The Mormon Market

So you wanna make a movie? One that people actually pay to see? Here's an idea: Put a Mormon character in your film. According to Mark Potter, who wrote and directed Suddenly Unexpected, folks will come out in droves.

"It's very hard as an independent filmmaker to get someone to come see your work," says Potter, a native Houstonian. "The Mormon film genre gives you an audience to work with. The requirement is that there's a Mormon character, and an audience will support it."

In 2000, Richard Dutcher's God's Army proved the existence of a huge, virtually untapped market for films about members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Made on a $300,000 budget, that movie grossed more than $2.6 million -- and inspired a sly slew of filmmakers to enter the genre.

Potter insists that "LDS films" (the politically correct term) don't have to have religious themes, and that the protagonists of Suddenly Unexpected, two Mormons on a mission, could be anyone. "It's about two people who happen to be Mormon," he says. "It could be any two people who are having a very bad day."

In the film, which was produced by Potter's wife, Marjorie, on a $100,000 budget and shot in Houston, two Mormon missionaries wake up and find themselves evicted from their rental house. They end up spending the day with an old man, his truck and a little dog. The elderly gentleman ends up teaching them a lesson about service.

"The young men are supposed to be serving," says Potter, "but they're wrapped up in their lives. The old man is out doing good things for people, and they discover, in the end, what service really is." Although the idea of service is hardly unique to Mormonism, the film's religious overtones are, of course, undeniable. You won't find any sex, drugs, violence or four-letter words in Suddenly Unexpected.

The movie's world premiere is happening right here in Houston. "This is where we're from," says Potter, "so this is where we're beginning." Guess what state the film will screen in next. Hint: It starts with a U.

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Cathy Matusow
Contact: Cathy Matusow