Episode 195: ‘Book of Mormon Videos’ producers on making the series and the truths found in sacred scripture

Book of Mormon Videos producers Aaron Merrell and Jaelan Petrie join the Church News podcast to explore creating the videos and share behind the scenes experiences of the process

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched the fifth and final season of the “Book of Mormon Videos” series in early 2024.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles serves as the chair of the Scriptures Committee and has overseen the production of the “Book of Mormon Videos.” The Church recently hit a significant milestone in the distribution of the Book of Mormon, and Elder Renlund said the launch of this final season comes at an important time.

“In an era marked by the delivery of the 200 millionth copy of the Book of Mormon, it is fitting that we draw attention to the many other ways people can be introduced to the truths of this sacred volume,” he said.

This episode of the Church News podcast looks behind the scenes with series producers Aaron Merrell and Jaelan Petrie to explore the storytelling process of creating the videos and the sacred book of scripture they are based on.

Listen to the Church News podcast on Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Spotify, YouTube or wherever you get podcasts.


Aaron Merrell: What I know now after creating the Book of Mormon series is just the absolute truth to the Book of Mormon. I always had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Since I was young, I’ve always known that the Book of Mormon is true. The Holy Ghost has told me that the Book of Mormon is true. But as we’ve had to dive deep into these stories, as we’ve had to find all these intricate details — the amazing threads that go throughout here, the amazing detail, the amazing context, the amazing people that are in the Book of Mormon — it is so incredible that it could not be anything but a true historical document that brings us closer to Jesus Christ through the doctrine in there. So I know, I know, I absolutely know that the Book of Mormon is true. And that’s one thing that I really love that our crew and our cast really brought to this, is every bit of work that they put into it was their testimony of Jesus Christ.


Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints launched the fifth and final season of the “Book of Mormon Videos” series earlier this year in 2024. Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and chair of the Church’s Scripture Committee has overseen the production of the “Book of Mormon Videos.”

The Church recently hit a significant milestone in the distribution of the Book of Mormon, and Elder Renlund says the launch of this final season comes at an important time. Quote, “In an era marked by the delivery of the 200 millionth ... copy of the Book of Mormon, it is fitting that we draw attention to the many other ways [we] can be introduced to the truths of this sacred volume,” he said.

This episode of the Church News podcast features “Book of Mormon Videos” series producers Aaron Merrell and Jaelan Petrie. Welcome, both of you, to the podcast.

Aaron Merrell: Thank you so much.

Jaelan Petrie: Yeah, it’s great to be here, thank you.


Sarah Jane Weaver: It is great to be here, especially at a time in the history of the Church where we are now distributing 200 millionth printed copies of the Book of Mormon. You’ve had an opportunity to explore the Book of Mormon and examine it in a way that it can be shared visually for people. Tell us what this project has meant to you, and kind of give me a high-level view of what you’ve tried to accomplish with the “Book of Mormon Videos” project. And, Aaron, we’ll start with you.


Aaron Merrell: All right. Well, this project really has meant a lot to me. You know, for any filmmaker who is a member of our Church, being able to work on the Book of Mormon and bring it to life is a dream for all of us. So really being able to live that dream has been a huge honor, I think. And it’s been amazing to be able to dive deeper into the Book of Mormon than I ever have before and really understand these stories and these characters much deeper than I’ve ever explored them before. And it’s been a joy, it’s been an honor, it’s been a challenge. You know, it’s not always just butterflies and rainbows. But really it’s been a dream come true, and it’s been a fantastic project to work on.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and Jaelan, you’ve had a similar experience?

Jaelan Petrie: Yeah, I came onto the project just a little bit after Aaron, about a year after he did in the early phases. And I just remember, as we were closing up with the project, that one of the members of our steering committee — because I was involved with a lot of the writing — he looked at me, and he said, “I really sense that you love the Book of Mormon.” And I had never really thought that as we were going through all of this. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, no, I think I do,” right? It’s had a major impact in my life.

But just as Aaron said, getting in and seeing what all of these stories are about and things that these people faced, it hit me all the time that these were real people facing real problems, trying to do their best, getting revelation and inspiration from the Lord to help them do that. I think I have now about 100 Sunday School lessons from this that we can share; just every Sunday, it’s just I think I have something new to share because of what we did on the videos here. But what a great experience. I had two children born while this was being done. It’s just been a big part of my life for the last almost decade.


Sarah Jane Weaver: So, I hope we can go back and you can tell me how long that we’ve been doing this, what it has taken to produce this. I also love that this series comes as the entire Church is studying the Book of Mormon for “Come, Follow Me.” So, you’re sort of wrapping something up as we’re all looking in depth at this book again.

What has gone into the production of this video series?


