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Darin Southam is a man on a mission. As director, writer, producer, and actor, his whole focus and passion has famously been pointed at making a Hollywood-quality, LDS-values movie about Captain Moroni a reality. When I interviewed him about the project last year, it was apparent that he was for real and he wouldn’t rest until the message of liberty had been spread through this film.
To do this story right, he could not hand the reigns over to Hollywood. Creative control needed to stay with those who’d do the story right. That means raising his own funds. His wildly successful first Kickstarter allowed him to make a spine-tingly good short concept film with real Hollywood talent (including Ben Cross, who I loved in Star Trek, Chariots of Fire, and First Knight). Now Southam is back, swinging for the fences with a new Kickstarter looking to fund the full feature film. With our help, this could be real. It could also be really good.
I picked Darin’s brain about the film and the hand of the Lord in it.
JONATHAN DECKER: Your first Kickstarter was enormously successful. What can you tell us about that and why do you think that was?
DARIN SOUTHAM: We launched our first Kickstarter with no safety net and with practically no marketing resources. It was scary. The fact that only 1% of all film projects on Kickstarter (including full features) ever raise over $100,000 and we set a $150,000 goal for a concept short film made for wild ride. But, I also knew I could not make this film right with too little money. The stakes could not have been higher. I don’t think most people realized, had we failed, our campaign would have forever been used as an example of failure associated with a Book of Mormon epic and a major motion picture based on this incredible book would quite possibly have been shelved indefinitely. The first Kickstarter was successful because we created a message that resonated with 1,600 backers who made great financial sacrifice to support it and banned together to make it possible.
JD: You made the concept short and it looks fantastic. What has audience response been so far?
Audience response to our concept short film has been greater than we expected. We have almost 450 ratings with about 9 stars on IMDb. I don’t know if this is accurate but one of our supporters recently sent me an analysis that shows, at 8.7 stars, our concept short film rates higher than any Mormon film in history. That may be because, even though it is based on and authentic to The Book of Mormon, it really isn’t a “Mormon” film.
JD: What are Hollywood professionals saying?
Our most enthusiastic response, believe it or not, has been from Hollywood film professionals. Without fail, every Hollywood professional that has seen our concept short film has offered unsolicited praise and the greatest respect for what has been accomplished. This is how we know we are on track for an epic that will, for the first time in history, cross over mainstream with global appeal. In our current Kickstarter we discuss how we walked away from studio money to ensure we could maintain creative oversight on the project and keep it authentic to the book. The fact that we have already had a studio offer is very exciting.
JD: You didn’t promise name actors, but you got them anyways. What can you tell us about the cast? Are they on board for the full feature film if/when it gets made?
Our cast was amazing. Every one of them was guided to this project in some way and every one of them is attached to our full feature. Our offer to be in the concept short film included the right to be in the full feature. It was a point of negotiation and one of the main reasons they all accepted the project.
JD: Tell us about the shoot. How was your experience bringing The Book of Mormon to life?
It was thrilling beyond words to finally portray The Book of Mormon the way I have envisioned it my whole life– EPIC. That said, it was by far the most intense shoot I have ever done. I had three top industry directors of photography (DP) tell me before the shoot what we were attempting to do was impossible. I remember after one particularly long and harsh conversation with a DP, about one month before the shoot, I collapsed on my desk sobbing, not knowing how we could accomplish this great task. It was impossible, yet it had to be possible. There are always myriad reasons to procrastinate, to wait for more money, or to wait for better conditions. But, my experience has taught me, you have to go and do and God will provide the means to accomplish the task. Respective to the $40M full feature our concept short film was based on, it should have cost $333K per page to shoot. We shot 6.5 pages of action (on the Southern Oregon coast) in 1.5 days for less than $200K. As you can imagine, there was no room for error or hanging around crafty. It was work. Arduous, rigorous work. We woke up both mornings at 3:30AM and didn’t finish until 7PM. But it was also exhilarating to feel the support of angels in the midst of it all. Because we shot in December on the southern Oregon coast, the odds of having dense fog, heavy rain, and cold temperatures was about 90%, yet it was clear skies and 60 degrees for both shoot days. The days before our shoot had heavy rainstorms and the day after had fog so dense it caused a half dozen flight cancellations. We also had only 9 hours of light in December so we had less time to get the shots we needed. With all these constraints, we knew going in that I would not be able to review footage on set. We planned it all out beforehand. We would set up the shot, I would review the first one and the rest of the footage was shot blind. Yet one more miracle as to how the concept short film turned out the way that it did. There is no other explanation other than this all happened through the intervention of divine providence. Ben Cross himself, who is not even religious, was constrained to acknowledge the “divine intervention” behind this project. I feel a bit like James Madison when he said, “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand.”
JD: 90% of your crew isn’t Mormon. Are they passionate about this? Why do you think that is?
I did not hire people because they were Mormon or not Mormon. I hired people who were right for the job. Strangely, our cast and crew who are not Mormon are just as (if not more) enthusiastic about this film than the Mormon cast and crew have been. A few have been threatened by the fact that I hired so many not of the Mormon faith to work on a Book of Mormon epic, but sometimes we forget, Mormons espouse a doctrine of inclusion and how thrilling is it that so many not of the Mormon faith enthusiastically took part in the creation of the first Book of Mormon war epic? The other reason I hired who I did was because this is my first major motion picture and I needed to hire people who have done before what I am trying to do. This concept film turned out how did because of divine providence but also because of who I hired. I gave all our cast and crew great freedom to be creative in their respective areas. I take no credit for their respective contributions to this project. They were all amazing.
JD: You’ve got a second Kickstarter going. What are your goals and how can we help?
Like our first Kickstarter, we launched this second one without a safety net. Our goal is to reach $1M before August 18th. We are only about 13% there but I believe in miracles and know the difference can be made up very quickly if it reaches the right people. Raising $1M doesn’t automatically get us to $40M but, with creative financing available to us, if we raise $1M we are much closer than people think. The best thing people can do is watch our 5 minute Kickstarter video (http://kck.st/2KPzxkX). If they have 10 more minutes, they should watch our personal message about the sacrifice behind this movement. (https://youtu.be/nITnevJltlQ). People have been as deeply touched by the story behind this film as they have by the concept film itself. Of course, we are grateful for all pledges of support people can make. There are two scriptures that are particularly poignant in our current circumstances.
“Now ye may suppose this is foolishness in me; but… I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.” – Alma 37:6
“With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” – Mark 10:27
JD: What is your mission for this film? What do you hope it accomplishes?
We recently released a video message entitled “What is YOUR Life Mission?” which has gone viral on Facebook. This video talks about how we have come to know our life mission is to flood the earth with the epic Book of Mormon stories through cinema. My vision for this film is for people across the globe to not be able to drive to the supermarket without seeing something about it. My vision is the whole world knowing something about the epic Book of Mormon stories because they have seen Reign of Judges: Title of Liberty.
JD: How have you seen the hand of the Lord in this?
The greatest evidence of God’s hand in all of this are the thousands of people supporting this movement who are doing so with all the faith, talent, and resources available to them. How can it be explained that so many have supported this endeavor at great financial sacrifice, some of them giving all that they have? How can it be explained other some unseen force that has burned within them, a force we know as the Spirit of Freedom?
Our thanks to Darin for making this incredible project happen. And it WILL happen if we do our part! Help get this film made! Visit www.fundreign.com
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a film critic. He offers online relationship courses, therapy services, marriage tips, and family movie reviews at www.yourfamilyexpert.com