Dallas Jenkins was considering hanging up his filmmaking hat after his movie “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” bombed at the box office in 2017.
“I got to a place that weekend where I didn’t know if I would ever make another movie again,” Jenkins says. “When you have a failure, it’s hard to find people who are eager and willing to finance your next venture.”
With the support of his church, the film director decided to jump back into making a short movie about the birth of Christ. It was a hit.
“Long story short, that short film ended up being the catalyst … [for] 16,000 people all over the world investing over $10 million into Season One of “The Chosen,” and the rest is history,” Jenkins says.
“The Chosen,” based on the Gospels, is a streaming dramatic series that follows the ministry of Jesus and his disciples. Episodes from Season One and Two have been streamed over 400 million times.
On Nov. 18, episodes one and two of the third season of “The Chosen” will premiere in theaters.
“Season Three is kind of this transition moment of the disciples going, ‘Yay, we’re officially Jesus’ apostles. Why aren’t things awesome?’ They have to wrestle with that, and I think the viewer does too,” Jenkins says.
Jenkins joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss creation of the series and the greatest challenges he and the cast faced in filming Season Three.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: “The Chosen” is a crowdfunded streaming series that follows the life and ministry of Jesus and his disciples. The first season released in 2019, the second season in 2021, and the third season is out this November. Here with us to talk about it is Dallas Jenkins. He is the director and creator of “The Chosen.” Dallas, thanks so much for being here.
Dallas Jenkins: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.
Allen: So, in full disclosure, my whole family, we’re all major “Chosen” fans. It’s not uncommon for me to call my parents and I say, “Hey, what are you guys doing?” They say, “We’re watching ‘The Chosen’ again.” We love it. I think so many people in the church, outside of the church love this series because it’s so well done. Honestly, I think this is one of the first times that we are seeing Christian television that is so highly produced, so professional, so well done. This is a massive undertaking. You-all are creating a seven-season series. What prompted you to say, “Yes, I want to take this on”?
Jenkins: Well, failure, to be honest with you. My previous movie that came out in 2017, “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” a movie that people who watched it liked and I was very proud of the movie, but not enough people watched it. So it totally bombed at the box office and I was left with pretty much no future.
I got to a place that weekend where I didn’t know if I would ever make another movie again. When you have a failure, it’s hard to find people who are eager and willing to finance your next venture.
So I went back to the drawing board. I went to my church and said, “Hey, there was a script for a Christmas Eve short film about the birth of Christ from the perspective of the shepherds that I had put on the shelf because I was doing this movie. But let’s do that.” They were excited about it. I’d done a couple of short films for the church before.
So on my friend’s farm in Illinois, 20 minutes from my house, I made “The Shepherd,” about 18, 19 minutes long. I remember while I was doing it, when I came up with the idea for the show, and I also remember thinking, “This feels like a really small little thing. It’s just being done with very little budget. However, I’ve never been more in my wheelhouse and I feel like this is what I was meant to do.”
Long story short, that short film ended up being the catalyst, what caused people to watch it and then want to invest. Sixteen thousand people all over the world investing over $10 million into Season One of “The Chosen” and the rest is history.
But if it wasn’t for failure and a surrender on my part to God, saying, “I’m OK if I never make another movie again, I’m OK. I just want to be in your will. I have joy that I have never experienced before, even though I have no clue what my future is.”
There was a time, I mean, even after I made that short film, I was looking for jobs. I remember talking to colleges about teaching film. I was totally thinking I have to provide for my family and I was shifting from the previous employment that I’d had.
It was a painful time, but God was present and I think that’s part of the reason why “The Chosen” is what it is, because I think there’s this kind of almost reckless surrender and lack of concern for the results that has caused it to maybe maintain a little bit more authenticity.
Allen: Well, it certainly seems to be working. Now, “The Chosen,” it’s so beautifully done because you’re taking the stories of the Bible and you’re putting them in narrative form, which is so relational. I think it really allows the audience to connect with those stories. But when it comes to crafting the script, who all is involved both from a creative perspective and a theological perspective to say, “OK, this is how we want to portray this on screen in a way that works, but is also true to the biblical narrative”?
Jenkins: So, I have two co-writers, Ryan Swanson and Tyler Thompson, and the three of us are a true partnership. It’s a 33/33/33 where we each contribute equally.
And we start with the Bible, obviously. That’s the primary source of truth and inspiration for the stories because that’s where we’re headed in the story. We know where the story is going over the course of Jesus’ ministry. But then we have other sources, obviously, by cultural context, historical context, artistic imagination.
So we come up with the storylines, we write the scripts and all that, and we have a panel of three biblical scholars who look at it, make sure that we’re not going outside the bounds of the character of Jesus and the intentions of the gospels.