Aaron Merrell: Well, it has been a very big series, and we kind of refer to it in about five and a half seasons. So, we’ve been working on this really since before 2017. I think 2017 is the first year that we started filming. That’s when we filmed our stories of 1 Nephi. So, and after that, just season by season. Roughly, when we refer to season, it’s basically our year’s worth of content. So, it’s turned out, at the end of the day, we’ll have 45 episodes of the “Book of Mormon Videos” series, everywhere from 1 Nephi all the way to Moroni. And it really encompasses all those great experiences, teachings, and all the beauty of the Book of Mormon throughout that. So 45 episodes, ultimately, I think we’re going to be in something like 70 languages as it goes worldwide in its distribution. So yeah, just a lot of really great content that can really help expand and expound upon the Book of Mormon.


Jaelan Petrie: I think for me, just to kind of expand on what you asked of what it took to produce these, boy, it took our souls a little bit, didn’t it?

Aaron Merrell: Depends on the day.

Jaelan Petrie: Yeah, it depends on the day.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Every calling does. And I know this was a job for you, too.

Jaelan Petrie: It was, you’re right. But I think filmmakers, we actually tell time by project, so not by year, but by project. So you tell your life’s story by the projects you worked on, and you remember it that way. So, this has been the last decade for us, almost. And it has been, on a really granular level, we were working with hundreds of extras and over 100 crew members, and we were in the dead of the heat of summer and traveling and all kinds of things. And so every year, it was like wrestling an alligator, and 50 alligators, and then we’d have to do it again.

Then always trying to make sure that we were doing it the way that we were asked to by the First Presidency or the leaders of our Church, and that we’re doing it in a way that it was a visualization of the Book of Mormon instead of a dramatization. I think it’s a pretty important clarification there, that we’re not trying to be dramatic. We’re not trying to do entertainment, we’re actually doing another translation of the Book of Mormon. So whether you watch it or whether you read it, it’s the same experience, if that makes sense. And so I think, yeah, it took a little bit of our souls, but in a good way.

Director Blair Treu talks with actor Anthony Butters, who plays Jesus, as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the fourth season of Book of Mormon videos is filmed near Springville, Utah, on Monday, July 26, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I remember as you were taping Season 1, I went down and watched some of that and was just blown away with how you found the cast. I remember looking at a very young Nephi, thinking, “He looks like Nephi.” Now, he is always going to be the visualization for me of what I think of when I read about Nephi.

How did you cast these roles? And Jaelan, why don’t you start.


Jaelan Petrie: Yeah, so that was actually one of the most difficult things for us; it’s because we typically, when we’re portraying a prophet or Deity or those types of things in our media, it needs to be a member of the Church who is actually an active and worthy member of the Church, if that makes sense. And so our pool is very small. And so we actually had acting bootcamp. We were particularly looking for people who were not your typical white person from Utah. We were looking for people who were of ethnicities that represented Lamanites and Nephites. And so most of them didn’t have a lot of acting experience, or deep acting experience.

And so we had acting bootcamp, we had training, we had a lot of rehearsals. We really focused on building those actors into the character and helping them get to where they needed to be. And so, Jackson [VanDerwerken], who portrayed Nephi, was a great example of that. He really had never acted in his life and then gave a great portrayal after he went to the bootcamp and training. And so, casting was difficult, but we felt pretty successful on the resources we had.


Aaron Merrell: I also think that it was kind of funny that every time that we’d enter into a new season and we’re looking for a new cast, our casting director, Alisa Anglesey, every time, she’s like, “I don’t know how we’re going to find these people for this role. We’ve already tried everywhere. I’ve looked everywhere.” Every single season, she’s really like, “I cannot find additional options for us,” and every season, there was a miracle. Every single time when we needed to find a very distinct person to fill a role, somehow, miraculously, she found the right person to do it.

And it was really amazing to us, I think, that every single time, we were thinking the same thing: “How are we going to find another person to portray this really complex character, to bring this person to life that we all love?” And then every time, she would say, “I don’t know where this person came from, I don’t know why we haven’t seen them before, but here’s this person.”

So, for example, when we got to our final season — which we call our Mormon unit — we portray the stories of Mormon abridging the plates; Mormon teaching about faith, hope and charity; and Mormon teaching about baptism of children. And we thought we had found every solid actor that we could ever consider, who was a worthy member of the Church, to play any of our roles. “Who else are we going to find? Where are we going to find this person?”

And somehow, out of the woodwork, came this guy, Ray Fujikawa, out of Texas, who had never auditioned before, he had never performed in anything like this before. But somehow, he got the impression, he decided to try out for it, and he was just perfect for the role. He really embodied Mormon in such a beautiful way, did a great performance. And we had those miracles throughout the entire production. It was pretty amazing.


Jaelan Petrie: I’m going to talk about how Anthony [Butters] was cast as the Savior, because that was a big and important role, obviously; obviously the Savior, one that we needed to be really particular about. And we put a very large net out into the world, actually. And we got this great read from Anthony, who lives in New Zealand. And he, I think, Aaron, you saw it first, if I remember.

