SALT LAKE CITY — Neal Harmon, co-founder and CEO of VidAngel, believes if Utahns haven’t yet heard of “The Chosen,” they likely will soon.
“The Chosen” is a faith-based multipart streaming show recounting the life of Jesus Christ. It was directed and co-written by Dallas Jenkins, who used a low-budget pilot episode (“The Shepherd”) in 2017 to generate more than $10 million and orchestrate one of the highest crowdfunded media projects in history.
The eight-episode first season was released in 2019. Featured on VidAngel and across multiple platforms, the series has more than 45 million views and nearly 7 million app downloads in 180 countries. Audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive and more than 500,000 have purchased the DVD and Blu-ray Disc, Harmon said.
What’s now noteworthy for Utahns is that Season 2 will be filmed in Utah at the state’s version of ancient Israel in Goshen, Utah County, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a replica Jerusalem movie set to film scenes from the Bible (2011) and the Book of Mormon (2017).
Jenkins announced the news in a Facebook video Tuesday.
“We are greenlit for Season 2 because we are going to be filming in Goshen, Utah,” Jenkins said in the video. “(This is) probably the most extraordinary set I’ve ever seen in my life. What we are going to be able to accomplish with this set, because of some of the opportunities that have opened up for us, is going to be life-altering. We are going to be able to tell the stories of Jesus and his followers in a way that elevates even what we were able to do previously. The story deserves the best and this is the best. There is not another set like this in the entire world.”
The plan is to begin filming later this year, the director said in the video.
The first season of “The Chosen” was filmed in Texas. Filmmakers also considered filming at sets in Bulgaria and Malta. Audiences can view Season 1 for free with the option to “pay it forward,” which is working. Harmon says this model has raised about $6.5 million of the $10 million needed to make the second season. The series is expected to span seven seasons.
The show has already received a lot of interest from viewers in Utah, especially among Latter-day Saints, Catholics, Evangelicals and other Christian denominations, Harmon said.
One fan, Mindy Oja, posted her reaction in all caps on Facebook.
“I AM SO EXCITED!” she wrote. “‘The Chosen’ was made by a truly devoted and amazing group of Christians. It was not made by my faith but it speaks whole heartedly to what we believe. And now ... Season 2 is going to be filmed in GOSHEN UTAH on the set our church built for the Bible videos. ... I am so excited that we get to make a contribution to this amazing Christ-centered show in this way!”
In a recent podcast, Jenkins said he hopes to completely distinguish the series from other past depictions of Jesus. He believes that telling the story of Christ’s life over multiple seasons will allow viewers to see more and dig deeper into his life.
What audiences love is the portrayal of the Savior, played by actor Jonathan Roumie, as a compassionate man who also exhibits personality and a sense of humor. The stories are told through the perspectives of those surrounding Jesus. The dialogue doesn’t include exact wording from the scriptures, although it does convey the central messages and principles.
“Whereas most Bible projects just rush through miracle to miracle, Bible verse to Bible verse, and you don’t get a chance to connect with the people involved. You don’t get a chance to know them. So there’s no emotional resonance,” Jenkins said in the podcast. “‘The Chosen’ is impacting people around the world ... because of the emotional resonance. I think that when you’re seeing Jesus through the eyes of those who actually met him and were changed by him, you identify with and connect with (that).”
Hank Smith, a BYU assistant professor in the Religious Studies Department and Latter-day Saint author, said it took him a few episodes to warm up to the series but then he and his family were hooked. He found the characters to be likable and compelling even if some artistic liberties are taken. He thinks the church’s Goshen movie set will be ideal for filming the series.
Smith wants the show’s creators to know he’s grateful for creating “The Chosen.”
“Thank you for taking on this project,” Smith wrote in an email. “Thank you for doing something that we normally don’t see out of the television industry today — faith promoting, uplifting, and inspiring content that leaves you wanting to be a better person. Most of all, thank you for making something my teenage children loved. My daughter felt like the show brought her closer to the Savior, which is my greatest hope as a father.”
Another father, Ben Arkell, wrote of a similar experience in his blog. After watching one of the episodes with a particularly moving ending, Arkell’s 17-year-old daughter’s exclaimed: “‘I want to meet Jesus so bad!’”
“That’s something I expected to hear from my 6-year-old, but not from my oldest daughter,” Arkell wrote. “So when I heard that, I knew that this show was a blessing for our whole family.”
Fan Shad Anderson, of Mahomet, Illinois, said filmmakers “nailed” their depiction of the Savior in “The Chosen.”
“The perfection of Christ isn’t that he spoke in Shakespearean, King James English. Or that he was stoic and serious all the time,” Anderson said. “I understand the hesitancy you portray as anything different because you could easily get it wrong. But I think they nail the balance of real and divine.”
Anderson’s favorite, however, are the liberties taken in the conversations Christ has with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.
“We can’t know if that’s the tone of the conversation, but picking a tone is better than the ‘no tone’ so often presented in other portrayals,” he said.
“The way they depicted Christ as approachable, fun, humorous, kind, and at the same time serious when he needed to be is what set it apart for me,” Trimble said. “It just felt like that is the way Christ would have been. The in-depth background into the characters, frailties, strengths, and journeys of the apostles made it just feel so real.”
Riverton resident Nicole Shepard has watched Season 1 at least three times. While some have claimed Roumie’s portrayal of Jesus Christ is irreverent, she disagrees.
“Maybe what others perceive to be irreverence is what I love about it,” Shepard said. “We forget what a scandalous person he was. ... Jesus ruffled feathers, to say the least. He made people uncomfortable. He did during his mortal ministry and he continues to do so to anyone paying attention today. It stands to reason that a good portrayal of Jesus should nettle people a little, especially believers. ... Jesus’ perfection was not that he walked around with a halo, a serene expression, and a kind and quotable phrase on his tongue.
“He was perfect in that he did the will of his father to perfection. I love that ‘The Chosen’ chose to portray his humanity as intensely as his divinity.”
Steve Densley, of American Fork, watched the show with his son while awaiting reassignment to another Latter-day Saint mission due to COVID-19. He said it was the “perfect series” to watch as a family during social isolation. Along with liking the characters, he appreciated that the story stayed true to the Gospels.
“It felt authentic,” Densley said. “Some of the ways in which the producers of the show interpreted the scriptures helped me see the story in a new light. ... I have loved the music as well. I would love to see where they will take it in Season 2.”