“BYU Movies Mark Twenty-fifth Year,” Ensign, Sept. 1978, 79
The beginnings were humble—a three-room cottage that has long since been torn down on the Brigham Young University campus. But in its twenty-five years of existence, BYU’s motion picture studio has begun to fulfill the vision of its founders—to produce films used throughout the world.
The BYU Film Production Department celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary September 1. In a quarter-century, 183 movies have been produced, and more are in production. Statistics help indicate the studio’s impact on people throughout the world: In 1970, the Motion Picture Department sold a total of 297 copies of films outside the Church. In 1977, it sold 2,360, a 794 percent increase.
Those films, costing hundreds of dollars a copy, are led in sales by Cipher in the Snow, with more than 2,400 copies sold. A more recent film, John Baker’s Last Race, has in its first six months on the market nearly doubled sales for Cipher. One religious group alone has already purchased twenty-four copies.
A physical fitness film, Run Dick, Run Jane, has sold more than 1,500 copies. The Seventh-day Adventist church has bought more copies of that film than the Latter-day Saint Church has. Adventists use that along with two other films in anti-smoking, heart-evaluation clinics.
The Air Force Chaplain’s Board has purchased twenty-four copies each of Cipher and Johnny Lingo, and the Army Chaplain’s Board has requested seventy copies of John Baker’s Last Race.
What makes the studio run? Professionalism and talent are two factors. BYU-produced movies have received numerous awards, including Silver Screen and Gold Camera awards this year at the Chicago Industrial Film Festival. Also, the facilities have changed drastically from that first BYU cottage.
The first BYU films, Come Back, My Son, and B. Y. and You, were produced in 1953 in the cottage, after Walt Disney animator Wetzel O. “Judge” Whitaker signed a contract with BYU to begin producing films. In 1954, a writer, a cinematographer, and an editor were hired, and a new plywood studio was constructed where the Wilkinson Center Bookstore now stands. The structure, known as “the green barn,” was far from soundproof.
Four years later, the studio moved to a permanent location in the Carterville river bottoms area. The fifteen-acre studio was dedicated in 1959, but was mostly destroyed by fire in 1964. Many valuable props were lost in the fire. The studio was rebuilt in 1965, and in 1976 an additional audio and film production wing was added. In July, KBYU-TV located its television production facilities in the studio.
A name change reflects how the capabilities have changed. Originally called the Motion Picture Studio, the facilities later became Media Production Studio, since films were only part of the effort.
The staff has increased vastly since “Judge” Whitaker, his brother Scott Whitaker, Frank Wise, and Robert Stum were mainstays of the studio. But they are not forgotten; pictures from their productions line the walls, reminders of the reality and promise of their vision for the studio.