Aaron Merrell: Yeah. Yeah.

Jaelan Petrie: And you brought it to me, and you’re like, “I think we need to look at him as Christ,” and sure we did. And I ended up going down to New Zealand and meeting with him. And the moment I sat down, I knew that he was going to be the Savior and he was going to do a great job. We’ve already had such great reviews about him, about how brotherly he is, how loving he is, he smiles. People really like his portrayal of the Savior. But to Aaron’s point, that just felt like a miracle that out of nowhere just came to us.

Anthony Butters, who plays Jesus, speaks to media during a break as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the fourth season of Book of Mormon videos is filmed near Springville, Utah, on Monday, July 26, 2021. | Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Aaron Merrell: And I think that that probably brings up another important point to share there, is that we did have to cast everybody uniquely, even the role of Jesus Christ. A lot of people have asked us, “Why didn’t you use the same actor who played Jesus Christ, who played in the Bible videos?” And John Foss played an amazing Jesus Christ; great actor, everybody loves him. But our leadership, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, they were very clear to us that we should have different people portray the role of Jesus Christ just so that people don’t get too fixated on one representative image of Jesus Christ, so they don’t always think that Jesus Christ looks like John Foss or Anthony Butters or Jonathan Roumie or whoever else, but that we have a variety of it so that people don’t get too stuck on one image of Jesus Christ.


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think people don’t really realize what it takes to create just a few minutes of the videos they watch. I remember the day I was on set, it was hot, you know. Jaelan mentioned the heat. It was hot. And there were live animals, and there was a lot going on. And filming went that day for hours and hours and hours. We started early, and there was a scene where it was being filmed late into the night. This must have included some long days and some varying conditions.


Aaron Merrell: Definitely, yes. In general, a production day is about a 12-hour day. And so they are always a long — it’s not always hot, but generally a long, hot day. And then once you consider that a lot of our locations are in remote locations. So, for example, in that first season, when you were with us, we were out at our Goshen set down — it’s about an hour’s drive for me, so if you think we’re doing at least a 12-hour day, driving an hour each way, that’s kind of what our life is during production.

So it can be exhausting during those heavy production times. Yeah, it can be a challenge. We miss out on things for our families, but it’s awesome. We love filmmaking. That’s what we got into the business to do. Fortunately, those times, they generally are long stints, but it’s not every single day of the entire year, so we tend to survive it.


Jaelan Petrie: And we actually like to have fun as much as you can; it’s actually a lot of work. But I remember one time, we actually chartered an ice cream truck during that hot time.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I had wished that you’d invited me that day.

Jaelan Petrie: I think everybody did. And the crew, they a little bit lost their minds, because we had them turn on the sound as it was coming up the road, you know, “Du-du, du-du, du du-du-du du.” And I remember one of the hair and makeup artists, she actually started crying because she’s like, “I think that’s for us. If it makes the turn at that spot right there, it’s coming to us.” And it made the turn, and she’s like, “Oh, it’s coming to us.” And we just had them line up, and everyone got to have their ice cream.

So we do like to have a little bit of fun while we’re out there. But it is a lot of long hours. We just lose track of time, quite honestly; you get up, you work, you go to sleep, you work. That’s about it.


Aaron Merrell: And I guess we should probably clarify — when you say hot day out there, I remember the day that you were out there, and it was really hot. So I don’t remember what the air temperature is, but because we were working out on the sandy ground, our safety manager took a temperature reading just on the sand, where the heat is reflecting it, and the sand was at like 128 degrees that day. So when we say it was hot, it was really hot.

Jaelan Petrie: Oh, I think we’d have extras pass out every now and then.


Aaron Merrell: Yeah, we had to be really careful with safety and medics, and yeah. Every morning, our first assistant director, Jason Allred, every day, he says, “Water, water, water; sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen,” because it’s a real risk out there. And we do our best to take care of everybody to make sure it’s safe. But, yeah, sometimes those conditions can be pretty tough.

Extras try to stay hydrated as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the fourth season of Book of Mormon videos is filmed near Springville, Utah, on Monday, July 26, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: So, I want to talk about the locations where you filmed. Can you detail those and tell us which segments were filmed where?

Jaelan Petrie: Sure. Should we start with Goshen? I think everyone’s familiar with Goshen. That’s where the New Testament set was built. And when we first started, we probably didn’t have it on our radar, because it’s New Testament. But when we went down there, we realized we could actually modify the set to become Zarahemla, mostly the Nephite cities, right? And there’s a technique we called skinning, and that’s where you build a set on the front of the set or just onto the set, and it becomes the foundation. So the stone floor is the stone floor, but the walls were very kind of Roman architecture. So we would skin those with foam and with wood to make it look like it’s Nephite architecture but have the infrastructure to hold it.

We ended up doing that every year. It actually became kind of an outside set or an offsite set for us that we ended up doing every year. And probably at least 50% of our shooting was there, would you say?


