Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Filming Saturday's Warrior

You remember "Saturday's Warrior," right? It's kind of iconic in LDS circles. Written by Lex de Azevedo and Doug Stewart, it came out first as a stage play in 1974. Hugely popular, it played to sold out audiences for a few years and then became the stuff of stake plays here and there throughout the mormonsphere. It made a recurrence in 1989 when a VHS video was released...still in stage play form but filmed directly for video rather than just a video of a performance to a live audience. Though I was already familiar with the soundtrack, the video is where I really got to know "Saturday's Warrior." And that video was pretty cheesy...but fun and ultimately very popular.

Then in 1998 I auditioned for and was chosen to sing in Lex de Azevedo's Millennium Choir. For the past 17 years I've worked with Lex and had the opportunity to get to know him fairly well. I've heard the makings of and behind the scenes stories of "Saturday's Warrior" many times. One thing that maybe not too many people know...Lex had nothing to do with that 1989 video other than giving the rights. In fact, he wasn't super excited with how it turned out. His vision had already been realized in the original stage play back in the 70's.

A few summers ago we performed in a Up Close and Personal with Lex de Azevedo  type concert which had Lex playing, performing and talking about music from throughout his long and varied career. Millennium Choir was there to sing selections from "Gloria," "Hosanna," "Hymn to America" and other projects we have recorded, but also to sing back up for the finale which was a bunch of music from "Saturday's Warrior." Many of the original cast from that 1974 stage play and soundtrack came to the concert to share their own memories and sing their character's songs. It was a great concert from start to finish but the highlight was clearly "Saturday's Warrior."

For years people have asked Lex if he'd ever consider making "Saturday's Warrior" into a movie. He always told them no. He felt like "Saturday's Warrior" had seen its day. In an interview with a local magazine Lex said this about it:
Saturday’s Warrior is kind of hallowed ground. It is hallowed by the lives that it has changed and for 40 years hardly a week has passed when someone hasn’t come up to me and expressed with great emotion how it has changed their life.
I’ve always thought I’d rather let it rest in peace than do something less than it deserved.
Then, we were living in Brazil last year and we were on a “mission.” We had sold our house in Utah and we thought we’d be there for about three years. One night I heard a voice in the middle of the night. It prompted me and said, “Go home and make Saturday’s Warrior.”
During this time that Lex was living in Brazil, he was commuting to Utah once a month to work on other projects...."Signing Times" with his daughter and also recording "Alleluia" with us. We started hearing of his plans for making "Saturday's Warrior" into a movie and shortly after, he and his wife moved back to Utah permanently. Soon I got a call to come record the title track. We were all kinds of giddy...like I said, "Saturday's Warrior" is somewhat iconic, and to be on the soundtrack for the movie? Super cool!

But it soon became a bit more than that. A few weeks later I received an email asking if I wanted to be an extra in a big production number for the movie with Jimmy (Kenny Holland) and Todd (Mason Davis) and The Piano Guys! It was kind of last minute and was a long call time 7:00 AM-7:00 PM but Katie and I jumped at the opportunity. And then scrambled to make arrangements with our family responsibilities and find appropriate Hippie wear for our costumes. It was worth it!  Once my name was on the extras list, I received many emails about various shoots. I couldn't make it to all of them but was able to be part of the Heavenly (gospel) Choir with Alex Boye and also be a concert go-er for a scene where Jimmy's band plays a big rock concert. Each time Lex would come over and give me a big hug and I could see the excitement in his face. 
The line to be approved by wardrobe was really long that morning at Liberty Park (aka Golden Gate Park in San Francisco...for the day at least). If what we brought wasn't hippie appropriate enough they had wardrobe items to loan us. The wardrobe lady looked me over and declared me hippie perfect from head to toe. Score!

At one point in the song/scene Katie and I ended up right behind Jon Schmidt from The Piano Guys so we ended up talking with him a lot seeing as we repeated things over and over and over again to get all the various camera angles. He and Steven Sharp Nelson were both absolutely hilarious...keeping us all laughing despite how hot is was and how tired we were all getting.
And though this guitar is actually mine and not just a prop I was given, no...I don't actually know how to play it, as evidenced by my crazy hand positions. One of these days I'll learn...or at least that's what I've been telling myself for the past nine years! 

The movie is a more fleshed out version of the original story. You get to know the characters in more depth...back stories and more personality, there are four new songs added to the show (and a few old ones taken out). Also, according to Lex when asked if this movie would appeal to more than just a Mormon audience:
 We have made it less churchy, less religious, although it is set with an LDS family. “Fiddler on the Roof” is a Jewish story, but it’s for everybody and “Schindler’s List” is for everybody and “Witness” was set in Amish community. It’s more about there’s just more to life than just this life. It is less preachy, less in your face than the original Saturday’s Warrior.

The Heavenly Choir and dancers, Heavenly Guide (Alex Boye), Julie and Todd...and then in the bottom picture adding the director (Michael Buster), Lex and various camera, wardrobe, choreography and sound crew. We filmed this big production number at Union Station in Ogden and it was an overnight shoot...4:30 PM-4:30 AM. I was thankful when just past midnight we finished up our big number and were sent home even as they continued to work on with Todd and Julie filming "The Circle of Our Love."

Neither Katie nor Melissa were able to make it to this overnight shoot so I hung out with Todd and Seth, both members of Millennium Choir and we kept each other awake and entertained throughout the long evening.  

Julie and Todd filming the dialogue that comes right before "The Circle of Our Love."

Can I just say....Alex Boye is not only tremendously talented but also seriously funny! He kept us in stitches all night!

It was fascinating to be behind the scenes...to see just exactly what goes in to making a movie. Learning choreography and lyrics (to lip sync) within a space of just a few minutes. Quick rehearsals and then doing the scene over and over and over again to get all different camera angles. There were hand held cameras, cameras on cranes, heck...even a camera on a drone above us for one scene. So much crazy equipment from lights and fog machines and sound systems and microphones and just wow, you know? And that doesn't even count all the craziness that goes on over in the wardrobe and make-up areas and at the food tables (meals were catered and there were always snacks). 
Melissa was able to take the day off work and do this concert scene with me. We filmed at Azevedo Studios...a building we know incredibly well seeing as this is where we've been recording and rehearsing for most of our 17 years working with Lex.

 Yes, they really do use those clapperboards before each shoot. 

When posting this picture on Instagram Melissa and I decided we needed to use a filter reminiscent of photos from the 70's...seeing as we were jazzed up in our 70's wear. And my hair was much more Farrah Fawcett-ish before spending all of our downtime waiting outside in the heat which made it go limp. Sigh. And one final lesson learned...never wear platform shoes to a concert, whether it be real or just on set. Jumping up and down, dancing, etc....oh our poor aching feet!  

It really was a tremendous experience. I wish I could've made it to a few more scenes...not because I even care overly much about being seen in the movie (although, bragging rights, yes? I'm an extra in "Saturday's Warrior!!") but because it was just such a fun experience to be part of it all. Filming is now complete. Time now to put all those camera shots together. I have been hugely impressed with the professionalism of the cast and crew and the bits and pieces I've seen of what they are doing with it. The movie comes out in Spring of 2016 and I really think it's going to be good!

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