No film from Angel Studios makes it to the big screen without the approval of the Angel Guild.
Over 21 films a week are submitted to the Angel Guild, “and then the guild goes through those and they’re picking their favorites and they’re greenlighting them and then Angel Studios can only pick from the list that they greenlight,” explains Jeff Harmon, chief content officer for Angel Studios.
Movies like “Sound of Freedom” and “After Death” received enthusiastic support from the Angel Guild and in turn premiered on the big screen. But for every approved film, hundreds more are “failed” by the guild.
Anyone can sign up to be a member of the Angel Guild and play a role in deciding what content Angel Studios should send to movie theaters.
Jeff Harmon and his brother Neal Harmon, CEO of Angel Studios, join “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain how to join the Angel Guild and to talk about the latest Angel Studios movies and shows.
“The Shift,” a science-fiction romance depicting the Bible’s story of Job, is set to premiere Dec. 1 in theaters. In 2024, Angel Studios’ release schedule includes “Bonhoeffer” and “Cabrini.”
Listen to the conversation with the Harmon brothers below, or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to be joined by two of the Harmon brothers, Neal Harmon and Jeff Harmon. Neal serves as CEO of Angel Studios and Jeff as CCO. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being here today.
Neal Harmon: Thank you for having us, Virginia.
Allen: This is exciting. Well, I want to start by asking you just to share a little bit of the story of how Angel Studios became what it is today. Growing up, did you-all know as brothers that you wanted to make movies together, to be a part of production?
Jeff Harmon: We had three TV stations. We grew up on potato farms in Idaho and in a very poor family. I could count the number of times I saw movies while growing up on one hand at the dollar theater because that’s the one that we would go to, months after they came out, and the very first movie I ever saw in theaters was “Aladdin.”
Allen: That’s a good first.
Jeff Harmon: Yeah, it was a good one. I remember watching just the spectacle of the Cave of Wonders and just being blown away by.
Neal Harmon: I remember that too, actually.
Jeff Harmon: I didn’t know that this was a profession at the time. My mom would talk about how dentists make lots of money, doctors make lots of money, and lawyers make lots of money, so I thought I was going to be a lawyer.
Allen: What changed to where you started actually thinking about movies and production?
Neal Harmon: It’s when we had our own families. We were at Orabrush, growing a tongue cleaner that gets rid of bad breath throughout the world by marketing it on YouTube, and we started talking one day and brainstorming around why there isn’t a solution for modern streaming for families, where we have the stories that we can share together. From that hatched an idea that eventually became this company. That was in 2012 and we formed a company in 2013. This month is 10 years for Angel Studios.
Allen: Congratulations. That’s a major milestone.
Neal Harmon: Once we started thinking about the media and storytelling, from perspective of our own children, we said, “We’re not happy with where the world’s headed and how are we going to solve this problem or has someone solved this problem?” When we realized no one had and that there were other parents that were interested in solving this problem, we decided to do something about it.
Allen: Explain, if you would, what makes Angel Studios different than a Hulu or a Netflix because you’re distributing content, you’re making new shows, you’re producing new shows, but what separates you from some of the big Hollywood production and distribution platforms?
Neal Harmon: The core premise of Hollywood is two things, from our perspective.
One is that if you collect a group of people and have them work together in storytelling, that you’ll create a vibrant community that can tell stories better than anyone else in the world. We think that Hollywood actually is performing well on that premise, like that they tell a story better than anyone else in the world.
The second thing is that Hollywood has consolidated the decisions of what stories to tell into very few hands.
Jeff Harmon: Gatekeeper model.
Neal Harmon: Gatekeeper model, yeah. And that’s what’s different, is Angel’s fine with the craft of Hollywood and the capability, but then the gatekeeper and the decision-making we feel like has lost its way, it’s trapped in a bubble. And we’ve flipped the power structure so that the Angel community, the Angel Guild makes the decisions, rather than a few elite decision-makers.
Jeff Harmon: We don’t make the decisions. We can’t pick a film unless it goes through the Angel Guild first and the Angel Guild is over 100,000 people—
Neal Harmon: And growing.
Jeff Harmon: … and growing very rapidly, of people around the country, people around the world, that have either, one, invested in one of the projects, a crowdfunded project like “Dry Bar Comedy,” “The Chosen,” “Sound of Freedom,” etc.
