Rarely is a short movie all–embracing enough to cause audiences to imagine the smell of hay in a country barn or hear the cries of herded sheep or feel the wonder of a divine miracle. Nonetheless, people have said “The Shepherd” was so wide–ranging, that they also experienced the pain of the shepherd’s rejection but walked away sharing enthusiastically in his ultimate vindication.
The film, produced and directed by Dallas Jenkins (“What if?” “Midnight Clear,” “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone”), does all that and more. After seeing the mere 20–minute presentation, legendary evangelist Joni Erickson Tada said to Jenkins, “Thank you for telling the old, old story in an impossibly fresh way.”
In an exclusive interview with SACONNECTS magazine, Jenkins said, “If we can pull that off, if we can tell the story that we’ve heard so many times, but in a fresh way, without even changing anything; I’m just adding backstory, adding historical context; boy, that could really be powerful!”
In the pilot film, Roman soldiers wearing sheath–covered swords and loosely fitting armaments seem as authentic as the dusty, parched paths under their sandaled feet. In the final scene when a Pharisee says, “Ok, do you have a spotless lamb now?” the endearing shepherd responds by returning a restrained look of satisfaction that is simply unforgettable.
“I remember when I was driving in my car and I had the idea for that short film,” said Jenkins. “When I thought of ending it on the shepherd’s smile, I started crying in my car. I thought, maybe we’re on to something if even now I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.” Today, “The Shepherd” has evolved into a highly anticipated TV series called “The Chosen” and is available now on VidAngel, a Christian–owned, family–friendly streaming app and original content studio (see our December 2019/January 2020 issue and the sidebar of this article).
However, getting off to such an amazing start does come with challenges. How difficult will it be to maintain the show’s unique take on its portrayal of Christ’s ministry? Will it remain convincing in such a secular and cynical world? Will it become financially viable? Jenkins says its portrayal of the Truth through the eyes of common people is what will stir emotions and motivate viewers to return to see future episodes despite barriers that lie ahead.
“That is really the main reason for the show—that a lot of people can relate to it,” says Jenkins. “That short film ended up being the catalyst for us doing the show because it’s all about allowing the audience to see Jesus through the eyes of those people who actually met Him. In turn, the audience can be impacted in the same way that they were. That happens when you can relate to these characters.
A record breaker
“A lot of times in Jesus projects, we go from Bible verse to Bible verse, miracle to miracle, but the characters that Jesus touched are like flyby characters. We barely get a chance to know them at all. So, we can’t really relate to them.
“So, when we can really spend time and get to know these characters and get to identify with them—that encounter becomes our encounter with Jesus. In some ways, doing this show is scary because I feel a weight and a responsibility to get it right. But in other ways, it’s just so exciting.”
In late 2017, The Chosen Productions, LLC, partnering with distributor VidAngel, released “The Shepherd” a concept pilot on social media to gauge potential public interest in The Chosen. The video was seen by more than 20 million people around the world.
The project moved record numbers of people to offer their financial support, making it the biggest crowdfunding pitch ever. “When they said, ‘well, we want to raise the money through crowdfunding,’ I got depressed,” says Jenkins. “Because I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s never going to work.’ The all–time crowdfunding record was $5.7 million for a show that was very popular, right? And we weren’t famous. We didn’t have any built–in marketing. We just kind of built a Facebook page from scratch.
“We needed more than $5.7 million to do Season One. They said, ‘we really think we can do that.’ I just thought it was ridiculous. But we’ve raised over $10 million from 16,000 people from around the world and shattered the all–time crowd funding record.”
Jenkins says such support makes him and his team feel humble rather than arrogant, “because we have a responsibility to these people who’ve given a portion of their means to spread the gospel. So, we want to get it right. It shows that there’s a hunger for this.
“What’s interesting is that they’re not donors, they’re actually investors. As money comes in for Season One through the sales of downloads and putting episodes on the VidAngel streaming service and eventually DVDs, people will also have the chance to purchase them.
“The investors have a choice; they can keep pouring their investment back into the show for a financial return. Sometimes crowd funding is all donors, so they give money and hope we spend it wisely. Hopefully, the show will also generate income.
“What’s interesting is that the short film was just intended for my church’s Christmas Eve service,” remembers Jenkins. “I shot that on my friend’s farm in Illinois in less than a week. We put the whole thing together in less than a month. But after I made it, I thought, This has a chance of being something really special. It was then that I had the idea of doing this first–ever, multi–season show.
“There’s been movies and miniseries, but never a multi–season show about the life of Christ. The beauty of a multi–season show is that you can dig into the characters and spend some time with them; it becomes like a family that you are a part of. That would be a great opportunity to get to know Jesus and those He surrounded Himself with, even better.
“Even as the filmmaker, I felt like I got to know more about the shepherds in those 20 minutes than I had in my lifetime after hearing those stories dozens and dozens of times. Authenticity is also something that I’ve struggled to find in a lot of Jesus projects. They seem kind of clean and sanitized. I think that the redemption and the joy is more powerful when you are honest about what these characters are going through.
“That was really powerful to me as I was studying it. That’s what the audience related to too; it just felt real. It illustrates a Jesus who came for those on the lower end of the totem pole.
“It felt dirty and dusty and grimy, and, at times ugly. We as human beings can be ugly, and the setting was ugly, and Jesus came right into the middle of that. That, to me, is powerful. He talked to these guys who nobody even cared to know about and revealed to them the most important message that anybody could possibly share.”
On January 10, The Hollywood Reporter announced that VidAngel had earned two Movieguide Award nominations for its original production of “The Chosen: Season One.” The new 8–episode first season tells the stories of characters in the Gospels who encountered Jesus and were changed forever.
“More than two years of work, sacrifice, and heart were baked into Season One of The Chosen,” said Neal Harmon, CEO of VidAngel. “These nominations from Movieguide serve as a fresh demonstration, alongside millions watching the show globally in over 150 countries, that there is a strong appetite for redemptive and authentic storytelling.” Harmon concluded, “We’re grateful for the recognition of everyone’s contributions to this historic undertaking and are honored to participate in these awards alongside so many prestigious projects.” On January 24, Jonathan Roumie (who plays Jesus), won the Grace Prize for his performance in Chosen’s Episode 8, “I Am He.”
by Warren L. Maye
FACTS about “The Chosen”
- It is the first–ever worldwide launch of a streaming TV series via its own app
- Downloaded and streaming in 142 countries
- Being translated into 52 languages
- Number 1 crowdfunded entertainment project in history
- First–ever multi–season TV show about Jesus
- Official trailer now available