Biblical scenes emerging in Utah's own land of Goshen
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Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Savior's era are being replicated on a new LDS Motion Picture Studio set in central Utah as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embarks on its ambitious "The New Testament" film project.
By recreating the sights, sounds and stories of the New Testament, the project will produce 30-plus video vignettes, providing new material for myriad uses — Church Educational System films for seminaries and institutes, videos for use by missionaries or in visitors centers, stock footage for general conference coverage and online clips for Mormon Messages features on Facebook and YouTube.
"This is being done to create a scriptural video library for the Church," said Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the First Quorum of Seventy and executive director of the Audiovisual Department.
The set includes Church property totaling some 830 acres — a square-mile area — near the town of Goshen, 28 miles south of Provo and 82 miles south of Salt Lake City.
The Goshen property can double as plains or rolling hills and even boasts some sand dunes and a stream that with some work will resemble the River Jordan. The land was also perfect for what it didn't have — large rocks, long stretches of flatland and lots of sagebrush.
"We took a look, drove around, and our jaws just dropped," said project executive producer John Uibel, who is also the director of the A/V department's creative and story division. "We couldn't even find a rock bigger than a marble on that property."
Elder Robbins agreed: "It has just about all the topography we would want — it's almost a match made in heaven."
Whatever else is lacking — be it palm trees or full-blown buildings like Jerusalem's temple at the time — can be added digitally, with digital enhancements to comprise between 20 to 40 percent of the final film product.
Besides the land itself, the new outdoor studio will feature a constructed, walled set measuring 300 feet by 330 feet. The set will not be a replica model of Jerusalem itself but instead be a puzzle-like collection of parts and pieces of buildings, courts, streets, alleys and the like for that city and other New Testament-period places.
"We think we've got a mix that, with a little dressing, we can recreate the scenes of the world at that time," Brother Uibel said.
With the eight-week filming scheduled to begin in May, construction crews are pouring concrete foundations for the sets, with set walls, columns and such already built and stored, awaiting installation.
When the Church has filmed biblical projects in the past, it either built a temporary lot and then bulldozed it after use or filmed on location at holy sites in and around Israel. "If you compare this to shooting on location in Jerusalem, this is a far less- costly option," said Elder Robbins.
With the project already two years in development, a first video — "The Parable of the Good Samaritan" — was filmed on the Goshen property earlier this year. The five-minute video was shown to the First Presidency for approval to proceed with the project.
"They liked it," said Elder Robbins, adding "this is a First Presidency project."
Auditions for project actors have been conducted across the country and throughout the world — in Utah, California, New York and Arizona as well as Canada, Chile, Brazil, Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Italy.