HEART OF UTAH — ‘The Chosen’ CEO Derral Eves would be one of the first to tell you they wanted their show to be different. So, instead of pitching the idea for their multi-season show about the life of Jesus Christ and his followers to any of the big Hollywood studios, they went to the public.
“I think it’s really important that everyone knows this is not an LDS project. This is 100%, written and directed by an evangelical, my partner Dallas Jenkins,” Eves said.
“And basically, we had this self-funded from all different faiths and backgrounds all around the world. We got 19,000 people backing the project and we broke the all-time crowdfunding record in film and television and raised over 10 million dollars. For a Jesus show. Like that’s amazing!”
That first season debuted about this time a year ago and has seen some pretty remarkable success. To date, the first season has been viewed over 100 million times in more than 180 different countries around the world. It’s also been translated into more than 50 languages.
The Chosen: Utah connection
Season 2 of The Chosen is set to release on Easter Sunday, and a large portion of it was filmed right here in Utah, but its genesis as a show is in Utah, too.
Eves said he was approached by his friend Jeffery Harmon who is one of the founders of Angel Studios at a conference he puts on every year here in the Beehive State.
“And he said you have to see this, and I’m like, I’m trying to put on a conference,” Eves recalled. “And he said no you have to see this. And that’s where I was introduced to Dallas Jenkins’ creation of the Nativity, through the eyes of the Shepard.”
That unique way of telling the story hooked him and that conversation eventually led to the creation of The Chosen.
Filming in the time of COVID
Just as filming began and season one was about to be released… COVID-19 hit.
That’s when they decided to do something different again. They released the whole season for free.
“We decided to do something so disruptive for a for-profit company, we decided to give The Chosen away for free, and I’m here to tell you that one decision to do that led to funding season two.”
Securing funding was just one hurdle they had to overcome. They still had to figure out how to film an entire production in the middle of a pandemic and keep everyone safe at the same time. That’s something they had to get right the first time, because halting production after they started would cost millions of dollars.
“We had pretty much decided on Malta, Bulgaria, or Utah, and we found out Utah was a no, and that was because of COVID,” Eves said.
At that point, Dallas Jenkins, the writer and director, went back to the farm where he’d filmed the short that inspired The Chosen and prayed they’d be able to keep going.
“It was the next day that we got an answer that hey, Goshen is a go,” Eves said.
Locking down a location was just one hurdle. Next, they had to figure out how to meet the safety requirements set up by the Screen Actors Guild. So the show hired a crew of 11 people to administer COVID tests to the cast and crew on a frequent basis.
Eves said that process cost them something north of $800,000 dollars.
It all paid off though. Throughout filming season 2 Eves said they had just one isolated case of COVID.
And all the testing and prep work they locked down right here in Utah helped them pull off one of their biggest scenes ever filled with thousands of extras.
“We had another miracle. The last episode of season two is the Sermon on the Mount, [and] you need like, you know, a lot of extras!” Eves said.
Knowing how they had been successful here, they were able to test 2,300 people that then filled a hillside in Texas where they filmed that final shot.
“We only turned away a couple of cars, and yet, we were able to actually do that Sermon on the Mount scene, and it looks so epic having actual people that weren’t CGI into it, and it looked so amazing.”
That streamlined process also got noticed, and drew praise, from certain Hollywood tabloid that isn’t known for its favorable headlines.
“That was the first positive piece that TMZ actually did. And they applauded us, and said Hollywood can learn from what The Chosen is doing. Because we did it right.”
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