Docudrama about Handel’s Messiah on BYUtv November 27, 2014

Posted on November 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

BYUtv has produced a new docudrama, Handel’s Messiah, premiering November 27, 2014, about the world’s most popular and renowned choral work by one of the leading composers of the Baroque era, George Frideric Handel. The docudrama, narrated by Emmy® and Golden Globe®-winning actress Jane Seymour, tells the little known dramatic and inspiring backstory of how the iconic oratorio came to be written.   It conveys a universally powerful tale of humanity laid bare in all its brilliance and imperfections, and offers a powerful perspective on the timeless classic that has thrilled generations, especially at Christmas.

Produced and directed by filmmaker Lee Groberg, edited by cinematographer Mark Goodman and written by screenwriter Mitch Davis, the 78-minute docudrama chronicles the lives of three primary characters – composer George Frideric Handel, singer/actress Susannah Cibber and patron of the arts/librettist Charles Jennens – while capturing the drama, intrigue and suspense that surrounded their interactions.

Handel’s Messiah examines in depth the life of George Frideric Handel – a complicated, strong-willed, temperamental and creative genius who had an extraordinary ability to convey drama and human emotions through music. The docudrama follows Handel’s journey from his home in Hamburg, Germany, to Rome, Italy, where he traveled to hone his composing skills, only to be thwarted by a papal decree banning opera. Fortuitous, the decree encouraged Handel to develop oratorio, a new musical genre that blended opera and sermon, which prepared the way for his crowning work, Messiah.

Moving onto London, Handel continued to focus on producing secular Italian-language operas and became one of the first composers to successfully stage an Italian opera in London. The docudrama explores the experiences behind Handel’s Messiah and tells the story of how Handel befriended Charles Jennens, the man responsible for compiling the poetry and prose from the Old and New Testaments to help complete this musical masterpiece. The film also depicts Susannah Cibber, the opera singer who was able to breathe life into this redemptive composition.

Leading Handel musicologists, historians and religious leaders featured in the docudrama include:


Fred Fehleisen, Professor, Juilliard School of Music

Ellen T. HarrisProfessor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and internationally recognized scholar specializing in the music of Handel

Ruth Smith: leading Handel Scholar at Cambridge

John Rutter: composer and leader of the King’s College Choir at Cambridge

John H. Roberts: leading Handel authority, University of California, Berkeley

Donald Burrows: Professor of Music and Director of the “Handel Documents Project” at the Open University, England

Paul McCreesh: British Conductor and expert in early music

Katherine Hogg: Librarian at the Foundling Museum in London in charge of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection

Michael L. Ballam: Music Historian and Professor of Opera at Utah State University

Richard Egarr: Music Director, Academy of Ancient Music, Amsterdam

Elder Russell M. Nelson: Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Utah

Rev. Mary June Nestler: Episcopal Diocese, Salt Lake City, Utah

Father John SchiavonePastor of the St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church, California


“Handel’s Messiah was created amidst tragedies from financial ruin and suicide to adultery and apostasy, ” said Mr. Groberg. “Yet, through this darkness came the ultimate expression of Christian faith, hope and charity that continues to effect people today and is performed by choirs around the world like clockwork each year.”


Handel’s Messiah tells the tale of a creative genius whom Ludwig von Beethoven regarded as the greatest composer, “the master of us all,” who had the gift of being able to express and understand very complicated human emotions. Messiah reminds us that we are all fallible, yet worthy of forgiveness.


Handel’s Messiah will premiere Nov. 27th on BYUtv at 7pm MT/9pm ET and will be rebroadcast throughout the 2014 Holiday Season.

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Interview: Scott Swofford of “Granite Flats”

Posted on April 5, 2013 at 9:27 pm

It’s 1962 when recently widowed Beth and her son Arthur move to rural Granite Flats, Colorado. They meet a town thrown into fear and suspicion after a terrible explosion at the nearby air base. As the military and police investigate, Arthur and his new friends explore the mystery and begin to unravel a web of secrets that will change Granite Flats forever.

Granite Flats is a new series on BYUtv, premiering Sunday at 7 and available On Demand, on iTunes, and pretty much every place.  It is that rarest of shows in this era of micro-targeting, a genuinely family-friendly story that can be enjoyed by all ages and discussed afterward.  Producer/director Scott Swofford talked to me about what they wanted to accomplish, where the idea came from, and the surprising reason it is set in the 1960’s.

Your background is in documentary, isn’t it?

Yes, but in the IMAX world you’re called upon all the time to do re-creations, and that is more like drama than documentary.  And this project is kind of a pioneering thing.  We’re trying to do family entertainment that isn’t kiddie shows.  The ususal skills set didn’t apply because this was new for everyone.

