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Stripling warriors, Captain Moroni and more come to life as filming starts on Book of Mormon Videos’ last season

Audiences are spared scenes of the final bloody battles, which are told mainly through words, thus keeping the films family-friendly.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chris Ah Sue plays Helaman on the set as the LDS Church films its final season of Book of Mormon Videos at Provo studio on Friday, June 17, 2022.

Provo • Brandon Beltrain is dressed in a tunic and leather sandals, his black hair reaching his shoulders. He’s surrounded by thatched huts and fire pits. Around him are similarly attired men, preparing for the looming battle.

But this isn’t an ancient village, and no one’s going to die. This is 2022 in Provo at the LDS Motion Picture Studios.

Beltrain is one of about 300 actors cast as a “stripling warrior” for a filmed rendition of a famous fight from the Book of Mormon, the signature scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The story of Helaman, an ancient prophet and military leader who marshals 2,000 young men in battle without losing a single soul, is one of many being portrayed in the fifth and final season of the church’s Book of Mormon Video series, which began filming this month.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Actors dressed as Stripling Warriors, film a scene for the Book of Mormon Video Series, at BYU Motion Picture Studio, on Friday, June 17, 2022.

The project started production in 2016 and released its first season in fall 2019. It will total 45 episodes at the end of Season Five. (Eleven episodes are slated for the final season.)

The videos are available for free on the church’s website, Book of Mormon app, Gospel Library and on YouTube. They’ve been translated into more than 15 languages, including Spanish, Russian and Cantonese.

To date, they’ve received more than 50 million views. Over 1,200 cast and crew members, 200 of them volunteers, have participated in production.

Season Five will release in late 2023 and feature stories such as Samuel the Lamanite and Captain Moroni’s Title of Liberty.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hairdressers work on a couple of stripling warriors before filming scenes for the Book of Mormon Videos on Friday, June 17, 2022.

Season Four, which highlights the Book of Mormon’s crowning moment — Jesus Christ’s ministry on the ancient American continent — comes out this fall.

Beltrain, a Californian and a Brigham Young University student, said he prepared for his role through prayer, fasting and a lot of pondering how the story of the stripling warriors applies to him.

“It dawned on me one day [what] these young men were fighting for,” he said. “They were showing [their families], ‘We can do things with faith.’ … They were standing for so much more than liberty, than being alive. They were trying to be spiritually fed as well.”

‘Good Christian viewing’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stripling warriors Tuli Baug, Zeka Nichols and Joseph Andelin II, listen to apostle Ronald A. Rasband talk about the final season of Book of Mormon Video series in Provo on Friday, June 17, 2022.

Latter-day Saint apostle Ronald A. Rasband visited cast and crew members on set June 17 and told media members that the Book of Mormon Video series complements scripture study.

The shows, he said, are especially appealing to children, who “become part of it” as they watch the stories unfold on screen.

Rasband emphasized the family-friendly nature of the films, particularly when compared to content found on various streaming platforms.

But how can the videos be safe for youngsters when a number of stories involve brutal warfare, even the collapse of civilizations?

In many cases, Rasband said, the producers simply quote directly from the Book of Mormon while showing some kind of background shot.

“This is, I think, the major way we can stay so true to the Book of Mormon,” the church leader, “[by] staying true to how it was written.”

He added that the world needs these videos because they share a message about Jesus. “If a family wants good Christian viewing, there’s nothing better.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) J. Annette Dennis, soon to become first counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency, talks about the final season of Book of Mormon Video series on Friday, June 17, 2022.

J. Anette Dennis, who will become first counselor in the women’s General Relief Society Presidency in August, addressed the role of women in the Book of Mormon and the videos.

Though few women are named in the volume, they didn’t have second-class roles, she said. And they emerge as “principal characters” in the videos.

Dennis said it’s important that Latter-day Saints viewing the videos see how important the women are to their communities, just as women are now.

“In the church, women are very integral,” Dennis said. “I don’t know many churches that have general women’s leaders. … [The Book of Mormon stories] couldn’t have gone forward without the women.”

Is the book always better?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Stripling warriors walk to their positions on the movie set as the LDS Church films its final season of the Book of Mormon Video series at a Provo set on Friday, June 17, 2022.

The videos haven’t been a simple undertaking. General authority Seventy Michael A. Dunn said a combination of scholars and historians worked to make everything from the set to the costumes as accurate as possible.

Some elements, of course, are simply unknowable — what major characters like Nephi, Helaman and others might have looked liked, for instance — but they’ve made their best judgments based on what they do know.

Filmmakers also looked for cast members who have appeal on screen, whom audiences can relate to, Dunn said, and who can fulfill “the incredible performance requirements.”

Dunn, who has worked as general manager of KUED and as managing director of BYUtv and BYUradio, currently serves on a committee of church authorities overseeing the Book of Mormon Video series.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Elder Michael A. Dunn of the Seventy talks about the LDS Church's Book of Mormon Video series on Friday, June 17, 2022.

He said 45 episodes of a show across five seasons is a tall task for any production company — especially given the pandemic pause — so the pace and scale that the church has created these videos is “mind-blowing.”

Dunn said this project stands out from others in his career because it’s depicting a “sacred history,” one treasured by millions of church members across the globe.

“People always say, ‘Well, the book was better than the film,’” Dunn said. “Our charge, I think, was to make it so that [people] would go, ‘Wow, the book was as good as the film.’”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Young boys line up for their wardrobe fittings for their characters as stripling warriors before filming scenes for the Book of Mormon Videos at a Provo studio on Friday, June 17, 2022.