The Stream Visits the Set of The Chosen, an Upcoming TV Series About Jesus’ Life
What started as a short film for Dallas Jenkins’ church has now become the pilot episode for a VidAngel television series called The Chosen. The first episode, The Shepherd, was released December of last year. The creator and director of the series, Dallas Jenkins, is the son of Jerry B. Jenkins, co-writer of the Left Behind books. Jenkins recently walked through the film set with The Stream’s Nancy Flory and discussed the series that tells the story of Jesus through other characters’ perspectives.
“We can almost do a 360-degree view and still have it look like first century,” Dallas Jenkins said of the center of Capernaum Village near Weatherford, Texas. This location for The Chosen was built several years ago on 2,200-acre property located west of Fort Worth. It was birthed out of the owner’s daughter’s desire to produce films for church retreats. Now, the location is rented out to production companies like Jenkins’.
On a rainy October day — the wettest month on record for Texas — Jenkins conducted a tour of the first-century village. He hoped he could begin filming, but the weather slowed things down a bit. “[Doing] a project of the life of Jesus Christ, I know we expected some challenges but we’re hoping the weather somehow cooperates.” He added that as long as it wasn’t actively raining, they should be okay.
Jenkins walked up a narrow stairway to a roof top. The area will serve as a hostel. The view isn’t entirely first century, and Jenkins will set up a green screen that will allow him to project an image of the Israeli skyline.
Many of the areas onsite will be used for multiple scenes. “You try to make use of as much — in as many different ways that you can for multiple locations. … You make use of the space to its fullest potential.”
Jenkins walked through interior rooms that had small windows and dirt floors. He pointed out one two-room “house” that will serve as a dining room with an adjacent livestock stall. “Some of the families actually had some animals in their home,” he said. “Sheep or pigs or whatever.” It’s a testament to his desire to keep every scene as authentic as possible.
The set will also sport a first-century bar. “This is where the fishermen hung out to get their wine at the end of the day and where a lot of the common people hung out. … When we think of the characters that Jesus oftentimes spent time with, we envision that it might have been at a place like a bar or an area that we might not typically consider to be appropriate for religious leaders. But Jesus kind of upset that apple cart and spent time with those people in areas that the Pharisees didn’t approve of.”
His Life’s Work
The Shepherd was only meant to be a film for his church’s Christmas Eve service, not a pilot in a show. After its release, the response was overwhelming. “[People] were saying, ‘Finally, something that feels authentic and real,” said Jenkins.
The Shepherd is, as he calls it, his life’s work. “Everything that I’d done previously led me to wanting to take this and turn it into a show.” For years, even in Sunday School as a child, Jenkins wondered about the story of Jesus from others’ perspectives. Specifically, he wondered what Jesus and his disciples did between the Bible stories that we know. He’d seen all of the films made about Jesus’ life, but something was missing. “I felt like I wanted to bring something a little bit different to the table,” he explained. “Maybe a different perspective on the stories we’ve heard over and over.” He hopes that if he can choose characters that surrounded Jesus and see Him through their eyes, people will be changed. “Perhaps we can be impacted the same way [the characters] were.”
Accuracy is key, however. “I have no interest in changing anything in Scripture, but I do like to increase the backstory of what we know in the context, both historically and artistically, of these people. … I’m not trying to re-write anything. The stories of the Gospel need to stay the same.” To keep the stories as accurate as possible, Jenkins hired biblical advisers, including a Messianic Jewish Rabbi, a New Testament scholar, a Catholic priest and others. “Because biblical accuracy is very important to us, and we know that we’re not just cutting and pasting from the Bible into the script … we want to make sure that we get it right.”
While Jenkins said that they are working hard not to bring up denominational points of contention, he’s not worried about offending anyone when telling the story of Christ. “We know that the Bible can be offensive to people and that doesn’t bother me. But there’s no reason to do it unnecessarily.” The biblical advisers will help point out those kinds of red flags.
Jesus Can Be Funny
Jenkins brings a sense of humor to the stories as well. “I think the biblical stories tend to be humorless. I think we can use humor to draw people in even more.” Jenkins has used humor in previous films and it works well. “Having Jesus tell a joke, to me, is hugely important. One, I think it makes the story better, it’s more entertaining to watch. … [two] it connects us to Him. It warms Him up in many ways.” He wondered aloud how many times Jesus had been portrayed as funny. “It’s going to be a key part of the show.”