How did it get started? 

We had this channel with university support that was primarily used for forums and speeches but could be much more.  You’re on in 60 million homes; what could your voice for good be in the world?  Viewers wanted entertainment.  Don’t you want to be educated, edified, and enlightened? The answer we got was, “Entertain us and sneak in what ever you want.”  It’s like, kids want to eat pizza but we want them to eat broccoli.  If there’s too much broccoli, they won’t eat it.  Reality is popular now, but scripted stories transport us to someplace, we get invested in characters, and it’s more emotional, not just intellectual.

Was it a challenge for BYUtv to produce a scripted show? 

This market has done scripted before, like “Touched by an Angel.”  The execution phase has been easy for us but we hadn’t generated original programming.  It’s an opportunity for us because hardly anyone is in this category of programming that is truly for the whole family and not just something that is inoffensive enough so kids can watch.  We were committed to a story that was appealing to kids but also had a sophisticated plot line to make it interesting.  We decided to set it in the 60’s.  By putting our desire to communicate in a time machine it makes it easier to be compelling, other side of the county than mad men.  And it was routine in a 60’s story that you would not have some of the bad language and family-unfriendly themes of shows set in our time.

It began with a 20 minute concept piece called “Heaven Under the Table” about a kid who lost his dad and struggled with the idea of where he went.  He saw a satellite and thought maybe it was his dad.  We dropped into it all the shenanigans the government was doing in the Cold War.  

Tell me about the people who are working on “Granite Flats.”

We have a highly diverse group of writers including a Mormon, an Orthodox Jew, A Buddhist, an agnostic — which helps us explore issues of faith, struggles, making choices, and ethical dilemmas.  And many of the actors we went to were very experienced and very expensive.  But they said “I don’t get to do anything like this.”  They loved the script, so they signed a not for profit SAG contract. Our budget is about a third of what Hollywood spends on a drama.  We are lucky to have a lot of vets who have done this before.

What were some of the challenges of having the story set in another time period?  Was there a lot of research involved? 

Some details I pull right from my memory, the pencil sharpeners and the classrooms.  But sidewalks?  Air conditioners?  Power poles? We have to Google everything.  The costume designer got a lot of old LIFE magazines.  Fortunately, there’s a retro surge in clothing so that wasn’t hard to find but the vehicles were a challenge.  We filmed in a mining town called Magna, Utah.  They were great — they let us redo signage and recreate storefronts, ferreting out the nuggets of that era.

The younger actors had some surprises.  We shot a scene with a 30-year-old actress.  She was shocked by the coin pay phone and jumped when it dinged.  Kids in the cast ask, “what does this mean?” about the idiomatic expressions.  But their parents say we’ve improved their language!

What makes you think this will appeal to all ages? 

If they sit down and watch together, which is the goal, the parents will want to ask, “Did we we really do that to ourselves in the Cold War” and kids will say, “How is that chracter going to deal with the bully?”  And I showed my grandchildren and my 96-year-old father the first two episodes and they both said, “Why did you bring only two? What happens next?”





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The Song That Changed My Life

Posted on April 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm

BYUtv’s original new TV series, The Song That Changed My Life, tells the story behind an artist’s inspiration and reveals the song that changed the entire direction of their life. Following the 3/31 premiere, an episode featuring Duncan Sheik will air tomorrow night. The Tony award winning New York-based artist, composer, songwriter and producer first gained notoriety for his 1996 hit “Barely Breathing,” and went on to compose for stage and film, winning two Tony awards for the renowned musical, Spring Awakenings and a Grammy.

The Song That Changed My Life includes candid conversations, informal interviews, never-before-seen rehearsal footage and performance, offering an intimate view into an artist’s creative process and how that one pivotal piece of music inspires and continues to motivate their careers.

Future episodes will feature:


·        4/9: The Lower Lights: Gathering Indie players from the likes of Neon Trees, Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband, Fictionist, and solo acts like Brooke White, Mindy Gledhill and Sarah Sample, The Lower Lights brings together 40+ artists from around the country to revive and make fresh takes on an unexpected form—hymns.

·        4/16: Jack and White Brooke White (American Idol alum) and Singer-Songwriter Jack Matranga bring acoustic pop to folk sounds with their powerful harmonies and compelling lyrical stories.

·         4/23, 5/28: Fictionist: Marrying majestic harmonies and unforgettable pop hooks, Indie pop bassist Stuart Maxfield and keyboardist Jacob Jones collide 70’s era harmonies with gritty guitar licks and lyrical song twists.

·         Later episodes will include Dar Williams, Over the Rhine, Sixpence None the Richer and more.

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