“I didn’t want to make Christian films,” says Dallas Jenkins, creator of record-breaking Jesus series “The Chosen”
Dallas Jenkins is the writer and director of The chosen, the very first multi-season series on the life of Jesus Christ. But he was not always a fan of Christian films.
“When I first moved to Los Angeles and was working in Hollywood and developing projects, I was very passionate about the fact that I does not have want to make Christian films, ”Jenkins said Eternity via Zoom.
“I wanted to include my faith in the stories, of course, but I didn’t like Christian films. My wife and I were almost embarrassed to be called Christian filmmakers. “
“We were almost embarrassed to be called a Christian filmmaker.”
“I remember mowing the lawn, cutting my grass – it was probably in 2006 or around 2007 – and I was thinking and praying a little bit, and I felt like God, just like love at first sight , was like, ‘I want you to make movies for my people. I want you to stop apologizing for making a Christian movie.’
Jenkins’ response to God’s leadership was, in his words, “kind of a rebel.”
“In my mind, I thought, ‘No. Christian films are so bad. And I felt like he was like, ‘So do them right’. My people also deserve good films ”.
Jenkins walked inside and told his wife Amanda, “I feel like I’m being called to make shameless Christian movies and go ahead and stop trying to ‘turn around. pot ”, as they say, or to try to be careful and hide the message a little, or to try to please the general secular public. “
Jenkins’ wife Amanda was not impressed.
“She was like, ‘Oh, man!’” He said. “She just didn’t like it. But there was that moment where I thought, ‘Okay, I don’t have to try to please a particular band, and I just need to tell the stories that God wants me to. recount.’ “
Jenkins accepted God’s call and has since directed Christian films. His first explicitly Christian film, What if?, was his best movie so far in his career and worked well.
Fast forward to now, and The chosen – which is not just an overtly Christian television series, but a series about Christ himself – is an unequivocal success.
But between his first successes with What if? and The chosen Jenkins had to face a major professional failure.
Five loaves of bread and two fish
“What’s really interesting about The chosen is that this project actually grew out of one of the biggest professional disappointments of my life, ”Jenkins said in interviews like this one.
“I was stuck at home on Friday with my wife at around the lowest point of my career, crying and praying and trying to make sense of it all and trying to figure out what was to come next,” he says, referring to the moment when his film The resurrection of Gavin Stone flop at the box office.
Their disappointment was exacerbated by how much Jenkins and Amanda had felt God’s hand on the film until the moment – in Jenkins’ words – “it bombed”. The film had brought together unlikely partners, including a company that produced horror films, a successful wrestling company, Universal Studios and Walden Media. And although it was a Christian film with non-Christian investors, Jenkins and the Chicago church he worked in retained full control of the content.
Other films were planned. Jenkins’ future as a Hollywood director was bright. Yet in just two hours, as low box office numbers rolled in, Jenkins’ career prospects collapsed.
“In two hours, I went from a director with a very bright future who had finally succeeded in Hollywood, to a director with no future,” Jenkins explains. “I remember being so hurt and confused.”
As the couple cried, prayed and tried to deal with the failure, Amanda felt that God would imprint two things on her heart. The first was the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. The second was the phrase “I do impossible math”.
“In two hours, I went from a director with a very bright future who had finally succeeded in Hollywood, to a director with no future.”
Together they reread the Bible account of one of Jesus’ most famous miracles. Although they probably read it hundreds of times, they noticed for the first time how much Jesus was responsible not only for the miracle itself, but also for creating a need for the miracle.
“He knew they were exhausted and tired. In fact, the disciples came to him and said, “We have to bring food to these people, we have to send them home,” and Jesus said, “Oh, they are so hungry that if we send them away. at home, they weak on the way. He knew it. In fact, it was his fault. It was he who had been talking for so long that he had made them hungry. He had brought them to the place where there was only one miracle left, ”Jenkins said.
He notes that Jesus could have miraculously made food appear in each person on the knees of the crowd, but he did not.
“He asked them to go and get five loaves of bread and two fish. Then when he multiplied it, he made them go and distribute it. He made them do whatever they didn’t need him for.
Together, they wondered if God was going to miraculously change the box office numbers over the hours. Was it the “impossible math”?
But no, the film’s box office numbers only got worse.
Jenkins stayed awake that night, writing a ten-page memo analyzing the film’s failure that identified all the possible mistakes he and others had made.
At 4 a.m., a message appeared on his Facebook. It was from a friend – someone he only knew online and rarely spoke to. He said, “Remember, your job is not to feed the 500. It is only to provide the breads and the fish.”
Shocked, Jenkins wondered if his computer had recorded his conversations that day. He asked the person why they sent him this message – and at 4 a.m. They told him that they were in Romania and that they had just felt that God was commanding them to send the message.
“I can define my life as before and after this moment,” Jenkins explains.
“Because I knew at that time that as a person who controlled a lot of things and had a vision – a good vision – for a lot of things, it was not my job. [to get] the results. My job was to get these five loaves of bread and the two fish and make them as healthy and good as possible, and everything after that was up to him.
Jenkins says that at that time, for the first time in his life, it was really good never to make another movie.
“I was perfectly fine if God didn’t have what I thought I wanted for me. I was happy, ”he says – explaining the difference between joy, which one feels under any circumstances, and happiness, which is temporary. “I was prepared not to make another movie.”
In the weeks that followed, Jenkins got involved in making a short film for his church’s Christmas Eve service – a film about the birth of Christ from the perspective of the shepherds.
“Just this bun and some fish for my church,” he said. Yet, while he was filming, a new idea for a television series about the life of Jesus began to germinate in him.
Long story short, the short film Jenkins made for his church ended up in the hands of a distribution company who contacted Jenkins. He told them about his idea for a TV series. They said they wanted to support it and wanted crowdfunding for the cost.
Jenkins was not optimistic “because crowdfunding rarely works and it’s usually for very small projects.”
The crowdfunding record at the time was $ 5.7 million, and that was for an already famous project. The top five crowdfunding were all for media projects on famous shows or movies that already had a large fan base.
“We had nothing, and I was coming out of a big bomb,” he says. “[But] I was in this moment of bread and fish, and that is why I was open to it.
Jenkins says he was okay with everything that had happened and he honestly thought they were going to raise $ 800.
What happened next not only blew Jenkins away, but broke all records around media crowdfunding projects.
Showcasing the short film Jenkins made for his church, the crowdfunding was an outrageous success. It became the largest and most lucrative crowd-funded media project of all time, with 19,000 people donating their finances to raise more than $ 10 million.
Sitting at Jenkins’ computer, watching the crowdfunding website hit the ten million mark – which was enough money to make the entire first season of The chosen – a thought suddenly struck his wife, “like lightning.”
“She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I do impossible math!’ Jenkins says. “That’s what it meant.”
Now, with two seasons released and the third already written, crowdfunding for season three is underway. So far the funds for Episodes 1-5 have been raised and Episode 6 has started.
Already, The chosen has captivated viewers around the world and has been translated into over 50 languages - and more to come.
It’s completely free to watch on The Chosen app, available for iPhone and Android. It connects directly to streaming devices with no fees or subscriptions required, generating revenue for future seasons when viewers choose to ‘pay it forward’ after viewing. And for those who prefer to ignore the technical side of apps and streaming, there’s good news with The chosen will be released on DVD in Australia this week.