Local filmmaker Mitch Davis, who wrote and directed “The Other Side of Heaven,” spoke with two hundred students in an open forum Dec. 1 at the Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
Davis took time to discuss education, breaking into the business and spiritual breakthroughs with students in the LDS Institute of Religion.
“If you make a movie and it is successful … you create this incredible thing that just goes around the world,” Davis says.
He is still amazed with the universal appeal received by his breakout film about an Idaho farm boy who becomes an religious missionary in Tonga.
“It’s still showing in foreign countries,” he adds.
His new project
Davis visited Salt Lake Community College as part of a promotional tour for his new film, “Christmas Eve,” which stars John Heder, James Roday and Sir Patrick Stewart.
Davis says he was fortunate to work with the talented cast and to have Stewart sign on midway through filming.
“[Stewart] loved the script and the role and really liked the character,” Davis adds.
Davis typically writes his own screenplays, but purchased this script — originally titled “Stuck” — from a new screenwriter Tyler McKellar, then proceeded with rewrites.
“It tells the story of six different groups of people stuck in an elevator in New York City on Christmas Eve,” Davis explains.
He says one of the last changes was to actually add the Christmas theme, which was not included in previous scripts.
After showing the “Christmas Eve” trailer, Davis was pleased with the audience’s response to the comedic scenes and so thanked them for laughing.
How he got started
Davis says he became a director by default; after years as a writer he wanted more control over his screenplays and so became a producer and director.
“I really kind of backed into these roles,” he says.
After graduating in English at Brigham Young University, he attended and graduated from the film program at the University of Southern California, which he attributes to landing a job at Disney that started his film directing career.
In reflection, Davis says his filmmaking also fulfills his desire to be a teacher and to teach.
When offering advice to potential filmmakers, he jokes, “Don’t do it. Give up. Run away.”
On a more serious note, Davis advises students to “Follow your passion. Be prepared for a lot of setbacks, and don’t sell your soul to get your movie made … no movie is more important than your soul.”
His words of inspiration
Davis testifies to Institute students that God already has “perfect knowledge,” and says that while life is difficult, the human spirit can and does overcome.
“I just want to make a big pitch for faith,” he says. “Faith makes suffering meaningful … Faith makes impossible things possible.”
SLCC student John Davidson, who is Samoan, says he approved of Davis’ authentic hello welcome in Samoan and Tongan languages, which he learned while filming “The Other Side of Heaven.”
“I watch [the film] every Sunday night with my wife. It is one of our favorites,” Davidson says. He could not imagine he would meet the film’s creator and says he is sure to see his new film.
“He was incredibly down to earth, even though he is super successful,” Davidson adds.
SLCC general studies student Frances Walker was thrilled to sit down with Davis and show him her artwork.
“He is a really good speaker with just the right amount of comedy. I am glad I washed my hair today,” she says with a comedic grin.
The LDS Institute provides these guest lectures to inspire and motivate all students.
“We want these young people to be able to accomplish whatever their dreams are,” says Taylorsville Institute of Religion director Jeffrey D. Meservy. “These people help show the students that it can be done — that your dreams can be fulfilled.”