T. C. Christensen is a cinematographer and director best known for religious films like 17 Miracles and Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. His latest movie is The Fighting Preacher.
Welcome! Before we begin, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career in the entertainment industry?
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 or inspire your craft?
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 are a few of your favorite books and movies that have shaped your nose for a good story?
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 you saw and book you 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 you first meet Kieth Merrill? What kind of influence has had on you as a filmmaker and a person?
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 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.
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!
Do you have anyone you use as a sounding board to make sure your vision for the cinematography will pan out?
It’s pretty much me and the director hammering it out.
Tell us about getting 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.
Introduce The Fighting Preacher and explain how you first came across the story.
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.
Where is it 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 film?
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 your next big project?
Trying to keep my wife happy. (yes, it’s a very big project!)
What do you want people to get out of this film?
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.