Aaron Merrell: Yeah, we were there a lot more frequently than we initially thought. And it’s a great facility because it’s been built for filmmaking. So we’ve got electricity, we’ve got power, we’ve got water, we’ve got everything. So it is a great place to film.

Jaelan Petrie: In fact, we actually did the storm scene, with Nephi in the boat, in the middle of the desert, which is kind of — you watch it, and there’s tons of water, but we did that big, heavy water scene in the middle of the desert down at Goshen. So, we used that as a resource. We also went to Hawaii a few times. Should we talk about location neutrality? Should we do that now or later?


Aaron Merrell: Actually yeah, let me let me hit that a little bit, because there are a lot of different theories on where the Book of Mormon has come from. But the Church is very clear that really the position of the Church is that it’s not about where it happened, it’s that this is a testament of Jesus Christ. And so that’s a really important thing for us as a filmmaker, because we have to portray it somewhere. But location neutrality is a key for what we do. So we’re not saying this happened in the Heartland, we’re not saying this happened in Central America, we’re not saying South America. What we’re saying is: “This happened, and this is a testimony of Jesus Christ.”

So, as we looked for locations, we always did have to look for a place that could be a fairly location-neutral thing. And there will always be someone who says, “Well, that looks a little bit more like this, or it looks a little bit more like that.” But really, we’re trying to take the attention off the specifics of the location and make it an area where these amazing, important events happened. So, like Jaelan said, there were several times where we went to Hawaii, not necessarily for the lush palm trees and jungles, but because they provided really a great location-neutral atmosphere for us.

But we also went repeatedly to a ranch location down near Springville, Utah, and that’s where we built some of our big sets as well. So, in this place just outside of town, it had a very beautiful but indistinct area where we could build Nephi’s temple, where we could build Bountiful, and we ended up — it was kind of like our Goshen set, where at first we thought, “We’re going to be down here this one time, we’re going to try it once, and then we’ll probably not come back again.” But we ended up going back again and again because it was just this perfect location that gave us a great look, great production resources. And it was just a great location for us to use.


Jaelan Petrie: It brought some interesting challenges, though, because the snow would melt just in time for us to do construction, and then it would snow just as we finished up. We really only had a six-week window because it was a high elevation. So it was an interesting challenge. We’d show up, it’d be frozen, everything would be frozen in the morning, we’d thaw out and then repeat and rinse and repeat, the rest of us. So, yeah.


Aaron Merrell: So, the Oregon Coast really served us well for some of the beach locations of the Book of Mormon. We went there first during our first season to film the shore where Nephi builds his boat in the land Bountiful. And then we went back in this last season as we had to portray scenes of the brother of Jared building the barges. So, we went to different beaches, so there are different looks. But there again, that great indiscriminate, location-neutral place where we can portray these scenes. So, we went to the Oregon Coast twice, but we also went to Italy.

And the reason why we went to Italy was for the allegory of the olive tree. In Jacob 5, the allegory of the olive tree, it’s this beautiful account of the Lord of the vineyard caring for this beautiful ancient mother olive tree. And so we wanted a tree that could be a hero to the story. And so we scouted a few different locations and ultimately decided to do this in Italy. We found this orchard with 2,000-year-old trees and just beautiful twisting, gnarly trees. And in fact, one of the trees in the orchard, they don’t know exactly how old it is, but they estimated it could be as old as 3,500 years old. And so it was this amazing, amazing location and a great place for us to portray the allegory of the olive tree.


Jaelan Petrie: Just another thought on the Oregon Coast. We turned a scout camp into a movie set. It was literally a working scout camp that we booked off for our shooting dates. And it had the mess hall, it had all kinds of things that worked perfectly for us as a movie set.

Aaron Merrell: And it was actually the scout camp that I went to when I was a 12-year-old kid. So it was a nice homecoming for me.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow, that sounds remarkable. As a consumer of these videos, first of all, I would never be able to guess where they were shot, which I know is the point. But sometimes I’m reading the Book of Mormon and say, “Oh, why didn’t they do a video about this? I wish they did a video about this.” It’s usually when I need a lesson.

How did you select what verses are represented in video? And then what was the approval process for that?


Aaron Merrell: That’s a great question, and I’ll grab that one. So, very early on when we were developing this series, I was brought on very early as we were looking at different accounts that we could film, there were about 60 different accounts that we considered. And ultimately, we narrowed it down to about 30 stories that we were going to film. And really, the key is we decided that the filter that we went through, it was through direction that was given to us by President Russell M. Nelson, who was at that time the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, obviously now is our Prophet.

