New TV Series "The Chosen" a Modern Day 'Five Loaves and Two Fish' Story
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DALLAS -- The sun has not yet dawned on the plains of an early Texas morning when a sleepy yet talented video production crew begins arriving on set. Today, their workplace is a non-descript yet cavernous soundstage in an area of Dallas known more for a national tragedy than making television programs. Their mood is upbeat despite the early hour as coffee flows freely on what will be Day 26 of a 31-day shoot.
Buoyed by the success of an online fundraising campaign that has raised millions of dollars to date, director Dallas Jenkins and his crew are shooting a scene that will become part of a new television series called The Chosen. Based on the life and times of Jesus, the first four episodes of season one will debut this week.
While most Bible-based productions on the life of Christ have been movies, mini-series, or short films, The Chosen will be an actual television series, using an episodic formula not unlike what a viewer might see on popular networks or streaming services. The notion of recurring characters such as the 12 disciples, Mary Magdalene, and even ordinary townspeople, has Jenkins excited about the possibilities.
“So many of those movies are limited, because they just go from Bible verse to Bible verse and are trying to cover a lot of ground in an hour-and-a-half, and they usually do it from Jesus’ perspective,” Jenkins, the son of bestselling author Jerry Jenkinsb (Left Behind series) points out. “You’ve got these miracles and life changing events taking place with characters that you haven’t spent any time getting to know. I thought if we can encounter Jesus through the eyes of those who actually met Him, we could perhaps be impacted in the same way they were.”
The idea for The Chosen was actually born out of failure nearly three years ago. Excited by the possibilities of his first significant movie release, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, Jenkins was crushed as the box office results trickled in. The comedic film about a washed-up child star forced to do community service at a local mega-church, had generated just $1.2 million dollars opening weekend, falling far short of expectations.
Feeling a swirl of emotions that ultimately left him confused and frustrated, Jenkins found himself staring at his computer that weekend at 3 a.m. when an unlikely Facebook message popped up on his screen. The message from a ‘friend’ he had never met in person posted this:
Remember, your job is not to feed the 5,000. It’s only to provide the loaves and fish.
Jenkins who was in the process of writing a 15-page analysis of everything that had gone wrong with Gavin Stone’s release quickly responded and asked why this person felt compelled to send the message in the first place. His response was priceless:
I don’t know. God just told me to tell you that.
“He was just saying all you can do is what you’re responsible for,” Jenkins remembers vividly. “You made the movie. The results of it are not in your hands. Whether God wanted to feed 5,000 or whether He wanted to feed 10 is not up to you. Your job is only to provide the loaves and fish.”
The ensuing months, while painful, led Jenkins to realize that God did indeed have something greater for him; he just didn’t know what it was. This time of searching and refining eventually led him to make a short film about the birth of Christ to be shown at his church’s Christmas Eve service. It was called “The Shepherd”.
“I’d done a few short films before for my church, mostly vignettes,” says Jenkins, who also directed What If .... “I had this idea for this film about the birth of Christ from the perspective of the shepherds. While we were making it, I knew something was special about it. I could just tell it was powerful.”
“The Shepherd” was subsequently uploaded on Facebook and quickly found an audience of viewers who were excited to see more. Among that group were two executives at VidAngel, a faith-based streaming service. They thought it was one of the greatest things they had ever seen and wanted to make it into a series. Thus, a short film shown at a Christmas Eve service had just unwittingly become the pilot episode for a new television series.
However, there was one small problem. Jenkins had no financial resources to take their vision to fruition. The VidAngel executives suggested a crowd funding approach to raise the funds.
Jenkins initially scoffed at the notion. “I laughed because crowdfunding never works. When they thought they could raise millions for the show, I just thought it was ridiculous. But at this point, I’m thinking it’s not my job to feed the five thousand but to just provide the loaves and fish.”
Remarkably, The Chosen recently passed Mystery Science Theater 3000 to become the top crowdfunded film/tv project in history. To date, it has raised more than $7.5 million with a an overall goal of $13 million.
“There’s literally thousands of people providing their own finances for us to do this project about Jesus,” says Jenkins excitedly. “You look back on that, it was so clear that God protected us from doing more movies with partners who don’t really care about this content, and put me here. Watching Jesus feed the 5,000 has been the coolest part of this whole project.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge for The Chosen in the coming months is to figure out a way to make this content more appealing to general audiences. Faith-based consumers will naturally be intrigued to view it but what about those who normally wouldn’t have an interest in such material?
“We are writing this and creating this in a way that if you are not a believer, you would still appreciate seeing these stories,” Jenkins explains. “There’s no agenda other than to show the stories of Jesus and to introduce people to Christ in a fresh way. We’re just telling the stories. We’re not getting into theology much. This is just good storytelling.”
* Photo Credit: Shahar Isaac as Simon Peter, desperately fishing in the middle of the night.
Watch the pilot episode for The Chosen television series, "The Shepherd":
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