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Elgin filmmaker wants people to #bingejesus through a streaming app

‘The Chosen’ director Dallas Jenkins isn’t waiting for Hollywood to ‘lower the scepter’ for faith-based content

Dallas Jenkins, an Elgin resident who previously worked in Hollywood, says while he has nothing against the film industry structure, he wanted to run point on the stories he wants to tell. | Provided Photo

Filmmaker Dallas Jenkins wants people to have an obsession with Jesus.

“We feel like if people can binge watch and have watch parties all over the world for shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Stranger Things,’ there’s no reason not to binge watch a show about Jesus,” Jenkins said. “The term binge means to, you know, kind of have an obsession with something, and we figure out how to have an obsession with Jesus, so we might as well encourage that.”

The Chosen” is the first multi-season TV series that depicts the life of Jesus Christ.

Jenkins, who wears a hoodie that says “#BingeJesus” in the show’s trailer, says he wants the masses to see Jesus differently.

“We’re trying to make this a little bit more personal, intimate, immediate,” Jenkins said. “[Jesus] tells jokes, he laughs, he dances with his friends; we don’t normally see that in other Bible projects.”

Consumers can see season one of “The Chosen” through the show’s app, and VidAngel, a new faith-based app that aims to “empower” families to forgo content that has lewd language, nudity and violence.

Through the end of the month, the show’s app is providing free content to help families through the coronavirus pandemic — that includes the entire first season of “The Chosen.”

The show is the product of equity crowdfunding — a practice where production companies can offer a share of the profits to people who invest in their projects.

This type of fundraising raised $10 million from more than 16,000 investors, making Jenkins’ project the beneficiary of the largest crowdfunding campaign for a TV series or film ever, surpassing “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Normally, to make a TV show, “you need the approval of a system of gatekeepers, you need their approval for money, you need their approval for content,” Jenkins said. “... I didn’t want to wait for Hollywood to lower its scepter. Especially with a project that is this important — and this nuanced.

“Telling the story of Jesus requires a lot of attention to detail and consideration of the audience, because he’s the most important figure in history for billions of people. … And we also believe that the audience trusts us more, knowing that the content is in our hands, and that we’re not influenced or inspired by anyone else.”

Jesus (Jonathan Roumie, right) ministers to a leper on “The Chosen.”
VidAngel

Jenkins, whose father, Jerry B. Jenkins, is a Christian novelist known for his “Left Behind” series, has made faith-based films such as “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” and “Midnight Clear.” He says he wants to restore the trust people used to have with the entertainment industry.

“They don’t need a subscription,” Jenkins said. “They don’t need approval. They don’t need a gatekeeper. And that has allowed us to get into people’s hands, even with the coronavirus, even with economic strife. And even with the distrust of institutions that many people have.”

Jenkins is a former member of the Executive Leadership Team at Harvest Bible Chapel, the Rolling Meadows-based church that fired James MacDonald — its founder and senior pastor — for comments he made amid allegations of church mismanagement.

Jenkins, who now is writing for season two of “The Chosen,” said that he wanted to avoid the “mistakes” that were made at the church when raising money for the show.

“I wanted to make sure that the audience can see behind the curtain,” Jenkins said. “And so, for example, this is investment, not a donation. So the $10 million that was raised for investment, it was SEC regulated. And everything is out there; we’re not hiding anything.”

“The Chosen” was based on a short film Jenkins made at a friend’s Marengo farm and a nearby sheep farm for Harvest Bible’s Christmas Eve service. An Elgin resident and Cubs fan who is a conservative evangelical, Jenkins says he has no desire to “say anything new or change anything that’s there” when it comes to how the Scripture is portrayed on his show.

He was also intentional when it came to diversity in casting for the show.

Many of the actors on the show were people of color — not always the case on TV shows and movies based on the Bible.

“We’re not trying to get big stars, and we’re not trying to get white people; this is a show that’s set in the Middle East, and we want to accurately reflect that,” Jenkins said. “Also, the area where we set the show, Capernaum, was a trade route. And so there were many different ethnicities and countries reflected. … I think that on the spiritual level, I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase all the barriers that Jesus broke down.”