They’ve invested in a project and then those projects, once you’ve invested in them, you get invited into the Angel Guild as a member and you get to review new content coming in and vote on that content to decide what gets through. You can join it by investing or you can join it by subscribing, so anybody who goes to angel.com/guild can join the guild.
They get a vote on the content that goes to theaters. They get two free movie tickets to every single movie that comes out. An example would be, you were part of the Angel Guild earlier this year, then you had a chance to watch “Sound of Freedom” in advance. And 30 million people worldwide saw “Sound of Freedom” in theaters, over 30 million people because a 1,000 Angel Guild members voted.
Allen: And said, “This is it. This is the film.”
Jeff Harmon: Yes. Not everybody votes on every project because we have over 21 films a week submitted into the Angel Guild and then the guild goes through those and they’re picking their favorites and they’re greenlighting them and then Angel Studios can only pick from the list that they greenlight. As chief content officer, I can’t pick a film unless it first passes the Angel Guild, can’t pick a film unless it first passes the Angel Guild by the rules that we’ve set in stone.
Allen: But anyone listening, if they wanted to join the guild, they could.
Jeff Harmon: They should go to angel.com/guild.
Allen: That sounds really fun.
Neil Harmon: It’s really fun, just to take extra time and look through a few torches.
Jeff Harmon: In my family, my kids, when they watch too much screen time, we say, “Harmons live on the other side of the screen.” In product world, the best toy, my favorite toy, is always Legos because you’d spend more of your time building than you do playing. That building is the play. The Angel Guild is that kind of a thing, where you’re living on the other side of the screen in Angel Studios more than on this side of the screen.
The final product of getting to go watch the “Sound of Freedom” in theaters is a celebration, but the fun part is going through and getting rid of the losers, picking winners, following them through the process, investing in them, giving filmmakers feedback.
So we’ve got a film coming out in 10 days called “The Shift.” It’s going to theaters nationwide. And this filmmaker took a $500 short film that he made, he made it by—it’s $500 of pizza on set, and he scraped together the short film. It turned out really good, much better than he expected. He submitted it to Angel Studios, the guild liked it, then it got crowdfunded. They raised over $6.5 million to make a feature film.
He got Neal McDonough from “Band of Brothers,” Sean Astin from “Lord of the Rings” and “Stranger Things.” They’ve got Liz Tabish from “The Chosen,” our own Liz Tabish. Paras Patel, who’s in “The Chosen,” plays Matthew. Liz plays Mary Magdalene.
Neal Harmon: Jordan Walker Ross.
Jeff Harmon: Who plays Little [James] in “The Chosen,” who was huge in Season Three. An all-star cast. Kris Polaha, who’s Hallmark’s biggest star, somebody just said this morning he’s the prince of Hallmark, and this works well. Just imagine the romance levels that Kris Polaha delivers in Hallmark, this is a dystopian romance, but imagine if it was directed by Christopher Nolan. That’s what “The Shift” is. It’s this sci-fi romance and it’s a modern retelling of the story of Job.
Allen: So fascinating.
Jeff Harmon: And so the guild greenlit this. Then when he came in with his rough cuts of the movie when it was done, he had to go back through the guild and get to the score that’s needed to go to theaters, and he had to go through the guild over, and over, and over again until—
Neal Harmon: He basically had to double his score. From the outset, his score was low, and then he had to double it.
Jeff Harmon: And so he just kept tweaking and he kept asking other filmmakers and the guild kept failing him. And then he gets up to a level where it’s passing the guild and now he’s going to theaters nationwide because the guild gave us the score that we needed to go to theaters.
And we can look at that guild score and we can have a really good idea of pretty close to what the audience Rotten Tomatoes score is going to look like, just based off the guild scores. So it’s very predictable.
So as a member of the guild, you get to choose what movies go to theaters, you get two movie tickets to every single movie. So all the guild members are getting two movie tickets to “The Shift.” That’s just part of their thing. They get two movie tickets, they can go to any theater, any showtime, and then they get early access when it goes to streaming.
So right now, “Sound of Freedom” is in the Angel Guild only for streaming, unless you want to buy it. So you can buy it for 20 bucks online or you can just go join the Angel Guild and you get “Sound of Freedom,” you get “After Death” early, you get two tickets to “The Shift,” you get two tickets to “Cabrini,” you get two tickets to a new movie we just announced called “Bonhoeffer.”
