Adam White wasn't afraid to cast a leading man who had never been in a movie. After all, White had never made a movie either.
For his debut LDS comedy, "Inspired Guns," White cast improv actor David Lassetter as Elder Fisher after seeing him at ComedySportz.
"When I wrote the lead, it was basically myself," White said. "(Lassetter) had a lot of charisma, and was a lot better looking than I am. I could just tell that he had those leading man qualities that I wanted."
"Inspired Guns" follows two Mormon missionaries, Elder Fisher and Elder Johnson, as they become unwittingly entangled in a mob bust. White first conjured the idea during his own mission in the late 1990s. White's idea got derailed after his mission, when a college counselor dissuaded him from pursuing a film career. He went into business instead, starting and selling a number of businesses while keeping "Inspired Guns" on the back burner.
The business experience, White said, came in handy when making this writing and directorial debut.
"We really ran this whole thing like a business," White said. "I was very careful where the money was spent, how it was spent, knowing what a typical LDS film can gross. Talked to a lot of people in the industry, and just made sure we were really smart about it, so that we'd be able to do it again."
Judging from the movie's reception at a few advance screenings, White will probably get to do it again. He said more people showed up for the screenings than the theater could fit. People laughed so heartily at the first screening that White recorded their laughter during the second one.
"It was so rewarding to hear people just laughing throughout the entire movie," he said. "I was blown away by the response. People came out of the theater so energized."
According to White, he had his work cut out for him.
"I knew when I made this movie that I was going to have to gain the trust of an LDS audience again, on an LDS comedy," he said. "Not that the other ones in the past were bad, but there were so many that came out that were similar. It was really cool to see that response."
Dashiell Wolf, who plays Elder Johnson, grew up in Utah, and saw the LDS film industry balloon during his childhood. Like White, Wolf noted how LDS comedies had fallen out of favor.
"There was a bad taste left in everyone's mouth eight years ago when LDS comedies were kind of driven into the ground," Wolf said. "But whether or not you still feel that bitter taste, these kinds of movies really have a positive effect on LDS youth, all the way from tiny kids up to teenagers. That's the biggest thing I've taken away from seeing the film."
Lots of young people approached Wolf after the advance screenings and asked questions about missions. Wolf attributed that to the plot, which is far-fetched but also self-aware. This awareness, he said, should be an important component for the LDS film industry.
"I like how the film cornered clichés, but then recognized them," he said. "I thought that was very relatable."
Not that "Inspired Guns" is incredibly serious. Far from it. White conceptualized it as a "Dumb & Dumber"-style film that would cater to LDS audiences. The Jim Carrey/Jeff Daniels influence can be seen in Roger and Larry, two bumbling mob brothers who cross paths with the missionaries. Their jovial demeanor wasn't a total act: Wolf said the two actors (Christian Busath and Jake Suazo) were constantly cracking jokes on set.
"Those guys are so funny, and so quick and brilliant," he said. "I was happy to see that Adam was able to work with them and not be so stuck to his own script that he wouldn't let people stray."
David Lassetter, who played opposite Wolf as Elder Fisher, attested to the jovial atmosphere. In one scene, Roger pranks his brother, preparing him a sandwich covered in horseradish and warm mayonnaise. Suazo knew how the scene was supposed to play out: He'd take a bite of the awful sandwich and act disgusted. But he thought they'd switch out sandwiches for his take.
"You can see the instant on camera when he realizes the grave mistake he has made -- this horror comes across his face," Lassetter said. "There's nothing quite like human suffering."