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Who needs Morocco when you've got biblical landscapes in Goshen, Utah?

Published March 5, 2013 10:49 am

On a massive set just 60 miles south of Salt Lake City, LDS Church films Bible videos.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

To film "The Bible," Roma Downey traveled 6,000 miles to Morocco from her home in California.

"I found myself over there with sand in places I never knew existed," she said with a laugh. "When we got there, it was freezing cold. By the time we left, it was blazingly hot."

The staff of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Media Services Department doesn't have quite so far to go when they film New Testament-based stories. Instead, they travel 60 miles south from Salt Lake City to the church's Jerusalem movie set.

"Honestly, we looked at Morocco," said Scott Smiley, director of film and video for the LDS Church's publishing-services department. "We considered going there to film. And we ended up building the set down in Goshen."

The massive facility — the size of two side-by-side football fields — was completed in 2011. Since then, it has been used to film segments for the church's Bible Videos series; videos for the Sunday School curriculum; online Mormon Messages videos; and even a music video for the Piano Guys.

If you didn't know the Piano Guys were on a set in Utah County, you'd never guess.

"The whole goal was to build that thing so that people think, 'Where in the world is that?' " Smiley said. "And Goshen, Utah, is not the first thing people think of when they look at a set like that."

It wouldn't make sense for a Hollywood studio to go to the expense of creating a huge standing set of ancient Jerusalem; for the LDS Church, it made perfect sense.

"Typically, with a movie set, you build it, you film on it and then you tear it down," Smiley said. "But we have a standing set so that the expense isn't wrapped into a single shoot but spread out over, hopefully, 30 years or more; the cost savings are huge. It's a fantastic set that's all ready to go with just the finishing touches to worry about — the set decoration as opposed to the set building."

And that's not counting all the money saved by not sending actors, directors and crew to Morocco. "It's not like there's three people on a film crew," Smiley said. "You have to put together quite a group, so the costs there are enormous."

Plus you avoid the extreme cold, extreme heat and the sand that crews encounter in Morocco.

Well, at least you avoid the sand.

"Hey, I was used to that weather," said Downey of Utah, who starred in the locally produced "Touched by an Angel" from 1994-2003. "I had my training — almost 10 years in the Salt Lake City climate."

Which isn't to say that it's altogether easy to film in Goshen. There are plenty of flies in the summer, and there's the distinctive aroma of farm country.

"Well, it's outside," Smiley said with a laugh. "Yes, there are flies. And there's a dairy not far off, so there's that dairy air, if you will."

spierce@sltrib.com