Allen: That’s exciting. I saw that announcement.
Jeff Harmon: And there’s others that are coming down the pipe that are equally exciting.
Allen: This is just turning moviemaking on its head in many ways. Why do we make movies? We make movies for the audience. And to actually bringing them into that process, it shouldn’t be so novel, but it is.
Now, let’s talk about some of the movies that have just released that are coming down the pike. You mentioned “After Death.” That has been neat to see the response that “After Death” has received. It’s still in theaters, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s still out in theaters.
Neal Harmon: It’s in a handful of theaters.
Jeff Harmon: Yeah, it’s in 150 theaters right now.
Neal Harmon: Its biggest run ended this last week.
Jeff Harmon: The goal was just to get as much run as we could out of it before Thanksgiving hits because that’s when all the big movies come and push it out. And that movie coming in after “Sound of Freedom” was like, “What should we do next? Let’s do a Halloween documentary for faith audiences.”
Allen: I love that thought process. Well, and it did phenomenally well, grossed over $11 million in theaters. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but talk a little bit about the question that is asked in that movie.
Neal Harmon: Well, the question is one that has been asked throughout human history: What happens after we die?
Jeff Harmon: But it takes a look at the evidence.
Neal Harmon: Yes. It combines actual scientific evidence, it combines some stories that are well-known and from multiple continents to find a common thread that happens to people when they are clinically dead, but then come back, what happens to them.
Jeff Harmon: There’s examples of people that were dead for 90 minutes or longer, and then they come back, and without brain damage, and they have vivid memories.
And the filmmakers did a beautiful job of taking music and what IndieWire, who actually didn’t like the film, but they described it as the universe’s most—what was the word they used, killer light show? The universe’s most killer light show. It’s just this beautiful light show, essentially, mixed in with these stories and this music.
And it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a documentary because you’re just going through story retold after story retold, dramatized, and then you’re getting very, very scientific views of what is happening when people pass, that they have out-of-body experiences where there are things when they’re clinically dead that they see in the room and they describe to the doctors or the surgeons after the fact, and the surgeons are like, “There’s no way this person could even know what was happening in the room, but they knew.”
Allen: So wild.
Neal Harmon: And you said you wanted to join the Angel Guild, Virginia. It’s available right now for Angel Guild members.
Allen: OK, more incentive.
Jeff Harmon: Yeah. And “After Death” isn’t even available to buy. The only way to watch it right now is either in the theater and one of the few select theaters left or if you join the Angel Guild, you’re going to get to watch it early.
If you join the Angel Guild, you’re going to get to watch it early and you get to watch “Sound of Freedom” early, and you get to watch the new “Tuttle Twins” episodes early, and you get to watch the new “Wingfeather” episodes early.
The guild is this community experience where we’re building together and changing the system together, and changing the future of entertainment. And when we get to a critical mass of guild members, the accuracy of picking the winners goes up. Then your launches in theaters become more successful because there’s more guild members ready to go.
And it’s just like a virtuous cycle where each time we cycle through another movie, through theaters, and are successful, the whole network grows. And together, we get to change the future of entertainment in a way that the collective group of people inside the Angel Guild get to decide how it looks.
Allen: So fascinating. Well, we have Thanksgiving just right around the corner this week, and the classic family Thanksgiving situation is, OK, we’re all stuffed with Turkey. Now, we want to watch something, but then an hourlong debate ensues over what do we watch? You guys have so much good content on Angel Studio’s platform. What would be some of your highest recommendations for family, specifically this Thanksgiving?
Neal Harmon: One of the things that happened earlier this week in an interview is somebody started asking about how Angel’s not doing tent-pole IP, like traditional Hollywood. We’re not doing superhero movies or we’re not doing “John Wick” series, or we’re not approaching it that way. And I told them that I was at an after show for “Sound of Freedom” in Tennessee and a filmmaker came up and said to me, “What’s so exciting about Angel is that people are showing up because it’s Angel. Not because necessarily the movie, it’s because they trust what Angel stands for.”
And what Angel stands for are the views of those 100,000 and growing people, and soon to be your view, right? And as these people watch these shows and they answer the question, does this amplify light? Does this show amplify light? Is it true? Is it honest? Is it noble? Is it just? Is it excellent? These principles. We think that that’s the greatest recommendation that you can have in the world today, we believe, is the green light of the Angel Guild, that’s the greatest recommendation. So anything that the Angel Guild has passed, you should check out as a family.
