I recently caught up with the talented filmmaker Dallas Jenkins, who has just wrapped up shooting the first several episodes of a show that I think readers will be interested in. Here was our conversation, followed by the pilot episode.
For those who haven’t heard yet, what is “The Chosen“?
“The Chosen” is the first ever multi-season drama about the life of Christ. There’s been movies and mini-series, but never a binge-watchable show where you can really invest in the characters. We also focus a lot on the characters Jesus encountered, giving them and their stories fresh life and backstory.
Can you tell us a bit of background about how this all came about?
It actually came out of failure.
My last feature film, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, did poorly at the box office, and the Hollywood companies I’d partnered with backed out of future plans to do more.
I honestly didn’t know if I had a future in films.
So I focused on an idea I’d had about the birth of Christ from the perspective of the shepherds.
I made a short film for my church’s Christmas Eve service, and while I was doing it, it was clear this was where I should be. And I thought, What about a show? Why hasn’t that been done before?
Long story short, the short film was seen by a streaming service, they flipped out and loved the idea of the show, and the short film [below] went viral online.
It’s now got about 20 million views in 10 languages around the world.
What are some of the challenges in producing something that is simultaneously fresh (given how many other films have been done on it) and faithful (given the limited historical data to work with)?
The challenge is in the original decision to do this. Do we believe it’s okay to tell Bible stories and fill in all those gaps with historical data and artistic imagination? Some people don’t. We do (obviously).
I’m a Bible-believing evangelical. I have zero desire to mess with Scripture or make some sort of new theological point. This is about telling these stories in a way that makes the moments in Scripture even more impactful.
For example, when a good pastor preaches about a gospel story and gives you the historical context and expounds on the personalities of the people involved, it puts you there. And I’ve had so many emotional moments thinking, That person is me.
Joni Eareckson Tada, after seeing the Christmas special episode and sobbing, said, “Thank you for telling the old, old story in an impossible fresh way.” That’s my goal. And I believe we can do that by showing Jesus to the audience through the eyes of those he surrounded himself with.
The challenge comes in making sure we do it right. We’ve chosen a New Testament scholar and a Messianic Jewish rabbi as our primary consultants, both of them conservative theologians and historians.
You have partnered with VidAngel to produce this. Who are they, and why did you guys decide to link up?
VidAngel is a steaming service primarily known for filtering. Basically, you watch Netflix and Amazon shows through their service, and you can literally filter out whatever you find offensive. What’s cool is that it’s in your hands, you choose. So my younger kids can now watch Stranger Things on Netflix with us, because we filtered out the language and blasphemy.
They’re wanting this to be their big new piece of original content.
We’re with them for two primary reasons:
One, it was their idea to finance this through crowd-funding, an idea I laughed at at first. But their efforts have led to $6 million so far. We’re already the number-one highest crowd-funded media project in history.
Two, they believe in this project and want this show to impact the world; plus, they’re giving us complete control of the content. That wouldn’t happen anywhere else.
You guys have devised a unique crowdfunding platform for this project that actually is a form of investment. How’s it going so far? How can folks get involved?
Most crowd-funding efforts involve people donating and getting something like a t-shirt or name in credits. Which is fine. But VidAngel’s approach is partnership. This is investment. If the show succeeds, you succeed.
Of course, most of our investors are doing this for kingdom purposes, as we are. And if you want to just keep investing back into the show so we can expand our impact, that’s awesome. But that’s your choice. Either way, we’re all providing our loaves and fishes, and we’ll watch Jesus feed the five thousand.
So what’s next? And how can readers pray about the project if they feel so led?
We are currently working on the first four episodes. We still have a lot of fundraising to do. We need finances for writing the rest of season one, and of course for marketing so we can get this show around the world. But if people aren’t interested in partnering with us financially, we just ask two things.
One, watch and share the special Christmas episode [below]. We believe if people can see Jesus through the eyes of those who encountered him, they can be impacted in the same way.
And two, pray that we remain humbled and broken throughout this project so that we are letting God tell his story and not getting in the way. I don’t want my own bias or vision to impede what he’s doing. So far, so good.