So, one thing that he really clarified to us in the beginning is that the purposes of this series need to be the same as the purposes of the Book of Mormon. And he cited the title page of the Book of Mormon. The purposes are “to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever — And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”

And I cheated reading that; I didn’t have that memorized. But that is the purpose of the series: It is to help gather Israel, it’s to teach the doctrine, it’s to teach the covenants and, most importantly, to testify of Jesus Christ. That’s the filter that we put every story through. So, as we first landed on those first 30 episodes that we were going to document, as those were finished and were coming out, our leadership, they actually really liked what we were making. And so that’s how we started adding additional episodes in.

And that’s really what our fifth season has become, is all those episodes that we hadn’t had on that original list, but then everyone said, “Oh, but wouldn’t it be great if we showed the stripling soldiers? Wouldn’t it be great if we did the account of the brother of Jared? Wouldn’t it be great if we had the allegory of the olive tree?” So, that’s how the fifth season came about. So, it wasn’t easy, because there always are those stories that you look at like, “Oh, man, I really wish we would have done the story of Nephi on the tower in Helaman.” But yes, we did have to be a little bit choosy on what we did. But overall, as our final 45 episodes are done, we’ve got a pretty good swath of what is in the Book of Mormon.

Director Adam Anderegg works on the final filming season of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the Book of Mormon videos in Provo, Utah, on Friday, June 17, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News


Jaelan Petrie: I’d like to add to that. There’s a pivotal moment — I think for me and for the series, I think — and that is when we took our content schedule up to the First Presidency. And a content schedule is a list of all the media that you’re going to create. And when President Nelson saw it, he said, “Oh, great. It looks like you have all of the great stories of the Book of Mormon, but you’re missing some of the great doctrine of the Book of Mormon and need to focus on that.”

That actually changed the way we approached the series, because we went and added some episodes, for example, Alma 36 through 40, when Alma talks to his sons and gives that incredible doctrine about repentance and about how to change your life and how to deal with doubts, those kinds of things. We included that at that point because it was the great doctrine of the Book of Mormon. A sermon about faith that Alma and Amulek gave, probably not the most cinematic, incredible thing to shoot, but some of the most incredible doctrine to be aware of, is how to grow your faith and how it’s like a seed and how it progresses. So, it changed the way we approached it. It went from just being the great stories, great stories, to the great doctrine. And I think that’s part of what the series is about, is getting the great doctrine out to everybody so they understand it, they know it and they can use it in their lives.

This last season, as Aaron said, is a lot of the great stories. And we’re so excited for people to see the stripling warriors, we’re so excited for them to see the brother of Jared and the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and all these great stories. We’re super excited for that, because it’s the great stories at that point.


Aaron Merrell: And I think that is even one of the fun things as we’re trying to develop these stories, is that sometimes some of these are sermons, and these sermons, you know, it is a person on stairs just talking or talking to his sons. That was one of the fun things, I think, for us, is to, as filmmakers and storytellers, to really dive in deep and explore what is going on to put them in this place. And so, really trying to drill in deep and do that exploratory work to really find the essence of these stories, the context of the stories, I think as a filmmaker, that was a pretty fun, exciting thing as well.


Jaelan Petrie: I just want to riff off that a little bit, because I was really involved with the writing, with the writers that we had. And really, to your point, it was really incredible to go, “OK, what motivated these prophets? What motivated these characters in the Book of Mormon? What were they struggling with? What were their challenges?” so that we could bring that to life as best we could, in a way that it resonates with us, because we all have challenges, we all face things. And there’s some great examples of people facing difficult things in the Book of Mormon and how they did it that we could take from and go, “Oh, that’s how we could live our lives.”


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and you bring up a good point, because for each of you, there had to be moments, when you look back, you’ll say, “That is sort of symbolic of my entire experience with this project.” What were each of your “moments”?


Jaelan Petrie: There was one time that I think I was a bit overwhelmed while we were writing. And it was when Mormon and Moroni have the moment when they separate. I had never really thought about that. When this great battle had happened, almost all the Nephites are wiped out; there’s only 27 left, if I remember, 27 strongmen, and Mormon takes the plates, and he gives them to his son and basically says, “You need to go and keep these plates safe and go where the Lord directs you and bury them,” whatever, at that point.

But that moment where he says to his son, “You need to go” and they separated, I almost lost it. Just thinking about that, I’ve got two sons, and just thinking about — I’m getting a little emotional right now. Just that moment when he says to his son, “You need to go.” That, to me, was the whole essence of the Book of Mormon: People doing what’s right, putting their trust in the Lord and doing extraordinary things to help us today.


Aaron Merrell: Yeah, for me, there have been so many moments that are just really amazing moments that we’ve had throughout this series. One moment that really has a lot of meaning for me — it’s very similar to what you were talking about, Jaelan — in our final episode of Moroni burying the plates, we actually filmed him burying the plates in upstate New York, on the hill outside of Manchester. And not in the same place; we were on the east side of the hill instead of the west side of the hill. But as we portrayed that, we portray Moroni, he’s been alone for so many years, he’s traveled for so many years, just trying to protect the plates. Finally, he builds the box, he buries the plates, and he pushes a rock on and he leaves it.

