For more than two years, film crews for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have undertaken the task of bringing the New Testament to life in rural Utah. On a three-acre set carefully crafted to represent ancient Jerusalem, they have filmed vignettes portraying the life of Jesus Christ.
To date, the Church has produced 49 Bible videos focusing on the life and teachings of Christ in the New Testament and will release more throughout this year. But this week marks the end of production for the New Testament series on the Church’s set near Goshen (56 miles south of Salt Lake City).
All together, the two- to 10-minute videos have received over 5.5 million views. Scott Smiley, director of film and video for the Church, said he is pleased with their reception thus far.
“I’ve heard that both Church members and those of other faiths have used them to teach in their homes and in their congregations, to bring the Bible to life,” Smiley said. “That’s wonderful; we want people to be able to use them and recognize how wonderful the story of Jesus is for all of us.”
Smiley said the videos help share Bible stories in a way that is easily accessible.
“We’re a very media-savvy culture, and we have to teach the gospel in a way that people relate to it now, and this is a great opportunity to do that,” he said.
The creators were careful to reflect the stories of the King James Version of the New Testament as faithfully as possible, paying meticulous attention to scriptural details. The text of the scripture each vignette focuses on is included with the video.
For the actors, filming on the set has been a powerful experience. “It’s amazing to work in,” said Savannah Stevenson, who plays the role of Mary. “This experience has shown me really vividly these stories played out before my eyes.”
Working on the videos has helped Stevenson see the stories of the Bible in a completely new way. “Whenever I read scriptures, I can see [what I saw as we filmed] in my mind,” she said. “I hope that’s what other people now have from us making these Bible videos, that they will have that visual in their minds too.”
As she stepped into Mary’s life, Stevenson came to greatly admire the mother of Christ and her journey. “When we think of Mary, we often think of the young Mary bearing this young child, but she also had to watch her son die; she was there at the cross,” she said. “That’s an incredible journey and an incredible thing to experience.”
Stevenson said filming the scene of Christ's crucifixion was one of the most incredible spiritual experiences she’s ever had. “To be in her shoes, to stand looking at the cross — even though it was an actor playing Jesus, it just really brought home to me that it happened, that it was real,” she said. “As much as it’s heartbreaking and awful, it also makes me realize that He died for me, He died for everybody, for a marvelous purpose, and then He rose again.”
Smiley said he gained a deeper understanding of New Testament places and stories as he worked on the project. “One of the most exciting parts has been to look at different areas and think, that’s where Mary and Joseph live, or that’s where Jesus turned water into wine,” he said. “And of course, they are none of those things, but as we have been striving to make these stories real, I feel as though I have almost been witness to those activities as they took place. They are written in the Bible, and the Bible is thousands of years old, but I still feel like I got to be witness to them.”
The set was built to last more than 20 years and will be used again by the Church for other projects, though none have been scheduled at present.
“Because our faith centers on Jesus Christ, there will always be a need for stories and films portraying His time,” Smiley said. “Part of the beauty of the set is that it can be configured and reconfigured to portray any of the cities in the New or Old Testaments.”
About the Set
The set recreates specific parts of ancient Jerusalem, including streets, courts, synagogues and other areas. The property includes desert similar to the Judean Plains, sand dunes, a river that accurately resembles the ancient River Jordan where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and an area well suited to depict the Garden of Gethsemane where the Savior atoned for the sins of mankind.
Construction of the Jerusalem set — the size of a football field in each direction — began in November 2010 and was completed in early 2011. For more on the set, see these Newsroom stories: