In Genesis, God signaled his covenant with Noah after the flood with a rainbow. Now, a few millennia later, Mormon filmmaker Chuck Sellier Jr. has found the pot of gold at that rainbow’s end. It is a 78-minute, documentary-style film titled In Search of Noah’s Ark that was made for $500,000 and has grossed more than $30 million since its release in June.
Though Sellier, 33, will make only G-rated films, “out of Mormon conviction,” the inspiration for In Search was not religious. Like Noah crafting the ark, Sellier followed precise instructions but from modern oracles. A specially commissioned Gallup poll told him 55 percent of those surveyed would like to see a film about Noah’s ark. Pretesting with sample audiences helped Sellier pick his cast of unknowns and the plot line (easy on the flood, heavy on life aboard the ark). Finally, computers programmed by his wife, Donna, 34, determined theater scheduling and advertising.
Sellier produced the movie for Sun Classic Films, a pabulum mill that also ground out The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (which earned $24 million before becoming a TV series). “No other Hollywood company would have let me make In Search,” Sellier insists. “They would have said that religious pictures and documentaries don’t make money.” Critics were less kind than that, even before a recent archeological report all but shattered the film’s premise that the ark was grounded somewhere on Mount Ararat in Turkey.
Originally a Mississippi Cajun Catholic, Sellier worked in a photographer’s darkroom and frequented movie houses. After moving to Denver he met and married Donna at age 15 (“I had to—that’s what you did in those days”). The Selliers became Mormons in 1961. Now they and their two sons commute between homes near Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, where Sellier likes to hike and camp. His future films will not stray from the path of wholesome-ness. “They’ll all show positive behavior that can be duplicated by the audience,” he promises. His ingenuity will be put to its severest test in the movie he’s working on right now—The Conspiracy to Kill Lincoln.