On August 9, 2007, 43-year-old Richard Dutcher—the public face of Mormon filmmaking for most of this century and the man who once held a news conference announcing plans to film a biopic about Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith Jr.—showed his new film Falling at a special screening for the annual conference of the LDS scholarship organization Sunstone. Aside from the guy who warned Dutcher that he was “going to burn in hell,” it was a pretty good day.
The reaction couldn’t be considered shocking—because the film itself was. The filmmaker who had brought missionaries to the multiplex in God’s Army was here playing damaged soul Eric Boyle, an aspiring filmmaker who moonlights as a freelance videographer selling the ugliest possible real-life images to news outlets. Scenes of Dutcher in God’s Army serve as flashback footage here, showing Eric in a time before he had separated from his faith. In the opening scene, Eric—for fairly obvious reasons—stares skyward and sobs, “Fuck you” to God. And, at the film’s climax, a man is brutally beaten to death with a brick.
It’s a scene nearly as violent as Dutcher’s separation from a genre—the “Mo-movie”—he practically invented. In April of this year, in an open letter to Provo’s Daily Herald, Dutcher pleaded with LDS filmmakers to raise their standards for their work—and, oh, by the way, to announce that he was no longer a practicing member of the church. His filmmaking journey would henceforth include risky, personal films like Falling as well as more commercial projects like the recently completed supernatural thriller Evil Angel (which Dutcher hopes to release in spring 2008).
This openness with his audience seems characteristic of a man who has been willing to make public the most personal aspects of his life journey—his birth father’s alcoholism and infidelities; his baptism into the church when his mother remarried a Mormon; his year choosing to finish high school in Utah—living at times out of a car—after his family moved to Kansas; even his stepfather’s conviction on child molestation charges. He would never pretend to be from the squeaky-clean perfect LDS family.
Having built his Main Street Movie Company into a virtual one-man operation—he produces, writes, directs, often stars in and even distributes his own movies—Dutcher is the embodiment of independent filmmaking in a state that’s home to the country’s premier independent-film showcase. Yet, a Richard Dutcher film has never been shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and he finds himself heading into a world where the audience that had embraced him may now not know what to make of his movies.
Recently, Dutcher sat down with City Weekly in his Provo office to discuss his new movies, his faith and his future as a filmmaker.
CW: You had this one dramatic reaction at the Sunstone screening of Falling. What were reactions like overall? RD: During [the Q&A] session, it was 95 percent positive. And then, after the Q&A, I had two people say, I really liked States of Grace, or Brigham City, and I didn’t really like this one. In both cases, I think it was people had come to expect in my films that there’s a feeling of hope or an upward swing at the end. And [in Falling]—[the ending] was a train wreck.
A BYU professor who was there, Bruce Jorgensen, wrote a really long response to the film on the Sunstone blog, [that] this is a tragedy, and went into the Greeks and Shakespeare. And, after his entry, there were all these comments like, “Oh, OK, now I get it.” For me, it was like, “I thought it was pretty obviously a tragedy!” [laughs]. But it informed us here, because maybe we need to be, in our marketing, letting people know this is a modern-day tragedy. I don’t know if that will get people to line up at the theaters to buy tickets, but they’ll go in understanding what it is.
The interesting thing to me is that I wrote this film back in 1999. I had written God’s Army, but I hadn’t shot it yet; I was still raising money for it. During this period, I thought, “I’m sick of raising money; I want to do something creative.” I’d planned to do [Falling] if I couldn’t raise the money to make God’s Army. But then it turned out that I was able … to start God’s Army. And after God’s Army did well … I was actually on my way to L.A. to do the casting [for Falling], and as I drove, that was when I had the idea for Brigham City. By the time I ended up in Los Angeles, I decided I needed to do Brigham City next.
But then, after that, Falling just kept nagging me. When I knew I was going to be shooting States of Grace down there, I just thought, “OK, I’m here, it’s an L.A. story, I’m just going to do it.” So, I was able to scrape together enough financing that, right after shooting States of Grace, I think we took a six- or seven-week break and went right into [Falling].
CW: The arc of your career wouldn’t have been quite the same if the order of your films had been different. RD: Oh, I’m sure. [laughs]
CW:Do you feel as though Falling had to wait until now in order for it to be right? RD: Oh, I think so. In fact, the exciting thing for me about this film is, the guy who wrote this film—me in 1999—doesn’t exist anymore. And, when I shot the film, just a few months after undergoing this collapse of my faith, I didn’t really understand it. All I knew was that what I had was gone, and you just have to keep functioning. … Then, over the course of the next couple of years, I was able to slowly edit it and put it together. So, it’s almost as though three different people made the film: The writer was this guy, and the guy who directed it was this guy, and the editor was this other guy. It’s like this collaboration with myself at different periods.