Melissa Puente found herself walking uptown with hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers after watching the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. Everyone was silent.

Fifteen hours earlier, Puente had agreed to edit an end credit sequence for a TV show she was working on as an assistant editor at a Manhattan production company. Puente was then 23 years old.

She had started working on the sequence at 6 p.m. and edited through the night, but when her coworkers started arriving at work the next morning, something felt off.

Everyone was asking her, “Hey, did you hear? The plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

Puente remembers no one really knew what was going on.

“Everyone was just like, ‘Oh, what a weird accident,’” she recalled.

Instead of reviewing the completed edit, the team went up to the roof to see what was going on. They were not far from the World Trade Center.

“We saw the second plane crash in … I saw this happening, and all the smoke, and it was just the most surreal experience of my life,” Puente said.

As Manhattan began to evacuate, Puente and her colleagues walked uptown in a crowd of people. Puente described it as an experience not to be forgotten.

“Everyone was scared, nobody knew what was happening,” she said. “Everyone was just getting through this super traumatic event together.”

Puente hadn’t wanted to move to New York City.

As a recent BYU graduate, Puente said she had loved her job at KBYU and had recently won a Regional Emmy Award for a documentary she had written, directed and produced as a student. She wanted to make more documentaries and starting over at a new place was scary.

“I did not want to go, and I was terrified when I got there,” she said.

But in that moment, as she walked down a packed street in New York City, Puente felt something different.

“It just felt like everybody was there for each other,” she said. “It was such a huge tragedy and such an awful thing, but at the same time, it was so bonding.”

She had a realization as she walked: “I do belong here in New York, and I do belong in this community.”

Melissa Puente recently created a short film, “Delphinium,” which debuted at Zions Indie Film Festival. Puente studied film at BYU. (Patience Ray and Jason Hadfield)

Her life had led her to this moment.

As a kid, Puente gravitated toward movies. “Star Wars” was the first movie she was taken to as a baby, and as she grew up watching movies by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, she felt “nourished” by their style of family-friendly storytelling.

“From day one, she was just very, very curious and very, very interested in the world around her,” said Puente’s mother, Coleen Young Schneider. 

Puente took to storytelling and began messing around with her father’s VCR camera. During a family trip to Mexico, her mother encouraged her to focus her storytelling on capturing the stories of real people.

As a freshman at BYU, Puente started as a journalism major, but after another inspired suggestion from her mother, she took an introduction to film class and fell in love with it. 

“All of the feelings that I had … of emotional connection and transformative, almost spiritual experiences while watching movies, just came together, and I was like, ‘I have to do this.’ … I  just became fully immersed in it,” Puente said.

However, Puente felt very out of place in this new world. Having grown up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hadn’t always come easy. College was no different.

When she moved to Provo, Puente lived off-campus with roommates who didn’t attend BYU. In addition, she was the only girl in her film class. However, in her own way, Puente seized the opportunities she had and created more opportunities along the way.

While working at KBYU, Puente developed the idea of “Brides on the Homefront,” a documentary that would tell stories of Utah brides during World War II. Following Puente’s pitch, KBYU began an annual student grant program to provide her with that opportunity.

Puente worked relentlessly on the project, often working late into the night and getting Taco Bell afterwards. Her hard work paid off, as the project won a Regional Emmy Award, standing out among professionally made documentaries.

Puente still gets emotional when she talks about these women and their stories.

“I am just still so grateful they let us tell their stories,” Puente said. “One of them, her husband died when they were young and in love, and he meant so much to her … And others of them, their husbands came back, but they were not the same.”

Puente’s documentary “Sisterz in Zion” highlighted faithful young women from New York City. The film contributed inspiration for a new style of missionary training for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Melissa Puente)

Along the way, Puente met her own husband, Ian. After graduating, they moved to New York City, where Ian attended Columbia Law School and Puente worked to make ends meet.

In New York, she worked at multiple production companies, seeking to learn all she could. She would read books about editing at bookstores for hours on end, gathering the skills she needed to perfect her craft and progress in the industry.  

While living in New York, Puente served as president of the local Young Women organization for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was inspired by those young women.

She began a new documentary project, filming these girls who courageously lived faithfully while facing challenges growing up in New York.

The documentary, “Sisterz in Zion,” was shown to the Church’s missionary department and was an inspiration for a new format of missionary training, which would film real missionaries in follow-documentary style. 

After their time in New York, Puente and her husband moved to Los Angeles, where she continued working in the film industry. Puente was at the top of her game and was finding success in a competitive world.

“I remember this one week, I think I got like 14 calls for different shows,” she said.

However, she and her husband wanted to have a family.

After many difficult struggles with infertility and consulting with doctors, Melissa and Ian decided to have Melissa quit her intense jobs.

“We ended up having two sets of twin boys two years apart, which has been so amazing and so completely insane,” Melissa Puente said.

Melissa Puente and her family. Puente and her husband, Ian, are the parents of five children. (Autumn Ferguson)

The Puentes now have five children and live in Utah, where she works as a supervising producer at BYUtv.

As a mom, she has a lot to balance between working full-time, parenting teenagers and developing her skills as a filmmaker. However, Puente said she believes that work is worthwhile.

“I think it is really healthy for women to have something that they are passionate about … Heavenly Father gave us brains and gave us talents for a reason,” she said.

Her drive to work for her goals has a remarkable influence on her family.

“My mom plays a big role in my life, and she has worked hard to achieve her dreams…. (Her example) helps me know that I can also achieve those dreams,” Puente’s 15-year-old son Jack said.

Through the ups and downs of working in the entertainment industry, Puente attributes her strength to her husband’s support and her faith in Jesus Christ.

“Heavenly Father has given me so much strength and guidance,” she said.

When Puente moved to New York, she was terrified that something might happen. And it did. But she said she believes God’s hand was with their family through that entire experience.

“I just felt like the Lord was with us, the whole time that we were there, just helping us to do these really hard things,” she said.

Just as faith in Jesus Christ carried her through her hardest times in New York, it has continued to be her strength as she has spent her time doing good in the entertainment industry and in her family. 

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