Also, we like to know, from Catholic perspective, Messianic Jewish perspective, and I’m an evangelical, so we have an evangelical scholar, what are the land mines that we don’t want to step on unintentionally?
Now, there have been plenty of things that I have done that have offended people from all different faith denominations, and I’m OK with that as long as we believe that we’re following where God wants us. But I just want to know in advance what those may be and if they matter. If there’s something that doesn’t matter, then why do something innocuous or unrelated to the story that is going to offend people?
But for the most part, we’re just trying to make sure that we stay within a few general guidelines so that we’re not violating these intentions of Jesus and the Gospels. Then once the show comes out, we have this kind of superpower where we don’t really mind or even think much about or care much about criticism or praise because we’ve already taken the time with scholars and I have a couple pastors that I run things by and talk to about. Of course, prayer and my wife.
I mean, we take these things very seriously. But by the time the show comes out, we’ve thought through these things, prayed through these things, considered the strengths and weaknesses so that now we can just let the show speak for itself and not try to seek more praise or avoid more criticism.
Allen: Let’s talk for a moment specifically about Season Three. So, Season Two ends, I think, in this beautiful moment, both of kind of, “Wow, this is amazing,” and also incredible tension because Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount. Also in that same scene, Judas is introduced as Judas and you’re realizing what is unfolding. How do things pick up in Season Three?
Jenkins: Well, yeah, we pick up right where we left off. Jesus goes ahead and delivers the sermon and we see—you see this in the trailer too—Judas approaches Jesus and is blown away by what he’s heard. He wants to be part of this ministry. He believes he has skills that can contribute to it.
Now, all 12 disciples plus the female followers of Jesus are together and Jesus says, “Let’s take a break. Let’s go back home. We’ve been traveling for a bit.”
Now we have to deal with the outcome and the consequences of this sermon. The profile of Jesus has risen significantly and not only that—which has gotten the attention more of Rome, it’s gotten the attention of the Pharisees, and all the way to Jerusalem. The attention is building. But then you’ve also got the inward tension.
So Jesus now assembles the 12 disciples, officially labels them his 12 apostles. They’re now his messengers and they’re thinking, “Wow, this is great. It’s scary, but it’s great. Why are bad things still happening? Why are we still being oppressed by Rome?” In the case of Simon, “Why is my marriage still struggling?” Little James who’s handicapped, “Why am I still handicapped? Especially when you’ve called us out two by two to go heal and cast out demons. You’re asking me to heal others and you haven’t healed me yet. What’s the deal there?”
We really did dive into these really difficult questions and so Season Three is kind of this transition moment of the disciples going, “Yay, we’re officially Jesus’ apostles. Why aren’t things awesome?” They have to wrestle with that and I think the viewer does too.
Allen: That’s a huge question. Are there any scenes in Season Three that were either particularly challenging to film or that you feel a certain sense of just deep connection over that you’re really proud of how they turned out?
Jenkins: Yeah. Well, I mean, we had so many weather issues, and COVID issues, and construction delays from the supply chain. I mean, the whole season was, by far, and there isn’t even a close second in my entire career, the most challenging thing we’ve done.
There were some scenes, some of which you can even see in the trailer, glimpses of—the scene of the bleeding woman who pursued Jesus to be healed just to touch the hem of his garment. But obviously, the feeding of the 5,000 was a monster. I mean, … the circumstances around it, the actual feeding itself took a week and a half, two weeks to film. We had thousands of extras come in for three days. The heat was absolutely jaw-dropping. There were literal, on the days we were filming, people who had to get medical attention.
The size of it, the scope of it, the weather of it, the emotional toll of it—I mean, as I assume you’ve appreciated about the show, we never just take a Bible story and just capture it. We give you what we think could have been the emotional and spiritual stakes involved in it. So it was just a very heavy, emotional process.
It’s also a scene that I’m actually in the middle of working on now and editing now because it doesn’t come out for a couple months. But that scene, very, very proud of how it turned out. It’s a very personal connection to me because the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and the truth of our job is not to feed the 5,000, it’s only to provide the loaves and fish, changed my life and launched “The Chosen.” I think that scene for sure is going to be memorable for people. It’s the climax of the season and for sure the connective tissue of our whole project.
Allen: We certainly encourage everyone to book and look at your calendar, mark your calendar for Nov. 18, because Episode One and Two premier, actually, in theaters. It’s the first time it’s premiering theaters. That’s huge. And then be sure to download “The Chosen” app so you can catch those next episodes as they come out. But Dallas, thank you for your time. We really appreciate it.
Jenkins: Yeah, thanks for having me on it.
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