Filming wrapped near Springville, Utah, for the second season of the Book of Mormon live-action video series. The multi-year project is being produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to bring the stories of ancient-American civilization to life and share the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The first season has yet to be released.
“This allows us to put a face to the names and the stories and allow you to see these people who really lived,” adds Bill Elliott, media director of the project. “They breathed, they walked the land and these stories are real.”
The second season production focused on select chapters in the early pages of the Book of Mormon and highlighted ancient prophets Nephi, Jacob, and Enos.
“What is happening with the videos is very meaningful to me because of my Lamanite heritage,” said Elder Larry J. Echo Hawk of the Seventy, who is on the project’s steering committee. “When I see what is happening with the Book of Mormon being made into videos, I think about those powerful Book of Mormon prophets that thought and prayed about the days that we live in today.”
The new location for the second season shoot took place in Hobble Creek Canyon near Springville, with new sets depicting settlements out of the Book of Mormon, including an ancient temple.
“I have been in small towns in Latin America, and I just … feel like I’m in one of them,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. “So many details reminded me of family members like my grandma, my aunts, my mom. And I think they did a great job in setting the tone here for the filming of the videos.”
Much of the cast from season one, made up of a diverse group of men, women and children, returned this season.
“[It was] great to have everyone back together,” said senior producer Aaron Merrell. “Kind of like a family reunion of sorts.”
Portions of the project are being filmed in various locations in North America. The Church began filming the project in June 2017 near the Church’s Jerusalem movie set in the central Utah community of Goshen.
“The biggest difference between this season and last season is last season’s story is one long story. It was the story of Nephi’s journey. This season we have several different eras and characters,” Merrell explained.
“He’s my hero,” said Jackson VanDerwerken, an 18-year-old young man who plays Nephi, a prominent figure in the Book of Mormon.
To play Nephi in his 30s, VanDerwerken spent two and a half hours with the makeup crew every day to glue his beard on.
“It’s important to know that the Lord uses young people for his purposes,” said the actor, who is preparing to serve a two-year full-time mission in Brazil when the filming for his role is over. “This is just a part of my life that is preparing me for the future, for my mission.”
VanDerwerken bulked up for the role. “When I auditioned I … weighed about 165 [pounds]. And I weigh about 180-ish now, and that’s kind of been steady. I gained that weight in less than two months on a really strict regimen, one that I kept up, but also the weight gain was not purely the diet nor the working out, but [I] … certainly … had heaven’s help in it because there’s no way that I would’ve been able to gain that weight. So I give all that credit to God.
Actor Mace Sorensen considers it an honor to play Laman, who is often regarded as a villain in the Book of Mormon. “I’m hoping that people see him differently and sympathize a lot more. … He was complicated and had his virtues as well.”
Sorenson said the stories are being shared in a way that they’ve never been shared before. “The work that we’re doing here, you know, will be seen for a long time after and so it’s no small thing what we’re doing.”
Kymberly Mellon, who portrays Lehi’s wife, Sariah, said Lehi and Nephi’s family had a strong family unit, but they faced some of the same issues contemporary families are experiencing today.
“I think showing women as powerful co‑leaders in the home has been a huge focus of this unit of production,” said Mellen who highlights her character’s strength as a woman through non-verbal storytelling because of Sariah’s limited dialogue in the Book of Mormon.
“Women … always have a very strong influence in their spouse, their family, their communities,” said Sister Aburto. “It is beautiful to see the work that the actors and the scriptwriters and directors and everybody have done in really showing how important women are and the important role that they have played in this history.”
Church leaders hope that those who watch the Book of Mormon videos will also want to read the scriptures contained in the book.
“What we’re trying to do are take key doctrinal scenes that will help to bring these characters to life and to illustrate the stories and the doctrines of Christ that the Book of Mormon teaches us,” said Elliott. “It’s another testament of Jesus Christ.”
Elliott continued, “Everybody has, in their own imagination, an idea of what these characters look like. But really, it doesn’t matter what our Nephi looks like or what our Laman looks like or what any of these characters look like; it really matters what they’re saying and the spirit that you’ll feel when you hear the words.”
“If we can help people just really get engaged with these people, with the stories, then they’re going to be able to understand the teachings that much better and be able to personalize it and apply it into their lives that much better,” said Merrell.
“This will be something that adds to the written words of the Book of Mormon to help people feel the power of the teachings of the Book of Mormon,” said Elder Echo Hawk. “This is a priority effort for [the Church] to bring this message to the entire world.”
The new videos will be similar to “The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos” that were completed in 2016. The series is being filmed in English but will eventually be distributed in additional languages.
The videos will be available on a new Book of Mormon Videos YouTube channel, LDS.org, Mormon Channel platforms and existing Book of Mormon and Gospel Library apps. In addition, casting needs are being posted online.
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.