And then in the episode, what we do there is from the closing of that box with the stone, we then cut to Joseph Smith walking up and Joseph Smith going to where he knows the plates are, prying open the stone and opening the box and seeing these holy relics inside there. And every time I watch that, that connection to this Book of Mormon that I love, that we all love so much, to these modern days, to the Restoration, it is such a powerful event for me. Watching that every single time, even though I was there every single day of the filming, every single day of the development, watching that just gets me every single time. So, anything you wanted to add or take away?


Jaelan Petrie: Yeah, I would just say for that, we learned, and we actually called it the loaves and fishes principle. And that principle was if we were doing everything we could on our side as filmmakers — we had limited resources, limited budget, limited time, all of that, but when we were doing our part — and we’ve worked on the outside; this does not happen very much on the outside, where you’re doing everything you can, all you’re doing is putting out fires on a film set. It just seems like that’s all you’re doing, is dealing with fires.

But when we were doing our part, the Lord, it just felt like He would amplify our efforts, and things would work out, whether it was a storm that was coming that would divert, or smoke that was in the air in Oregon that dissipated for the week they shot and then came back. We were in Hawaii, it rains every day in Hawaii, almost. But while we were there, it didn’t rain a day for three weeks while we were shooting, and then had enough rain in the next three days after we finished that it flooded almost everything. Those kinds of things. The hand of the Lord was in the shooting, in the production, in the details, when we were doing our part. And it showed up over and over again. And again, like the loaves and fishes, our efforts are amplified.


Aaron Merrell: Yeah, we definitely saw the ministering of angels day after day on this. And sometimes it was these big events. And probably I’ll expound on that smoke story. Our first season, we were going to go to Oregon to film these scenes of Nephi building his ship on the seashore. We had put all the plans together, everything was working, we found this great beach that’s going to be perfect for the look that we wanted to do.

The day before I was going to go, I got a message from a local member of the Church out there in Oregon who said, “We’ve got forest fires going on in the mountains right now, and you can’t see a thing.” He sent a picture of him on the beach that we were going to film, and you could not see 10 yards in front of you. It was completely smoked in. And the strange thing about making movies, you actually have to be able to see where you’re filming to do it. So that was a problem. But I had to make a decision because we had all of our tickets booked. We had trucks heading cross-country to get to the location. And so I just asked everybody, “We’ve got to pray. We need to see a miracle right now, so we’ve got to pray and hope that we can have this work out.”

I was the first one to fly out there. I went out there loaded with prayer, just trying to be as faithful as I can. And as I flew into Medford, Oregon — which is actually where I was born, so a little shout-out to Medford — drove over the mountains to get down to the coastline. As I’m driving over, it is still just socked in with smoke and clouds. You couldn’t see hardly anything. I got down there, and then after the next couple days, as the crews started rolling in, the cast started coming in, arriving, everyone’s moving into the hotel, the cloud layer cleared out. When I got there, we could smell the smoke very thickly in the air. Anytime you drive down the highway, there are people cheering for the firefighters, and as everybody came in, that whole layer just cleared out.

It was the most amazing thing. And day after day as we filmed, the weather was perfect, it was beautiful. And if you know the Oregon Coast, that’s a miracle in and of itself. It was just perfect and beautiful for everything that we needed to film. And then the day that we wrapped — it was really the most amazing thing — the day that we wrapped, that cloud layer, it came back in. It just all rolled in, you could smell the smoke in the air again. And we just knew that we were protected.

And so afterward, I got home, I looked back at the historical satellite footage, and you could see in the satellite footage this area right in the beach where we were, that we were protected. We had the ministering angels there who were helping us, supporting us, and we saw a miracle on that shoot.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that’s remarkable. It feels like so much of what people accomplish — inside the Church, especially — comes with support of a lot of people, maybe on both sides of the veil. Tell us about what it took to accomplish this, how big was the set, and then I also want to talk about the extras that volunteered.


Jaelan Petrie: Well, let’s start with the extras, because they surprised us. We — normally, extras on a film set, we actually treat them a little bit like cattle. Like, “You’ve got to go here, you’re needed here.” These times, it’s kind of fun. But specifically, I’m thinking the season when we portrayed the Savior visiting the people in America, when He descended and then let them feel His wounds and those marks one by one. The extras, we probably didn’t give as much thought to that as we should have. But they became kind of a living, breathing part of the set.

They were there every day, same individuals, and their performances were incredible. We usually have terrible performances from extras that are overdone and overreactions, right? But I remember every moment you see that we portrayed when they went up to the Savior one by one, those were real; those were just extras. The tears were real, everything about it. I remember one extra went up, had his moment with the Savior, and then went off to the side and just broke down because it was so real to him. But the extras were incredible. They came with these performances that just surprised us over and over again.


