Pride and Prejudice: Behind the Scenes
By Sarah Culver
For any movie-watcher, his insight is notable; for any filmmaker, his story is ambitious.
After six years in the church, moving from Scotland to the U.S., and switching careers from entomologist to film director, 30-year-old Andrew Black has directed his first full-length feature film. Pride and Prejudice: a latter-day comedy, opened to rave reviews in Utah this past December, and opens February 13 in Arizona and Idaho (visit www.PridePrejudice.com for a complete listing of openings).
The movie is a contemporary, Mormon version of Jane Austen’s classic romantic comedy, Pride and Prejudice. In this version, Elizabeth Bennet (Kam Heskin) is no longer a young woman in Regency England, but a diligent graduate student and aspiring novelist who lives with 4 roommates: her best friend, the beautiful and exotic Jane; the socially-inept Mary; the boy-crazy debutante Lydia and her cheerleading sister Kitty.
The five roommates live in Provo, Utah, and attend a school that looks suspiciously like BYU (although it is never explicitly identified). Elizabeth is pursued by a cadre of not-so-eligible young men, including a charming playboy named Jack Wickham and the gawky Collins. In the meantime, Jane falls for their neighbor Charles Bingley, a sweet, yet slightly dopey return missionary who introduces Elizabeth to his friend, Will Darcy
As in Jane Austen’s novel, the film’s central plot revolves around the tenuous relationship between Elizabeth and the handsome if snobbish Darcy. Will they get past first impressions and quick judgements, or will they look deeper?
Critics have hailed Black as a young director to watch, and have had high praise for his feature film debut. Variety said of Black that he has “a fine sense of pacing and timing; he keeps the movie spinning, so that no one part overstays its welcome.” Sean Means of the Salt Lake Tribune said, “Black gives the production a smooth, professional feel.”
The idea for the film began when Black and the principle makers of the film met at Brigham Young University.
“We completed short projects for school together and as we all got ready to graduate, rather than doing the usual work in Los Angeles, we decided to pool resources and talents here (in Utah). One film I directed in school did quite well and was helpful in getting investors that made it possible to create the film.”
“Quite well,” is an understatement.
The film, entitled, The Snell Show, won the Grand Jury Award for Best Short Film at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January 2003.
Launching off that success, the group began to look for a source for their next, full-length project. Producer Jason Faller came across the book, Pride and Prejudice, and fitting the story into life in Provo, Utah made perfect sense. Austen’s themes about Regency society, like the expectation for women to marry young and the high emphasis on traditional values like chastity before marriage, fit into the context of LDS culture.
“The novel is so brilliant and the characters are so funny, especially with LDS audiences,” Black said. “It would be hard for the story to work in a secular culture, but in an environment like LDS culture, it is a great fit.
“I think the main theme of this film is the same as the book, which is the importance of looking past surface impressions and not making fast judgments on people. As far as LDS aspects of the film, I felt it was important to say that it is okay to be a 26-year-old non-married woman.”
Critics agreed with Black’s choice to set Austen’s novel in a Mormon community. Variety said, “Most non-LDS audiences may not even detect the movie’s LDS content, and yet the substitution of a present-day Mormon setting for Austen’s Regency England is an inspired one, given the correlation between the two cultures’ emphasis on traditional values and, most importantly, marriage.”
From pre-production until a week before Pride and Prejudice was released, Black learned quickly how much endurance it takes to create a full-length movie.
“It is my first feature film and in some ways everything is a lot bigger. One thing that is true of all directors when making a film is that you are breaking up a script and fragmenting everything all the time.”
Contrasting it to his hobbies of drawing and painting he said, “Somehow you have to keep the big picture in your head and mentally take a step back when it is a film.” On canvas or paper it is a lot easier to keep that perspective, he says.
Throughout production Black had to keep the audience in mind so it would be universally appealing. “I hope and believe that the film can play to an LDS and non-LDS audience. I am a convert and relatively new to the LDS culture. I don’t think I am capable of making a movie for an exclusive LDS audience.” There are no specific Mormon references in Pride and Prejudice, although members of the LDS Church will recognize many subtle, familiar elements: the characters attend church, speak freely of mission experiences, call each other “Brother” and “Sister” on occasion, and mention the Ensign.
Even the Los Angeles-based cast reflected the diversity the filmmakers were looking for, and consisted of both members and non-members.
“It all worked out extremely well and we were all very excited about the project. Kam Heskin, who plays Elizabeth, was very familiar with LDS culture because she grew up in Colorado where about half the people were members. The other actors to varying degrees did their own research. They had some questions for me, but while they were in Utah they immersed themselves in the culture for the duration of shooting, and a few even went to church a couple times.”
The crossover appeal of LDS movies is a trend Black envisions will continue. “The LDS community itself gets tired of films directed only at them. There was a novelty value at first, but the fact is, it is only going to go on for so long.”
Jeff Simpson, president of Excel Entertainment Group, which is distributing the movie, echoed Black’s opinion, “The LDS film industry is growing and maturing. We are going to see more of this maturation as audiences demand films that have great entertainment value as well as culturally significant themes.
“The audience is discerning, and will only become more so. Filmmakers will have the challenge of rising to meet these expectations.”
So what is next for Black? The director is currently working on his second full-length movie, which, according to Black is “very exciting and very ambitious and very different” from Pride and Prejudice. Filming is supposed to begin early 2005.