Christians aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms in Hollywood.
Sure, they’ve made inroads via surprise smashes like “The Passion of the Christ” and, more recently, “I Can Only Imagine.”
Still, when Christians rally to bring pro-life movies to the marketplace the reaction can be swift and ugly. Just ask the makers of “Unplanned,” who endured a gauntlet of obstacles en route to theaters nationwide.
The folks creating “Roe v. Wade,” a fellow pro-life vehicle, hit similar roadblocks.
The team behind “The Chosen” didn’t play by the Hollywood rules. They made their own, and the subsequent success is unlike any project to date in or outside faith-based circles.
The crowdfunding campaign behind the series, depicting the gritty life of Jesus Christ (played by Jonathan Roumie) and his disciples, raised about $13 million from more than 6,000 “investors.” The show used an Obama-era rule that allows contributors to receive a return on their investment beyond the usual crowdfunding prizes.
The show’s first season reached more than 180 countries via its standalone app.
One app. One show. No surfing around trying to find something to watch. The app, to date, has been downloaded more than 1 million times for a total of 7 million episode views since its December release.
Director Dallas Jenkins sounds as surprised by “The Chosen’s” success as anyone.
“We’ve attempted to analyze it in detail so we could possibly repeat it on other projects, but ultimately, it seems pretty simple,” says Jenkins, who previously directed “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.” “People saw our short film, which I shot on my friend’s farm in Illinois for my church’s Christmas Eve service, and felt they had to be involved.”
He’s quick to rule out other factors in the show’s remarkable run.
“I’m not famous and we had no fan base. We just got the short film out there, and people responded,” Jenkins says.
The director aligned with VidAngel, best known for filtering out inappropriate content from mainstream film and TV programs, to create the app in question.
One might think “The Chosen’s” success would have traditional media companies clamoring to take part in upcoming seasons. You would be wrong, Jenkins says.
“For the most part, studios and platforms aren’t lined around the block for a Jesus show. And that’s fine. All our time is focused on communicating to the audience, not shopping ourselves to someone else,” he says.
Jenkins isn’t against working within the Hollywood ecosystem or even Big Tech, a realm where Christians often meet resistance. Instagram, for example, temporarily blocked the pro-life group LifeNews. Jewish broadcaster Dennis Prager’s channel PragerU repeatedly runs afoul of YouTube censors despite its squeaky-clean programming based on Judeo-Christian principles and conservative thought.
“If you want to work with a big studio or someone from Big Tech, go for it,” he says. “But if you’ve got a proof of concept that audiences love, then consider going to the audience directly instead of hoping Big Tech lowers its golden scepter to allow you into its hallowed halls.”
“The Chosen” is earning high marks for its realism, notable given how some faith-friendly programming sands the edges off from some content.
“‘The Chosen’ is handheld, dirty, rough around the edges, and is a Jesus show that features music that combines Middle Eastern drone sounds with the sounds of blues and slave spirituals,” he says. “Does the fact that it’s gotten the response it has mean that more projects should embrace that approach? I don’t know. I wouldn’t recommend it. But if you do take the ‘gritty and unkempt’ approach, just realize your margin for error is small, and people better really love it.”
Jenkins’ team is working on season 2 now, and he says the narrative will pick up right where the eighth and final episode ends.
“What people loved about season one was getting to know the people from the Bible in a deeper and more personal and human way, including Jesus, so we’ll stick with what’s working,” he says.
The show’s faith-based audience is both large and predictable, but Jenkins says “The Chosen’s” reach extends beyond that group.
“It’s also been cool to see different denominations, faith traditions, and cultures unify about the show, with even non-believers enjoying it, even though I’m a white conservative evangelical living in Elgin, Illinois,” he says.
The Chosen app can be downloaded here.