Like any Hollywood-esque production depicting Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, The Chosen needed plenty of extras for the scene. The twist here: In this case, the extras actually paid for the privilege, with most shelling out at least $1,000 each. Welcome to the unusual—and successful—production model of the Christian streaming series. As John Jurgensen writes at the Wall Street Journal, The Chosen is "financed completely by its audience." The most common way people watch it is via the show's free app—viewers are encouraged to donate by clicking on a "Pay It Forward" button—and it's not exactly a shoestring operation. Season Three is about to start shooting, with a budget of $18 million. Prior to The Chosen, the previous record for a crowdfunded entertainment project was the $6 million raised for a season of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The first 16 episodes have been viewed more than 300 million times, perhaps because this isn't exactly a traditional religious show. Biblical characters, including Jesus, are humanized as never before. The apostle Matthew, for example, is on the autism spectrum. All this "has inspired fan discussion, debate, and squabbling on a level more typical of the Marvel or Star Wars series," writes Jurgensen. "Except that for 'Chosen' fans, the dynamic is fueled by religious faith." The series is the brainchild of filmmaker Dallas Jenkins, who had a short and not-too-successful career in Hollywood before he gave it up and began making films for his Illinois church. One caught the attention of online video service Angel Studios, and Jenkins now has a successful franchise on his hands. Read the full story, which notes that a Chosen Christmas special will be in theaters starting Wednesday. (Read more Longform stories.)