As far as sets go, these are pretty big. We built the entire city of Bountiful, in essence, kind of a main street. We learned a main-street principle that kind of like the Wild West sets that they have, you have a main street and then we kind of build out from that. Because a lot of times, if you have a big set, big setting, it looks like Christmas morning, when you don’t have enough presents, so you have to put more in, if that makes sense. But we’re always able to shoot and fill it with extras so it didn’t look like that. But the set was pretty big.

We also brought in construction cranes because those were angels descending. They had a kind of a Cirque du Soleil training, where they’d come in and we’d lift them onto the construction cranes and they learn how to kind of deal with the harnesses that they were with so they could freely float and go up and down to ascend and descend. So we brought in several construction cranes for that. We dug a hole in the ground for Nephi and Lehi’s prison and built that. Construction was one of the biggest components of this every year. And we’d probably build six to eight months in advance of shooting every year. And every time we felt like we were done with the season, we were immediately back into construction.

And if you don’t know anything about film crews, they’re a bit like a pirate ship. Some of them are missing teeth; they’re always kind of grumbling about the food; if the rum isn’t good enough, they’re angry; and there’s always this underlying sense of mutiny.

Aaron Merrell: But no rum on set.

Jaelan Petrie: But no rum on our set, right. But there’s always this underlying sense of mutiny, and you always kind of have to — there’s a pirate code or a crew code you have to learn. And so we had to just kind of deal with that. But we realized how big our set was over time. We were one of the biggest sets in Utah with our extras and the construction and our footprints. We had a very large footprint.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the fourth season of Book of Mormon videos is filmed near Springville, Utah, on Monday, July 26, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Aaron Merrell: So, one of the challenges we had with the set design and all the design throughout is that we weren’t portraying something that just happened in this small window of time. We were portraying a 1,000-year era with different locations, different cities that things happened in. And so every single one of those different cities, we had to portray it in a different way, because the land of Nephi isn’t going to be looking the same as Zarahemla, which won’t necessarily look the same as Bountiful. So that’s why we always had to rebuild and create new things and redesign things and get new approvals from our leadership on the look and the feel.

But one thing that I really love that we were able to really instill in our crew, one thing that we did ask them to do is every frame of film that we made, every design that we did, every performance that we did, we asked them to make sure that this is a testimony, their testimony of Jesus Christ. And that’s one thing that I really love that our crew and our cast really brought to this, is every bit of work that they put into it was their testimony of Jesus Christ.


Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, besides the set, besides the extras, this also had to include a lot of costumes, a lot of props. Can you give us some details about those?


Jaelan Petrie: Yeah, one of the most fun things we did was create the props, the specialty props, things like the Liahona, the sword of Laban, the armor for Mormon, Nephi, any of those individuals. That was a lot of fun, a lot of research, a lot of time. The Liahona, you can actually see the replications of what we’ve done at I think Deseret Book.

Aaron Merrell: Deseret Book has some, yeah.

Jaelan Petrie: But our version actually was controlled by a remote control with radio, like the kind you use for remote-controlled cars.

Aaron Merrell: Our faith wasn’t strong enough.


Jaelan Petrie: Yes, that’s right; our faith wasn’t strong enough. So, we would control the spindles with that. The sword of Laban was, if I remember, was patterned after the Israelites’ swords at the time that were used, and then that was how they patterned their swords for many years after that. The Book of Mormon itself, the plates, we had a lot of fun learning about that. And then even the Jaredites’ seer stones, things like that. There was a lot of time, thought and effort into a lot of those props.

The armory was a lot of fun, the armor. That was just a lot of fun in that. I think the stripling warriors, most of our swords are made of fiberglass. The hero swords are made out of metal, but you’ll see a lot of the fiberglass swords, but they look very real. Any thoughts on props from you?


Aaron Merrell: Yeah. I guess, just in that design, it was always a really complicated process. We had an amazing design team led by Key Miller and John Munoa. And really, every single design that they would do — whether it be sets or props, and then our wardrobe team and the amazing thing that our wardrobe team did — every single time, the first reference that we would always have is the text itself. Whatever description we can get from the text would always lead it. And then the form follows function, so they would then take that, whatever we have from the text, and then what would be realistic for it. We would take most of the more complicated and intricate designs, we’d take those up for approval, so we’d get feedback from the leadership, and then it just makes really fun, amazing things.


Jaelan Petrie: We probably had a few challenges as well. We couldn’t ever get thousands of people on set. We just didn’t have the time or energy or resources to do that. So there was one season we made cutouts, and we put a photo of people in Nephite, Lamanite costumes, and we’d spatter cutouts through the crowd. We put probably 300, 400, 500 individuals through the works in the morning. We turned a barn into a costume shop and a hair-and-makeup shop. We just had a lot of fun re-creating a lot of these, but it was not an easy task.

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Sarah Jane Weaver: So, after going through this whole process, do each of you have a favorite Book of Mormon story?

