Jerusalem Movie Set Dedicated, Ready for Filming

Contributed By Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events

  • 3 August 2011

The Church’s new movie set in Goshen, Utah, will be used to film scenes from Jesus Christ’s life as recorded in the New Testament.

Article Highlights

  • Filming for the first project—nearly three dozen vignettes from the life of Christ—is set to begin.
  • The set brings important sections of Jerusalem together on a location the size of a football field.

“Ultimately, the goal is to create a body of work that we can draw from that absolutely speaks to every aspect of Jesus’s life.”—John Uibel, project executive producer

The recently dedicated Jerusalem Movie Set built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be used in producing Church films is in its final stages of completion and nearing the time when it will be used for filming.

A “New” Jerusalem

The new set is located on the LDS Motion Picture Studio South Campus in Goshen, Utah, less than 60 miles south of Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. It is not a replica of Jerusalem, but a re-creation of important locations in the city. It covers an area about the size of a football field and will be first used to create the New Testament Scripture Library Project—a series of vignettes portraying important scenes from the life of Jesus Christ and the Apostles.

The small town of Goshen, population less than 1,000, was chosen because of the surrounding area’s similarity to Jerusalem’s geography—rolling hills, plains, groves of cedar trees, sand dunes, and a stream.

Portions of nearby Utah Lake will stand in for the Sea of Galilee.

As a representation of the most significant city in biblical history—Jerusalem—the set features worn doorways, crumbling walls, stone-covered facades, pillared courtyards, and weathered wooden beams.

Project executive producer and production designer  John Uibel said filming on the set will be more realistic than filming on location in Israel because the look of Jerusalem has changed so much since Christ’s time.

Areas of importance—the Court of the Women, the pool of Bethesda, the inn where Mary and Joseph sought shelter, the house of Caiaphus—are represented and are also versatile enough to be used for other scenes.

In some cases, computerized visual effects will fill in details the set does not accommodate, such as the temple proper and the topping of courtyard obelisks with large menorahs.

Outside the set is an area modified to look like the Garden of Gethsemane, where filming will re-create the scene of the Savior's Atonement amid the shadows of olive trees.

Overcoming Obstacles

The re-creation of sections of the Holy City was authorized by the First Presidency in January 2010 and has been under construction since November 2010.

“This is long-term,” said Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy, Executive Director of the Media Services Department. “[The set] is being built with materials which can be used for decades to come, not just years to come.”

The set was originally scheduled to be completed in spring 2011, but the approximately 75 craftsmen building it faced unexpected weather conditions—a longer-than-normal winter, dust storms, and higher-than-average rainfall—that delayed completion.

Today, the hard work has paid off. Hand-painted and -textured Styrofoam surfaces look like stone walls, carved arches, and wooden beams. Dusty “moss” clings to smooth pillars, and facades only months old appear to be eroded from decades of exposure to the elements.

“[The workers] need to be able not only to frame up a building, but also to understand what the story is behind the framing of that building to give it the character that it needs to infuse the story with … meaning and authenticity,” Brother Uibel noted.

Another obstacle the workers encountered was building a set that would look as large as the buildings actually were. In ancient times, the temple mount was among the largest man-made creations on the earth.

“We just need it to look right as it goes through the camera’s lens, so a lot of it is film trickery,” Brother Uibel said. “Certain areas . . . are close to full scale; most of it is half-scale; some of it is even less.”

The set, which is not open to the public, is built to last more than 20 years.

Lights, Camera, Action

The videos that will be shot at the Jerusalem Movie Set will provide new material for the Church Educational System, Mormon Messages, missionary films, conference broadcasts, and more. But most importantly, they will help all people better understand and appreciate the life of Jesus Christ.

In an effort to bring that about, researchers have explored the ancient city in detail and based the replica on photographs of Jerusalem. Scott Smiley, producer for the New Testament Video Project, said the scriptures also helped.

“You want to know and understand the Gospels as well as you can so that you can represent it in a realistic way,” he said. “Being able to immerse myself in the Gospels and in the scriptures … has been extremely rewarding.”

In one large open area of the set, the Beautiful Gate is set into a wall, granting entry to the Court of the Women. Here, the woman mentioned in Mark 12:41–44 will cast in her mite, Christ will free the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1–11), and He will also declare, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

“Ultimately, the goal is to create a body of work that we can draw from that absolutely speaks to every aspect of Jesus’s life,” Brother Uibel said.