OREM — If asked to make a list of filmmakers who are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many would put Kieth Merrill's name at the top of that list.

As a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a two-time Academy Award nominee and winner of an Academy Award for his documentary "Great American Cowboy," Merrill has gone where other LDS filmmakers dream of being. He is also the first one to admit that the road to filmmaking success hasn't been easy.

During a presentation at the sixth LDS Film Festival at the SCERA Center for the Arts recently, Merrill repeated many times the need for those of the LDS faith to stay true to not only their profession but to their religious values as well.

"We must embrace the virtues and values (of the LDS Church) as LDS filmmakers," he said. "We can't walk with one foot in both worlds. I have tried to walk that fine line as an LDS filmmaker."

Merrill encouraged those attending to seek the very best scripts and stories, and also to be prepared to sacrifice and be disciplined. He said he has seen too many times the pattern of young LDS filmmakers. They get discovered, go to Hollywood and drop out of the LDS Church.

"When we gather as LDS filmmakers, we have a responsibility," Merrill said. "We are faced with conflict, contradiction and collision. We go to the edge of light exploring the darkness. We have to have moral courage to love and respect our audiences who sit for two hours in the dark and (look for) extraordinary experiences."

Merrill, the first recipient of the festival's Pioneer Award, feels honored that some see him as an icon for young LDS filmmakers.

"If that assumption's right, I'm delighted and thrilled," Merrill told the Deseret Morning News. "I've walked the no man's land between Hollywood and an abiding faith in the LDS theology. I have survived the industry without compromising my core principles."

To help LDS filmmakers and others seeking to keep family values in the industry, Merrill also referred to the recently organized Audience Alliance Motion Picture Studio. The new studio allows places for those wanting to stay outside the Hollywood influence to make movies, submit scripts, find acting opportunities and more.

Merrill said that for the price of a couple of tickets a month, anyone can buy a membership into the Audience Alliance. That membership allows them to submit their own scripts and ideas, but also to read and rate others' submissions.

For information about Audience Alliance, visit www.audiencealliance.com. The first movie from the studio is expected this summer.


E-mail: pugmire@desnews.com