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T. C. Christensen: Meet the Latter-day Saint Filmmaker

I started making films in Jr. High.  I’ve never had another job.  After 50 years, you’d think I’d be better at this by now!

T. C. Christensen is a cinematographer and director best known for religious films associated with the Prophet Joseph Smith and the pioneers, such as 17 Miracles and Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. His latest movie is The Fighting Preacher.

When did T. C. Christensen start making movies?

I started making films in Jr. High.  I’ve never had another job.  After 50 years, you’d think I’d be better at this by now!


How does faith influence T. C. Christensen’s movies?

I realized early on how powerful and influential films can be. One of my heroes in filmmaking is Frank Capra who said, “Only the morally courageous are worthy of speaking to their fellow men for two hours in the dark.”


What books have helped T. C. Christensen learn how to tell stories in film?

William Goldman:  Adventures in the screen trade. He wrote Butch Cassidy and The Princess Bride… Good stuff.   

For films,  Fiddler on the Roof, It’s a Wonderful Life and On the Waterfront.


What was the last movie T. C. Christensen saw—and the last book he read? 

The last book I read was Stephen King: On Writing.  

The last movie I saw was The Other Side of Heaven 2 (which I photographed). Ha!

When did T. C. Christensen meet Kieth Merrill?

I was a KSL-TV News cameraman assigned to cover the premier of Kieth’s film, Indian. He walked into the room and came right over to me and started telling me how he started as a KSL cameraman, too.  I loved him right off. 

Kieth has been a wonderful mentor to me ever since.  He’s a talented filmmaker and has been great at sharing his knowledge with me.


What are the challenges of being a faithful Latter-day Saint in the entertainment world? 

The answer to this for me is just like a lesson in Primary: decide now what you will and won’t do. Then when confronted with a choice, your decision has already been made.


You’ve worked with Joe Paur on a number of occasions. What makes him a valuable addition to a film set? 

Joe Paul has all the qualities I look for in an actor. He knows how to  become and portray a believable character.  He comes prepared.  He lets me tell him what i want him to do.

Actor Joe Paur on the set of The Fighting Preacher
Joe Paur on the set of ‘The Fighting Preacher.’ Credit: T.C. Christensen

How do the director and cinematographer work together to create the same vision or ‘feel’ for a movie?

It takes lots of pre-production time – looking at locations, talking story, doing storyboards shot lists together.  Also meeting with other department heads, especially production designer and wardrobe.  

On my own films, however, I work as both director and cinematographer, so if i don’t know what my director is thinking, I’ve got worse problems than making the movie! 


Does T. C. Christensen use anyone as a sounding board to make sure his vision for the cinematography will pan out?

It’s pretty much me and the director hammering it out.


How did T. C. Christensen get into the American Society of Cinematographers.  

Cinematographers are not allowed to apply or campaign to gain membership in the society.  There are only about 330 members.  It is a great honor to be counted among them. 

The truth is, I don’t deserve it. They are the top camera people in the world.  But I snuck in when the door was open a crack like a little rat.

A production photo of T. C. Christensen filming a boxing match in The Fighting Preacher
T. C. Christensen films a scene of ‘The Fighting Preacher.’ Credit: Remember Films. Used by permission.

Introduce The Fighting Preacher

The true story of the 1905 World Middle-Weight Boxing Champion, Willard Bean, who turns in his gloves to become a missionary in Palmyra. 

I had just finished 17 Miracles when a film friend, Kelly Mecham, told me about a book  I should read.  Pretty soon, lots of people were telling me the same thing. I read the book and liked it but didn’t see how I could make it into a film. That was in 2011.  People continued to bring it up.  I tried a script and finally got my arms around it.  

The author of the book, Rand Packer, is a grandson of Willard Bean.  He has been wonderful to work with.

A picture of an exterior scene for The Fighting Preacher being filmed at This Is the Place Heritage Park.
Behind-the-scenes of ‘The Fighting Preacher’ at the Smith home. Credit: Remember Films. Used by permission.

Where is The Fighting Preacher filmed?

We filmed a good portion of the movie at This is the Place Heritage Park. Cliff Harris who manages film projects for the park has always been good to me.  There are several buildings with different, great looks and they make them available and let us get what we need there.  It’s a lovely location to film and work in.


What role does humor play in The Fighting Preacher

Willard Bean was a funny guy.   I use a lot of his original jokes from his journal.  Anything I added, I try to keep it true to the spirit of the man and his sense of humor. This film has three times as many yuk-yuks as any of my other films.


Why should people go see The Fighting Preacher

‘Cause if they don’t, my mom will be mad at them!

What is T. C. Christensen’s next project?

Trying to keep my wife happy.  (yes, it’s a very big project!)


What does T. C. Christensen want people to get out of The Fighting Preacher?

I just want them to have a good time at the movies—to be totally entertained by the best church story they’ve never heard of.

Further reading

T. C. Christensen movies (selection)

  • 17 Miracles
  • American Prophet: The Story of Joseph Smith
  • Candy Coated Christmas
  • Emma Smith: My Story
  • Ephraim’s Rescue
  • Forever Strong
  • Gordon B. Hinckley: A Giant Among Men
  • Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration
  • Love, Kennedy
  • Only a Stonecutter
  • Quest for a Go-Getter
  • Rigoletto
  • The Buttercream Gang
  • The Cokeville Miracle
  • The Other Side of Heaven
  • The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith
  • The Testaments: Of One Fold and One Shepherd
  • The Work and the Glory
  • Tomb of Joseph
  • Trail of Hope: The Story of the Mormon Trail
  • Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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