Aaron Merrell: There’s so many that I love. I love the stripling soldiers, I love the brother of Jared, I definitely love 3 Nephi with Jesus Christ. But sometimes I really love just those little short stories, just a little mention of a certain character who has a big pivotal moment. So for me, Aminadab in Helaman 5, he’s probably a guy who most listeners are going to say, “Who’s that guy?” But he was the guy when Nephi and Lehi were in prison, he was a Nephite dissenter living amongst the Lamanites.

So, in their world, probably everything going wrong for that guy. But he was the one, as they were encompassed by the darkness, who said, “Look to the prophets. Call to Jesus Christ.” So for me, that really resonates. I love that because he kind of seems like the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he was pivotal in turning the tide of this and being a major force for good for this group of people. I love those stories like that in the Book of Mormon.


Jaelan Petrie: You ask a great question: What is my favorite story? I think that depends on where I’m at in life. My 14-year-old version of me loved the stripling warriors. There was a time when I needed help with my faith, and the brother of Jared certainly spoke to me, that story, that great story of faith. There’s been other times when I’ve looked to the story of Alma the Younger and his change, how he went from being someone who’s destroying the Church to a prophet. And how did that happen? So, the great thing about the Book of Mormon is it’s dynamic. It speaks to me at different times in my life. And so it changes. There’s different times when I have a favorite story, and a different story is my favorite story for that moment.

Director Jason Allred works on the final filming season of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ production of the Book of Mormon videos in Provo, Utah, on Friday, June 17, 2022. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News


Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think that is a great place to wrap up, because we have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we ask our guests the same question and like to give them the last word. And the question is: What do you know now? And I hope this will also reflect the testimony that you have gained of the Book of Mormon. So, what do you know now after working to create the “Book of Mormon Videos” series?


Aaron Merrell: What I know now after creating the Book of Mormon series is just the absolute truth to the Book of Mormon. I always had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Since I was young, I’ve always known that the Book of Mormon is true. The Holy Ghost has told me that the Book of Mormon is true. But as we’ve had to dive deep into these stories, as we’ve had to find all these intricate details — the amazing threads that go throughout here, the amazing detail, the amazing context, the amazing people that are in the Book of Mormon — it is so incredible that it could not be anything but a true historical document that brings us closer to Jesus Christ through the doctrine in there.

So I know, I know, I absolutely know that the Book of Mormon is true. It is amazing, and it strengthens me in my life, not just from the cool stories, not just from Captain Moroni waving the title of liberty, or brother of Jared building these great barges. I know that it is a testimony of Jesus Christ, and those teachings in there will bring us closer to our Heavenly Father and help us in our daily things that we have to go through.

I love the Book of Mormon. It is just so amazing. It’s such an amazing story of love, of hope, of families. I love the Book of Mormon. I know that the Book of Mormon is true.


Jaelan Petrie: The Book of Mormon has changed my life. The scriptures have changed my life. Reading about the Savior, reading about how He has helped and healed and guided and directed individuals has changed me completely. I’ve learned while making these that our Heavenly Father and the Savior, Jesus Christ, love us so much. And it is reflected almost in every page, every moment.

Probably the moment that stayed with me the most of producing these is watching those individuals go to the Savior when He descended. And He let them, one by one, touch the marks in His hand. And that probably took almost half a day, if each of them got a minute or two. But He loved them so much, He’s like, “Come and feel. Come and see.” So, one by one, He ministered to each one of them and let them touch those marks. I thought that was such a beautiful way that the Savior shows His love for us, one by one.

So, I’ve learned that our Heavenly Father and the Savior love us. The Book of Mormon and the Bible and the scriptures are full of stories of real people just trying to do what’s right, and Heavenly Father and the Savior stepping in and helping because They love them so much. So, that’s what I know now.


Aaron Merrell: So, kind of going on what Jaelan said, the Book of Mormon is a book of love. I had somebody recently say to me that they were told by somebody once, “Oh no, the Book of Mormon is a book of war. It’s a book of intrigue, of strategy.” But the Book of Mormon really is a book, a message, of love. And I think nobody gives as good of an example of that as Mormon. Because if you think of what Mormon is going through, through his 85 years of life, it’s complete chaos of war and tragedy and atrocity and wickedness. He is seeing everything that is just going wrong with his civilization.

And throughout it all, because he is so intimate with the records, he knows what’s going to happen. He knows the outcome of this, that his civilization is not going to survive it. But it is amazing to me that through it all, his resounding message, especially in Moroni 7, is a message of love. He’s seeing everything go wrong, but what his final message to us is to have charity, to have the pure love of Christ, and to pray for that pure love of Christ. So that’s something that I always try to do, whether it be in work, whether it be on set, whether it be in my calling in church, is I always try to pray for that pure love of Christ so that I can follow that example of Mormon.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates on the Church on

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