Sometime in 2024, filmmaker Dallas Jenkins will release season 4 of his very successful “The Chosen” series. It’s the first multi-season cable-television series about the life of Jesus Christ.
Now, think back a few years — to when 74,346 people raised $10 million for Season 1, which came out in 2019. That amount made “The Chosen” the largest crowdfunded mass-media project –- ever.
For the first year or so that the runaway TV hit series “The Chosen” ran on its own private app and on YouTube, it was hard to get journalists to take it seriously.
Now, most of the big media have covered it, and its success and that of “Jesus Revolution,” the surprise indie hit about the 1970s Jesus movement and one of its leaders, Lonnie Frisbee, is being touted as the big new success story in filmography.
Yes, we know. Hollywood discovering that religious believers care about values, and entertainment, is a “new story” that reporters have “discovered” once a decade for quite some time now.
RealClearInvestigations, a site not known for its religion coverage, remarked upon this trend recently.
“Jesus Revolution” and “The Chosen” are not just Christian dramas but￼ the avant garde in a revolution in faith entertainment. The former – a feel-good movie about hippies who returned to Christ during the 1970s, starring former “Cheers” and “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer – has grossed more than $52 million since its debut just a few weeks ago, making it the most successful film released by studio heavyweight Lionsgate since 2019.
But the instructive parable may be its predecessor, which made Hollywood sit up and take notice. Since its release in 2017, “The Chosen,” portraying a charismatic Jesus and his youthful disciples, showed it didn’t much need Tinseltown’s blessing. Through crowdfunding, its producers have raised millions of dollars from thousands of fans and the show is now in its third season. It is thus a case study in outflanking Mammon – the biblical term for debasing riches – in the modern entertainment tempest.
Again — 74,346 people raised $10 million for Season 1. Some $45 million was raised for Season 2.
A year ago when I wrote this article about all of this, for Newsweek, the show was closing in on 390 million views.
Now it’s up to 450 million, RealClear says.
Over Easter weekend, Angel Studios, which helped launch “The Chosen,” released “His Only Son” in theaters. Calling it the “first-ever film to crowdsource its theatrical release,” the studio said it raised $1.235 million in February from 2,000 investors, all in under 100 hours — just to finance its distribution. To finance the full production of “David,” an animated film now in the works in partnership with Angel Studios, almost $61 million has been raised as of this article.
Now this may sound great, but Hollywood is still unconvinced. Why else would scripts for the remaining Narnia films –- a fantastical country created by British scholar C.S. Lewis -– remain gathering dust at Netflix, which currently owns the rights?
Religious cinema may be bringing in the crowds, but that doesn’t mean that these projects are an easy sell with “players.”
There isn’t a whole lot new in the story about Season 4, which is being filmed as we speak, and the article repeats some of the same old tired storylines about Christian art not getting much attention because it was substandard.
Well, it’s easy to create better popular culture if you’re dealing in millions of dollars rather than thousands. Projects targeting millions of Christians have been notoriously poorly funded compared by the big-time studios.
Not until “The Chosen” came along did someone come up with the idea of crowdfunding to finance niche markets. A “Christian media ecosystem” independently of Hollywood insiders has sprung up to support productions such as “The Chosen.”
Much has changed in the past 15 years, according to Terence Berry, COO of Wedgwood Circle, a nonprofit that connects investors and creators to develop projects that are informed by their Christian faith.
“We’ll call it the ‘faith market,’ or sometimes it’s ‘faith adjacent,’ is having success out there. It’s largely been on its own, so if we’re talking about film, television, streaming, it’s largely been outside of the Hollywood system. And just as there’s been deconstruction, and with distribution getting kind of the way it’s gone, you’ve been able to set up systems and structures outside of Hollywood that work.”
Or as the Economist recently noted:
The show’s success is revealing. It attests to the popularity and profitability of Christian entertainment. It also highlights how film-makers of faith can circumvent Hollywood’s godless gatekeepers.
Here is another valid news angle.
“The Chosen” is seeping its way even deeper into American culture, according to Religion News Service, with an initiative to show it at 300 prisons in 49 states.
The show, produced, written and directed by evangelical filmmaker Dallas Jenkins, is the first multiseason drama to hit Floodlight, a streaming platform launched by Prison Fellowship three years ago as a way to get free, faith-based inspirational content into prisons at the height of the pandemic.
Katherine Warnock, head of original content for “The Chosen,” told Religion News Service in an email that the partnership provides the show a new venue in which to introduce “the authentic Jesus to the world” across faiths, party lines and social status.
Another RNS story that ran last fall focused on plans dub the series into 100 languages and provide subtitles for 500 more. It talks of how the first two episodes of Season Three were released in theaters last December before they were available on YouTube or in the app, and the episodes made $8.75 million in one weekend.
There’s a lot of money out there supporting “The Chosen.”
So far, the series has avoided major criticism. Even The Forward has written about how Jewish the series is, in terms of content and imagery.
As the series continues, I expect more controversy to crop up, as it nears the familiar territory of the last week of Jesus’ life, a time covered by many other films. For now the interesting angles are all the money this series is raising and how the final episodes will cover the post-Resurrection appearances, something that other movies about Jesus have largely avoided.
That will be the most fun to cover. Get your interview questions ready now.
FIRST IMAGE: Photo from VidAngel Studios.
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