Producing “The Chosen”: From Concept to the Highest Crowd-Funded Film Project in History

by | Leadership, Production, Video, Worship Service Planning

By Mark Foley, originally posted in September of 2020 on Church Production

“Our fans have responded well to the series and tend to gravitate toward favorite scenes as opposed to favorite episodes. Some connect to stories they’ve known and loved for years while others fall in love with the backstories we have crafted based on the scriptures.,” says Justen Overlander, associate producer, The Chosen.

What is keeping you from realizing your production goals? Is it finding money or support? Is it a lack of time? Is it a lack of imagination and creativity? It might be some of all of these.

I think all of us have been there – in a production cycle where things just don’t seem to be working and there are more questions than answers. It happens. If there ever was a production that’s experienced an unconventional approach, it’s the online series The Chosen.

Prior to The Chosen going into production for its second season, I had an opportunity to sit down and talk to Justen Overlander who is an associate producer for the show.  Justen shared some of his thoughts on the production and the future of the series.

Justen Overlander on the set of The Chosen

Question: The Chosen (Season One) has been a huge success online. Can you give us a little background about the series?

Justen Overlander: The Chosen started on a farm in Illinois where creator/director Dallas Jenkins shot a short film for his suburban Chicago church’s Christmas Eve service. “The Shepherd,” told the nativity story through the eyes of an outcast shepherd.

Up to that point, most stories about Jesus have been about…well…Jesus. But Dallas had an idea to tell the stories of the gospels through the eyes of those who walked with Jesus.

Dallas’s short film made its way to VidAngel Studios and they loved it and were immediately on board with Dallas’s vision for the first-ever multi-season show about the gospels. Before Season One was even finished, The Chosen became the highest crowdfunded film project in history. Season One is available free on The Chosen app in every country in the world and translated into nearly 100 languages.

Question: Can you tell us about what the series was shot on?

Justen Overlander: We shot on the Arri Alexa Mini with the Cooke Panchro / I Classic Primes.

Question: How many locations did you use?

Justen Overlander: Season One of The Chosen was shot entirely in and around Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas. We used a soundstage in downtown Dallas for the bulk of our interior shots and a set near Weatherford for our Capernaum and Cana exteriors.

Our Sea of Galilee is actually a man-made reservoir outside of Ft. Worth. The Israel landscapes in the distance are the work of our visual effects team.

Question: Who are some of the people who made the series really work on the set?

Justen Overlander: Director Dallas Jenkins continues to bring a clear vision for The Chosen. Teaming with the talented cinematographer, Akis Konstantakopoulos, and visionary production designer, James Cunningham, the look of The Chosen was meticulously planned and executed. Our visual effects team, led by Chris Juen and Will Nicholson, complete the first-century look by adding digital elements that enhance the scope of what’s seen on screen.

Dallas Jenkins and Justen Overlander on set with some of the cast members

Really, though, so many pieces come together on set to create The Chosen. The production team from Out of Order Studios, led by Chad Gundersen, keeps things smooth and within budget. We filmed with a combination of Los Angeles-based cast/crew and Texas-based cast/crew and the groups complemented each other well.

Question: How long did it take to shoot each episode? Do your viewers have a favorite?

Justen Overlander: We shot episodes 1-4 in 31 days, released them to the public, and raised the money to shoot episodes 5-8 six months later in 30 days. We shoot non-sequentially, so it’s impossible to break down exactly how long each episode takes. On any given day we may shoot scenes from three or four episodes.  

Our fans have responded well to the series and tend to gravitate toward favorite scenes as opposed to favorite episodes. Some connect to stories they’ve known and loved for years while others fall in love with the backstories we have crafted based on the scriptures.

Question: Can you tell me about your workflow? What was your post-production solution?

Justen Overlander: Post production was done with Kappa Studios in Burbank, which is where all our footage was sent during filming so our editor John Quinn could tend to the first cut while we were still filming. All of our final audio, music, and color are finalized there.

Question: It seems like a lot of thought went into the distribution process. How did that come about?

Justen Overlander: Distribution was done with VidAngel Studios. They created the app that allows people to connect The Chosen free and easy directly to their streaming device anywhere in the world. They developed the app from the ground up and are pioneering what very well could become a new standard in film and television distribution.

Justen as a cast member in The Chosen

Question: What were some of the challenges that you had to overcome from a technical or creative perspective to make season one happen?

Justen Overlander: We’re doing this entirely outside the Hollywood system, and challenges are just part of the deal. We don’t have a studio financing us and we are, in fact, publicly financed, so if we go over budget, we don’t have any one person or company that can write a check to cover. We’re fortunate to have a talented team with attention to details and a great work ethic to keep the ship moving forward even amidst challenging currents.

Question: I understand that The Chosen team is gearing up for season two. How is that going? What is it like working and securing funding right now, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic?

Justen Overlander: In episode 7, Simon questions Jesus’ decision to call Matthew, and Jesus tells Simon to ‘get used to different.’ Those four words have become a slogan of sorts, both for the show and for the times we’re living in.

The way we’re doing The Chosen outside of the Hollywood system is different, sure, but the world is different today from anything most of us have ever known. We’re planning to shoot Season Two this fall but it’s going to be an adjustment from the first season with strict restrictions on who’s allowed on set and when. We’re consulting some of the top health experts in the world and assuring we maintain safety for all cast and crew and work towards releasing more episodes for the fans that have been so patient.

Question: Again, because people will ask: How did you ensure accuracy when telling the story of Jesus? Did you get any pushback from expanding the story and not going exactly word for word from the Bible?

Justen Overlander: We get pushback every day, but that’s to be expected as we grow and reach more and more people. Some don’t like that we are adding plausible backstories to the people and events recorded in scripture, but we’re not a replacement for scripture. We are a television show based on the greatest stories ever told.

Truthfully, the pushback is so minuscule compared to the overwhelmingly positive support. We’ve heard from people whose prayer life has been reignited thanks to The Chosen and those who’ve gone back into scripture with a deeper understanding of it and even people who have accepted Christ after downloading and watching the series on our free app. Believers and nonbelievers alike are responding favorably as indicated by our 9.8 ratings on IMDb and 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Question: What do you want people to take away from The Chosen?

Justen Overlander: More than anything, we want The Chosen to expose more people to Jesus and His ministry. We’re not the end goal;  we’re simply a tool to get people back into scripture and closer with the savior of the world.

Here is some other information on the series. The Chosen is:

    •    The first-ever multi-season show about Jesus.

    •    The #1 highest crowd-funded project of all-time at $10 million from over 19,000 people.

    •    Translated into more than 100 languages and counting.

    •    Ranked in the top 50 entertainment apps on ios and android.

    •    Generating income for future seasons when viewers choose to “pay it forward” after viewing.

Justen Overlander will be sharing his keynote address on how to REENGAGE your congregation and community with your church’s ministry at CFX 2021.

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