Financed by an unprecedented $10.3M equity-crowdfunding event involving 15,000 investors, the online series The Chosen takes a very human and sometimes humorous look at the people who intersected with Jesus during His ministry.
When concentrating on the Son of God, it’s easy to forget that the people who crossed His path were ordinary folk like ourselves, with lives, spouses, families, money troubles and issues with authority. This is especially true of the Apostles, who are usually depicted as standing solemnly, hands upraised, robes decorously draped over shoulders and arms, looking more like mythical figures than flesh-and-blood people.
Produced by The Chosen Productions and VidAngel Studios, created and directed (and partly written) by Dallas Jenkins (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone) — and with values-media guru Matthew Faraci (host of Dove Channel’s Frankly Faraci) among the executive producers — The Chosen drills down on the humanity of its characters.
Fisherman Simon (called Peter) has issues at home; Matthew the tax collector appears to be on the autism spectrum; and Mary Magadalene has both personal and demonic problems.
To do this, The Chosen mixes authentic sets and costumes with more contemporary language and a relaxed atmosphere not often seen in Bible-inspired productions.
The pilot, a Nativity episode called The Shepherd, came out on Facebook and was made available to faith communities for the Christmas season in 2017. Have a look:
Now that the series is underway, the first four episodes are available at TheChosen.tv; the first one is free; the next three can be purchased. Ultimately, seven seasons are planned.
Shot in Texas, The Chosen stars Los Angeles-based Catholic actor and voiceover artist — and my fellow parishioner — Jonathan Roumie (The Mindy Project, The Good Wife), and he’s one of the very few actors to play the role who’s of Middle Eastern descent.
The Chosen also had three Biblical consultants: Catholic priest and filmmaker Father David Guffey, C.S.C. (full disclosure: he’s my boss at Family Theater Productions in Hollywood), Rabbi Jason Sobel of Fusion Global Ministries; and Dr. Doug Huffman, of the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, a Christian school in the Los Angeles area. Click here for a one of a series of roundtables with Jenkins and the three of them.
In a phone interview, Jenkins, who describes himself as an Evangelical Christian, discussed how The Chosen came to be. Here are some highlights:
On what struck him during the production …
Oh, so many things. The point of the show is, we believe, if people could encounter Jesus through the eyes of those who actually met Him, they can be changed in the same way. As we dug into Scripture and the historical context, it brought it so much to life.
For me, someone who identifies with lots of different characters, whether it’s Nicodemus, someone who’s been a religious person their whole life, or Simon Peter, someone who’s a little bit more passionate and temperamental … just really seeing how these characters could have interacted with Jesus, based on what they were like before they met Him, really, really struck me.
And, over the last year and a half, just my experience of just making the show, I’ve never been closer to God because I’ve been so immersed in God and His Son. I mean, just really immersing yourself in the research was just truly convicted me, because it was like, “Gosh, I need to be doing this more often.”
On what Jesus taught him about storytelling ….
I think also, here’s another thing. This might be interesting. One of my co-writers isn’t an Evangelical, so he was providing insight from just a strictly storytelling perspective. “Does this make for a good story?” It was amazing how many of the stories of the Gospels, and how many of the characters of the Gospels, are perfect for television, perfect for multi-season shows.
The stories are so well-told … so that was another thing that was cool was, “Oh, we don’t have to change a whole lot to make this work for a long-form television show.” Jesus really seemed to know His storytelling rules
You know, the story of darkness to light, and the three-act structure of someone who’s struggling with something, then they have an encounter, and then what happens after that encounter and how they change. That’s all the Gospel is, you know?
On portraying how Jesus dealt with women …
We do have some quote-unquote “progressive” elements, in the sense that we show just how tender and caring Jesus was with women. He kind of bucked the system a little bit in that regard, and basically our main character of episode one is a woman. She’s the one that we follow her journey most closely, so I think over the course of the first couple episodes, you’re going to really love what we do with our main female character.
On not always leading with Jesus …
Jesus is not the main character initially, in the first two episodes, and then He is in episode three, but He kind of shows up in key moments in the first few episodes. Then, episodes five through eight, we really get into it. Like, we show Him at the wedding at Cana, the whole water-to-wine thing, but we get to see Him dancing with His friends and acting … you know, how He acts with other people. I think that’s something we’re going to show; like you said, just how different He was, but how that was so cool.
On who is the target audience for The Chosen …
The middle of our bullseye is believers. I don’t think we have the money to try to reach everybody. Believers are going to be the first people who are excited about this, but I do believe that the show appeals to nonbelievers, who just like good television. The vast majority of our cast and crew are not believers, and they were enamored with the scripts. They were very excited to be involved.
One of our lead actors who played Nicodemus, Erick Avari, has been in the business for many years and had basically retired, came out of retirement, to play this role because he thought it was so juicy. He just loved the script.
We’ve just gotten that over and over from … again, one of my co-writers, who’s not an Evangelical … he’s a believer, but not a full-on Evangelical. He was writing it, we were writing it from the perspective of, “What’s good drama? What’s a good show? What will make a good show?”
I’m inspired by good television. In early test screenings, the people who’ve loved it the most are people who really like good television; the people who watch Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Wire. Those are all shows that inspired us when we wrote this.
I don’t want to say kind of the typical, “Oh, this show is for everybody.” We’re not foolish. We know that our love group, our first … you know, the first wave is going to come through believers. But if you like binge-watching good shows, I think you’re going to like it as much as our cast and crew did, who came on board because they liked the script so much.
Here’s the trailer:
Image: The Chosen Productions/VidAngel Studios