Distributors of a feature film about the real-life abduction of Mormon missionaries were in for a big surprise when they attempted to advertise in a playbill for the traveling Broadway production of "The Book of Mormon," a show that takes a satirical look at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Spencer Harden, film acquisitions and development manager for distributor Cedar Fort, Inc., told TheBlaze that he hit roadblocks in placing ads for "The Saratov Approach" in playbills for "The Book of Mormon," now touring across the country. The film is based on the real-life story of Mormon missionaries who were kidnapped in Russia in 1998.
He said he had already arranged several ad buys for the film in late May when he reached out to a theater hosting "The Book of Mormon" in Detroit — and ran into trouble.
The ad that was rejected for "The Book of Mormon" playbill in Detroit. (Image courtesy of Cedar Fort, Inc.)
Harden said that when his team delivered an ad for consideration, the Detroit theater said it had to run the concept art by its producers, who subsequently rejected it.
"By the time Detroit said, 'No,' we had already had approval in other cities … so it was really a surprise, because other theaters didn't have to run it past producers to get permission," Harden told TheBlaze. "I just don't understand why they could have a problem with the content."
Harden then received an email from Scott Myers, a sales representative from Broadway in Detroit, who informed him that producers had taken issue with the film's content and with the tagline, "If you think they can sing and dance, you should see them in handcuffs."
"I have bad news. Our final program has to be approved by the producers of 'The Book of Mormon' and unfortunately they have asked us to not accept this ad," Myers emailed.
Harden spoke out to local media after his ad was rejected. Then, on June 10, he received a call from the Detroit team saying that the producers had seen a different version of the ad — one that was accepted for the play's Memphis, Tennessee, run — and were willing to publish it.
See a trailer for "The Saratov Approach" below:
Ceder Fort ultimately placed the Memphis version of the ad, but Harden said it's still unclear why the original design was rejected in the first place.
Myers declined to comment to TheBlaze and said he was unable to provide contact information or names for the producers who made the decision.
Stuart Thompson Productions, the New York production company behind "The Book of Mormon," directed inquires back to Broadway officials in Detroit. Seemingly, no one was willing to publicly address the matter.
"I'm left to speculate. That's why I really wish we could get some kind of comment from them," Harden told TheBlaze. "If it was too irreverent as far as the ad was concerned — I mean we're talking about going from the ridiculousness with this play to the sublime."
Harden said he found it hard to believe that producers would have an issue with the ad's tagline, considering the "ridiculous musical" and the stereotypes about Mormons in "The Book of Mormon."
The Memphis, Tenn., ad that was accepted (Image courtesy of Cedar Fort, Inc.)
"It's hard for me to understand what basis they would use for rejecting the ad in the first place," he added. "It does feel as though there might be a double standard here."
The message at the center of "The Saratov Approach" is in many ways the polar opposite of the sentiment embraced in "The Book of Mormon."
While Harden dubbed the Broadway production a religious satire intended to make fun of Mormon youths who go to third-world countries, "The Saratov Approach" shows the willingness of missionaries to risk their lives to help the poor and sick around the globe, he said.
Placing the film ad in the programs was an attempt to offer access to a more favorable image of Mormon missionaries who some believe are unfairly portrayed in the Broadway show, he said.
"What we have is a true story about the real efforts missionaries do … this is true of kids who go out in Catholic and evangelical [circles as well]," Harden told TheBlaze. "We felt like there needed to be another voice in that conversation … . We wanted people to see the other side of the story and enter that conversation."