Jeff Harmon: Yeah, a really fun one for Thanksgiving that’s all ages is “The Wingfeather Saga.”
The first season’s out, there’s six episodes. My 8-year-old watched it and she said, “‘Frozen’ is no longer my favorite movie.” She calls it Elsa. “Elsa is no longer my favorite movie. ‘Wingfeather Saga’ is now my favorite movie.”
I just talked to a reporter two days ago, and they said, “Oh, I watched ‘The Wingfeather Saga.’ We’re huge fans.” And I was like, “Oh, your kids like it?” And they’re like, “Oh no, we’re just watching it.”
Neal Harmon: “We’re not watching it with our kids.”
Jeff Harmon: Yeah, it’s got this very painted art look. It’s based off the bestselling book series “The Wingfeather Saga” by Andrew Peterson. If you’re wishing there was more C.S. Lewises in the world and “Chronicles of Narnia” and “Lord of the Rings,” this is on that level. It’s a really good book series. It’s very symbolic.
Neal Harmon: It’s whimsical.
Jeff Harmon: It’s whimsical, fantasy, and it’s all very allegorical and teaches true principles. It teaches families how to stick together through hard times.
Allen: Powerful. Now, during the holiday season, “The Shift” is going to be out in theaters starting December.
Jeff Harmon: The 1st.
Allen: Dec. 1. That’s right. So what can we expect from Angel Studios in 2024? What are we looking forward to next year?
Neal Harmon: The slate is going to be—that we’re planning on—eight titles launched in the theaters. We’ve got a number of seasons that are coming out as well.
Jeff Harmon: We did four titles this year, for reference.
Neal Harmon: So we’re doubling it. And then we’re launching Season Four of “The Chosen.” We’re launching Season Two of “Wingfeather Saga,” Season Three of “Tuttle Twins,” and what am I missing?
Jeff Harmon: “Cabrini” in theaters. “Bonhoeffer” in theaters. We’re working on a movie called “Young Washington” with Jon Erwin, who did “I Can Only Imagine” and “Jesus Revolution.”
We share a very strong passion for the founding of America, and essentially, our attempt is to redo what we did for the Bible with the founding of America, where we build out a universe around—it’s just an underexplored area of entertainment, is to be able to go through one of the most important periods in world history, which is the Founders.
There’s another one called “Homestead.” This is based on the book series Black Autumn.
Neal Harmon: They also have to pass the guild, but they’d like to take it to theaters.
Jeff Harmon: There are a bunch of others that are currently in the process right now that are coming down, and they are awesome. They’re just not announced yet.
Then there’s “Bonhoeffer,” which is the story of the pastor in Germany who stood up to Hitler, and his story’s incredible. This movie is not what anybody would expect from an independent film. This is a big movie. And so that one we just announced.
And eventually we’re going to have it to where our goal is to have 12 movies a year released in theaters so that every single month of membership in the Angel Guild equates to enough tickets in the box office. You get enough tickets to pay for your whole entire membership. Right now, the early members, they still get all the early streaming. And think of it like a Patreon where you’re all working together to build this.
Neal Harmon: And why are we doing it this way instead of the way Netflix does it? We have learned that the community aspect of watching films creates an experience that shapes culture. It becomes part of the culture.
There’s lots of things that have come to Netflix that nobody hears about. They hear about it if they’re on Netflix, but they don’t become part of the cultural conversation the way that “Sound of Freedom” did. “Sound of Freedom” is arguably the most talked about story in this decade. And that’s what the Angel Guild wants. That’s what we all want, is we want to shape cultures.
Allen: “The Shift” is out in theaters Dec. 1. I do have to ask, as a major fan of “The Chosen,” do we have the release date of Season Four?
Jeff Harmon: February, it’s coming out. So “The Chosen,” this is done with Fathom Events. And then after that it comes to the streaming app, then it’ll come to Angels Studios app for streaming.
Neal Harmon: And the goal is to launch it all into streaming by the week of Easter.
Allen: Oh, perfect. Well, gentlemen, thank you so much for your time today.
Jeff Harmon: Thank you.
Neal Harmon: Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Virginia. Thank you.
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