Thursday, August 21, 2008

Missing the Boat: The Lost Lessons of Napoleon Dynamite

This is actually the producer's minute editorial I did today on the Cafe. Strangely, when I imported the clip onto iMovie it was all distorted, so instead I will just post the text here. This is good for me, because my IFB was sticking out of my ear the whole time and it would have distracted you from the important message I am trying to share. This is bad for you, though, because the IFB was a lot funnier than anything I said.

Tomorrow another movie will be released about another LDS missionary having another life-changing experience in another country. It will probably be written and produced with sincere passion born of personal experience and a genuine desire to translate the LDS experience onto film. It will also, in all likelihood, last for about two or three weeks in the theaters, then disappear onto the DVD shelves of Deseret Book.

This will not happen because of poor quality or poor effort. It will happen because somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that the LDS population was desperate for movies about LDS people, and this idea is mistaken.

When the Clean Flicks people sat down with a VHS copy of "Titanic", they didn't dub in references to Home Teaching and CGI Mormon Missionaries into the background; they just cut out the naked bits.

The Mormon population is not clamboring to hear the tale of a conflicted Elder's Quorum President as he strains to balance his multi-level marketing job with his loyalty to his son's church basketball team and his wife's struggle to suppress the emerging eco-terrorist feminist movement at her enrichment meetings. They just want to see Bruce Willis fight the bad guys without dropping the F-bomb every thirteen seconds and having to watch him hang out at strip clubs on his nights off.

Now don't miss my point...there have been some very good movies made about LDS people, and there may be more to come, but if "Napoleon Dynamite" taught us anything, it is that A. Moon Boots are Funny, and B. LDS filmgoers are looking for movies with LDS values, not necessarily LDS stories. And if you look at the box office, it's clear that there are lots of non-LDS people who are looking for these kinds of movies too. LDS filmmakers are missing the boat.

Granted, the sense of humor employed by "Napoleon Dynamite" is not for everyone. But even people who hate "Napoleon Dynamite" admit that it's a clean film, a lot cleaner than anything Mike Myers or Adam Sandler has done in the last ten years. "Dynamite" proved that you can be clean, funny, and financially successful. Yet nobody seems to have gotten the message, and while Napoleon himself has gone on to do typical Hollywood gross-out comedies, Utahn's have seen a steady stream of low-budget movies about LDS people that no one outside the culture can relate to. And no one inside the culture is that keen on them either, because they're always gone in two weeks.

Now, the artisitic purists will insist that they have stories to tell and refuse to sell out to worldly pressures. If you're content telling a personal story to a limited audience, go for it. If you need someone to play the bald wisecracking best friend, don't hesitate to let me know. Just don't expect any different response than you're getting now. There are bigger opportunities out there if you want them.

All you have to do is follow the curly red perm.