Investing in The Chosen
The fundraising for the show has been an adventure, said Jenkins. VidAngel, a streaming service, approached Jenkins about having investors fund the filming. “I laughed. And I thought ‘I’ll be surprised if we raise $800 because crowdfunding usually doesn’t work.’” But when he thought about it, he realized that it wasn’t his job to feed the 5,000 — it was his job to bring the loaves and fish. He thought he’d see what happened. “Here we are now, three to four months into this fundraising process and there’s been over $4 million coming in from over 7,000 people” (now more than $5.6 million from over 8,000 people).
“God has made this happen in a way that I think is, not only unique, but also specifically beneficial for this project, because the golden rule is Hollywood is ‘He who has the gold makes the rules.’ And so, for a project that is this important, we need to make our own rules.” He added that a story like this needs to be funded by Christians. “Especially those of us who passionately believe we’re telling a story about a man Who really existed, Who was the Savior of the world. And we need to get that right.”
The Beginning of a Goal
The money raised so far will allow Jenkins to film the first four episodes. His ultimate goal is $12 million for the first season as well as the costs of advertising and legal fees. Though they probably could raise $20 million, Jenkins wants to be prudent with their investors. “While we’re shooting [the first four episodes] we’re still fundraising for the next four episodes.” He’s hoping and praying that they have all the money they need by the end of 2018.
People can still invest. “We’re hoping that people see these first episodes being shot not as the arrival of a goal but as the beginning of a goal.” He added that he wants people to watch the pilot episode, see what Jenkins is capable of, get excited and want to be a part of it. “The beautiful part is, this isn’t just a donation, it’s an investment. If the show is successful, investors can be successful too.”
God Showed Up
The most rewarding part of the project came prior to Jenkins working on The Chosen. “It was the moment when God showed up in my life more than He’s ever shown up. That was the day we saw the box office numbers for The Resurrection of Gavin Stone and knew that I wasn’t going to be making a movie in Hollywood any time soon.” All of his jobs seemed to evaporate. “While my wife and I were home alone, crying and praying and wondering what had happened and why, God just spoke very clearly and spoke to my wife very clearly and reminded her of the story of feeding the 5,000. He also gave her the phrase, ‘I do impossible math.’”
Seeing Impossible Math
While Jenkins and his wife wondered what all of that meant, a Facebook message popped up on his computer. It was from someone he barely knew. “He said, ‘It’s not your job to feed the 5,000, it’s only your job to provide the loaves and fish.’” Jenkins asked him why he sent the message. He didn’t know, other than God told him to tell Jenkins.
“I’ll never ‘un-know’ that moment,” Jenkins says. “I’ll never not know that God was present in my home that day. That will sustain me for the rest of my life. … That was a moment in the midst of failure and disappointment when God showed up and said, ‘You’re mine, I’ve got this.’” He adds that he’s now seeing the “impossible math” as more than 8,000 people have invested over $5.6 million toward making a story about Jesus.
Drawn to Christ
Jenkins wants people to be drawn to Christ through the series and say two things: “‘I want to know the Bible more and I want to know Jesus more. That Jesus that you portrayed is the Jesus I want to know more.’ So, the ultimate goal is to see someone who maybe didn’t know Jesus know Him better after watching it.” He also wants those who know Jesus to get a fresh perspective and joy after watching the series.
Many people can’t identify with the melodromatic characters portrayed in other films about Jesus. Jenkins hopes that they can identify with the characters in The Chosen. “They can identify with the people He surrounded Himself with. And hopefully, they’ve seen Him through their eyes and can be changed through their eyes as well. If that happens, I have no other goals in my entire life besides making that happen.”
While his audience is primarily Christians, he wants to make the show something nonbelievers can appreciate. “Is it too much to say the audience can be for everyone?” Jenkins asked. “I do believe there will be people who will see the trailer, or maybe watch the pilot episode and go, ‘Huh, this feels a little different.’ I’m confident if you give the pilot a watch, you’ll want to see more. … Hopefully the show can be for people from all types of backgrounds and perspectives.”
The project has raised over $5.6 million so far. Watch the pilot episode, “The Shepherd”: