MIDLOTHIAN, Texas — As filming of Season 3 nears completion, cast and crew of the popular series “The Chosen” are still marveling about one particularly challenging and unforgettable scene captured in June — Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.
First of all, they needed thousands of extras and weren’t sure how many would come.
To qualify, participants were asked to “pay it forward” $1,000 to “The Chosen,” ($100 extra for each additional person), bring their own home-designed, first-century costume and cover their own expenses to Texas where they were required to pass a COVID-19 test before sitting in a field for hours under the blazing sun.
More than 9,000 fans responded to pay it forward, and over 12,000 participated in the filming over three days.
Every time creator and director Dallas Jenkins called “cut,” thousands pulled umbrellas from beneath blankets to create shade from the roasting Texas sun.
Producers said one couple came with a marriage certificate. They located a minister in the crowd and with thousands of extras forming a massive circle around them, were married on the set.
One man suffered a heart attack but was well cared for by on-site medical personnel. A family member told producers the man lives alone and suggested he might not have survived if the heart attack had occurred when he was at home, so being there was a blessing.
Chad Gunderson, one of the show’s main producers, missed the monumental occasion because he said he tested positive for COVID-19.
“I didn’t have one symptom, but I had to follow protocol. Even the producer has to miss some big ones sometimes,” Gunderson said with a smile. “I did get a lot of encouragement. My wife told me exactly how great it was.”
The feeding of the 5,000 was one of five memorable scenes filmed for the series that Gunderson and fellow producer Chris Juen discussed while meeting with news media in August during an event at Camp Hoblitzelle, a camp located south of Dallas where cast and crew are filming Season 3.
In each case, the producers acknowledged heavenly assistance, guidance and circumstances in filming these specific scenes.
“What we have learned from all these ‘Red Sea’ moments is that we’re all on God’s time anyway,” Juen said. “And his plan is so much better than ours.”
Sermon on the Mount, Season 3
Three days before “The Chosen” filmed Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the weather was gorgeous, Juen said.
But on the morning of the appointed day, the sky was overcast and foggy. The temperature dropped to chilly. Production was halted at one point due to a rain storm. But the weather change created a more authentic scene for what producers needed.
“People were frustrated because we had to stop for about 10 minutes while the rain was coming down,” Juen said. “But when we went back out, we couldn’t recreate what was there. ... That’s another one of those things where you can’t plan it, it just kind of happened.”
‘Miracle’ of the miracle of the fish, Season 1
Juen has 20 years of experience inside high-end visual effects. To pull off the first season’s miracle of the fish with computer-generated imagery would normally require three to four months.
“The Chosen” had four days.
“Dallas Jenkins, who is not a CGI director, said he’s never had to trust two people more with a big scene in his life,” Juen said.
The man tasked with producing the special effect of the fish struggled as the deadline approached. He told Juen he had tried everything and nothing worked. Juen and Gunderson said they delayed telling Jenkins, praying the man would find a solution.
Finally the man called. He said he awoke in the night with an idea, something he hadn’t tried in many years. He utilized the method and it worked.
“People still don’t believe that there was not one real fish in that entire scene,” Gunderson said. “It’s the miracle of the miracle of the fish.”
More fog on the lake, Season 2
“The Chosen” was filming a scene on a lake under clear conditions one day, and the next there was fog.
“When you shoot one thing on one day, and you come back and shoot the same scene three days later, it has got to match, right?” Gunderson said. “So we get there and there was thick fog and you couldn’t see.”
So cast and crew waited for a few hours. The director and actors reviewed the script to make adjustments until they couldn’t cut any more because it would alter the story.
Just as they were ready to call it a day and send everyone home, the fog lifted.
“It didn’t just slowly dissipate, it was just gone,” Gunderson said.
There was a mad scramble to get everyone and everything back in place to maximize the final hours of shooting. Some who had just left were hurriedly called back to the set. Even with a few hours, the producers feared there wasn’t enough time.
To their amazement, the two actors in the boat were able to shoot the scene within the remaining three or four hours.
“It was definitely one of those things where you can’t explain it, because logistically it didn’t make sense,” Gunderson said. “How much are we relying on him? ... It was amazing. Dallas and the team were able to power through that scene.”
The ‘oner’ shot, Season 2
In filmmaking, a “oner” is a lengthy, continuous single-take shot.
The third episode of Season 2 opens with just such a shot, depicting a long line of people who have come to see Jesus while his disciples camp a short distance away.
“The camera rig is so heavy, it’s like 90 pounds, so the guy says we got about three shots of doing this thing completely,” Juen said. “They did a lot of rehearsing because it’s like a 14-minute play. The camera guy is participating in it because he’s got to be exactly in position at every which time, all the actors have to hit their marks. It’s crazy,”
The first take almost made it, but there was a hiccup.
The second take was foiled by shadows near the end of the day. So they waited for dusk and a final attempt.
The third started twice with an actor forgetting lines. Jenkins called timeout to help the actor through it, then they tried one last time.
“It was perfect,” Juen said. “It was God’s timing because as soon as it ended, the sun had set. So literally what we did is we captured the sun setting during that entire 14 minutes.”
Gunderson remembers Jenkins was nearly in tears.
“He couldn’t believe we got it,” Gunderson said. “You could just see the exhaustion on him. It was one of those ‘woo-hoo’ moments.”