Opportunity binge

‘Christmas with The Chosen’ sets theater sales record, adds screens

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“The Chosen,” a streaming video series that captured 200 million views by the end of its second season,  has set a record for early ticket sales with its special Christmas presentation set to open in more than 1,500 theaters on Dec. 1, the series creator and executive producer said.

Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers,” a direct-to-theater special based on the breakout online series, sold $1.5 million in tickets during the first 12 hours orders were open.

That prompted distributor Fathom Events to increase the number of theaters from 1,079 by more than 450 locations. The special will open Dec. 1 for a 10-day run before becoming available for in-home viewing.

“When we decided to do a special Christmas episode, we knew it would be the ideal moment to get this on the big screen,” series creator and executive producer Dallas Jenkins said. “It’s the first chance ‘Chosen’ fans have had to gather all over the country, so we intend to make it worth it.”

The Christmas special blends scenes retelling the Nativity story with musical performances by a raft of contemporary Christian artists such as For King and Country, Brandon Lake, Phil Wickham and Jordan Feliz.

“I believe the birth of Christ is the greatest event in human history. And so ‘The Chosen’ is kind of the outpouring of what happened at Christmas. So we love this opportunity to celebrate,” Mr. Jenkins said at the Goshen, Utah, film set where the musical performances were recorded.

In June, Mr. Jenkins reported that the series, which traces the life of Christ in a more relatable manner than some biblical epics of previous generations, had logged more than 200 million online views and raised $22 million dollars from viewers wishing to “pay it forward” and underwrite future episodes.

It is produced by Loaves & Fishes Productions and Angel Studios, which also distributes the series. Mr. Jenkins is one of its five executive producers.

Creating a national community around a streaming video is perhaps as much an achievement for Mr. Jenkins and his team as bringing “The Chosen” to the silver screen. Starting with a 2017 short film for his church in Elgin, Illinois, his work caught the attention of VidAngel, a Utah-based streaming service.

Posting that short film, “The Shepherd,” on Facebook helped create interest and led to a crowdfunding campaign that raised enough money to pay for the first season of “The Chosen.” Similar efforts and product sales supported the second season. Mr. Jenkins said fundraising for the third season is underway.

“At the pace, we’re going, we’ll easily be able to finance season three and to get going on financing for season four,” he said. “But we’re hoping that as we get into the Christmas season, it really accelerates.”

“One of the reasons why we’re doing this Christmas special is because we’re hoping that it can kind of hold people over until season three comes out,” he added.

Having enthusiastic fans is nothing new for the series. Along with those 200 million online views, 125,000 Blu-ray discs of the first two seasons were snapped up when they went on sale, Mr. Jenkins said.

Christian musician Phil Wickham, who has a massive fan base of his own, connected with the series after binge-watching episodes.

“I honestly was hesitant to press play on the first episode of ‘The Chosen’ for months,” Mr. Wickham said in an interview during the Utah filming of the special. “I was nervous that it wasn’t going to be amazing.”

The singer-songwriter’s doubts soon dissipated, and he found himself in tears at the end of the first episode. He posted his reaction on Instagram, saying of the series, “I just fell more in love with Jesus because of it.”

Mr. Wickham, 37, said he believes recasting the story of Jesus for a modern audience is important to respond to changes in technology as well as in societal attitudes.

“It’s critical for every generation of artists and creators to create things for their time,” he said. “The whole story of Jesus is God meeting people right where they’re at. And so I think a huge part of that for us is using our talents and our abilities in the culture we’re in to meet people [with] the story of Jesus.”

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