This guest post comes from Stephen Frandsen, who is a co-founder and executive producer of Big Iron Productions. In addition to working on film sets in New York City, he produces photo shots, commercials, documentaries, and the like. While he is currently a “29 Year-Old Single Mormon,” he is engaged to be married this fall.
I saw a headline on Gawker the other day that made me look twice: “Mormons Conquer New York.” I’ve been in New York for six years, and this was maybe the first time I saw Mormons and New York linked together positively in the media. Of course, the headline was referring to yesterday’s news that The Book of Mormon Musical received 14 Tony nominations.
So, as the world gets to know Elders Cunningham and Price, I’m hoping to do a little something to help demystify the modern Mormon experience. While the musical does a great job of bringing the Mormon missionary experience into the mainstream American culture, it is a satirical exercise. And, as with all good satire, it proves its points with caricatures and exaggeration.
Many people I meet in my line of work tell me I’m one of the first Mormons they have met. Now that’s a lot of pressure, as I’m most likely not a good representative of what all Mormons are like. But who is? We live in a complex culture, full of contradictions, differences, and wonderful similarities. We have Harry Reids and Glenn Becks, which is part of what makes us such a beautiful and vibrant people.
As a filmmaker, I’ve always wanted to make a project that will highlight these complexities and contradictions. But, the fiction stories I’ve come up with have seemed contrived, or hard to convey. Wallace Stegner, the so-called Dean of Western Writers, has mused that telling fiction about the Mormons is nearly impossible, because Mormon institutions and Society are so peculiar they call for constant explanation. And I ran into the same problem.
But, then a (not Mormon) filmmaker friend, Hadleigh Arnst, suggested we document the story of Mormon Singles flocking each Memorial Day to an area on the outer banks of North Carolina called Duck Beach. Close to 1,000 Mormon singles makes this annual trip. To tell the story well, we recruited Laura Naylor, who grew up in Mormonism but has now left. Thus, we are embarking on a project with three different and important viewpoints represented: those of a practicing member of the church, a former member, and an outsider to the faith.
To my surprise, when we produced a little fundraising teaser, we encountered a lot of resistance from some in the single Mormon community. While we did get substantial positive feedback from many Mormons, the most vocal feedback we received was negative. It seemed some Mormon singles didn’t want the Duck Beach story told–or at least they wanted something presented that didn’t highlight any of the complexities or problems Mormon singles face.
Watch the documentary teaser (donations welcome!), and perhaps this other short video which first sparked our interest in capturing the Single Mormon Story, and tell me what you think. How should the Duck Beach story be told? Should Mormon artists focus on complexity and contradiction? What responsibility or obligation do Mormon artists have to highlight the positives in Mormon culture and behavior?