Park City High School grad gets serious with ‘The Saratov Approach’
April 11, 2014
When Park City High School graduate Garrett Batty was studying film at Brigham Young University, two missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were stationed in Russia were kidnapped, tortured and held for ransom.
Five days later, the companions were released, without any ransom paid.
"The headline alone, ‘Two American Missionaries kidnapped in Russia,’ had an impact on me," Batty said during an interview with The Park Record. "I mean those were high stakes."
"When the headlines reported the missionaries were freed without any ransom paid not even a week later, I felt in my mind that there was a major hole that needed to be filled," he said. "What happened within those five days and why didn’t any ransom get paid?"
At that time, Batty filed the idea away to be explored later after he graduated college.
That time came last year when Batty wrote and directed "The Saratov Approach," a docudrama based on the abductions.
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"I started thinking about the incident again when ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical premiered and won a bunch of Tony Awards," Batty said. "That’s a piece of theater that told a missionary’s story, and I wanted to have my voice in the conversation."
The first stop was to meet the two missionaries, Elders Travis Tuttle and Andrew Probst, who were kidnapped.
"I didn’t know who they were, but I tracked down an article about the abduction and reached out to Andy on Facebook," Batty said. "He was very reluctant to pursue the idea, but after we talked, he agreed to meet with me."
The first thing Probst suggested was to get in touch with Tuttle.
"They hadn’t talked in nearly 12 years, so I set up a meeting and got them both together and we sat down for the weekend," Batty said. "It was neat to see them reconnect and tell their story in a very compelling and heart-wrenching story."
During the talks, Batty felt he needed to talk with the companions’ families.
"Initially it wasn’t part of my plans, because I wanted to tell the missionary-side of things, but we were able to meet," he said.
As the Probst family explained what they went through, the filmmaker realized that there was another side of the story that had the same impact on what he wanted to do.
"I found that there weren’t just two people that were held captive, but multiple people," Batty said. "It became apparent that this needed to be put in the film."
In order to write the screenplay, Batty spoke to the elders and their families more in depth.
"It was phenomenal at all the support and latitude they gave me, and I wanted to be clear that we would take their five-day ordeal and condense it down into 90 minutes," Batty said. "We all knew a lot of stuff would be left out, and I told them the film would never live up to what they went through."
The families gave Batty access to boxes of news clippings they saved and the missionaries, themselves, gave him their journal entries.
"I had their innermost thoughts from the day they were released and the six weeks they spent in a German hospital recovering from the torture they endured," Batty said. "They knew it wasn’t my goal to make a gimmicky movie about Mormon missionaries."
The film stars Corbin Allred as Tuttle and Maclain Nelson as Probst.
"I didn’t have those two actors in mind when I was writing the script, because we knew we had a very low budget," Batty said. "But we made offers to some actors who were well-known in Hollywood, and when Corbin came on board, we were very excited."
Maclain approached the production team because he had heard about the project.
"We filmed for 16 days starting from a year ago, April 1," Batty said. "We filmed the interiors in Draper and exteriors at Strawberry Reservoir."
The team also traveled to Kiev, Russia, for nearly a week.
"We were lucky, because we can’t go gone back today to do that because of all the unrest that is happening over there," Batty said.
The experience was unbelievable.
"We knew the key was to make the film look authentic," he said. "We took what little budget we had and took a small crew of 10, three of whom were the actors, and set up in Kiev’s main square.
"We used their public transportation and shot the scenes," Batty said. "We hired a local crew and found locations and permission to do what we needed to do. It was like sacred ground, and everyone was so friendly and we had such a positive experience."
"The Saratov Approach" was released earlier this year to critical acclaim and is listed among the many films categorized in the Mormon or LDS Film genre that includes the dramas "Saints and Soldiers," "Brigham City" and the comedy "The RM."
"The LDS audience has responded well to this movie and they helped us raise the money to get the film made, and this film has done a phenomenal job of reaching out past the perceived audience," Batty said. "Other than the fact that Mormon missionaries are the main characters, this is a film that is basically a spiritually based action film about two guys in Russia."
Batty, who graduated from BYU in film with an emphasis on directing, said filmmaking is a dream come true because he has loved films ever since he can remember.
"I have memories of my buddies and I going to the Sundance Film Festival every year and doing anything to get into the screenings to meet the filmmakers," he said. "I’ve always been drawn to it."
When he attended Park City High School in the 1990s, the school’s multimedia department was just starting out.
"It was called the communications department and was great at the time," he said. "They had some decks and tape-to-tape editing gear."
"The Saratov Approach" is Batty’s second feature. His first was a comedy called "Scout Camp."
"I gravitated to comedy because I actually did some comedy acting and improv all through high school and college," Batty said. "It wasn’t because I wanted to be an actor, but because I wanted to surround myself with storytellers. Improv comedy attracted a variety of storytellers. And I think overall that’s why I like making films. I just like storytelling."