The Chosen, the TV series based on the Gospels -- currently breaking Fathom Events box-office records with its big-screen Christmas special -- is fully funded for Season 3.
No doubt the show will return to the Utah-based Jerusalem set it's been using (including in its Christmas specials), so we bring you an up-close look.
First, a message from series creator Dallas Jenkins, from the inbox:
You’ve done it again. Season 3 was fully funded yesterday. My heart is full.
This moment represents you bringing your “loaves and fish.” You and so many others have paid it forward, prayed for us, and spread the word about The Chosen.
We don’t rely on a studio writing a big check to secure the future. We rely on you choosing to pay for our free show. Did you see the Wall Street Journal headline a few weeks ago? It’s about you: “Fans Pour Funding—and Faith—Into a Hit Drama About Jesus.” Love it.
As I’ve made clear many times, we’re not a charity. We don’t ask for “donations.” And, while we don’t exist to make a profit, we must be profitable to exist. When you pay it forward or purchase your gifts, you ensure future episodes and seasons while also allowing us to keep it free for those who can’t pay for it.
Thank you for your loaves and fish, and together we’ll watch God feed the 5,000.
How Jerusalem Came to Utah and The Chosen
One way The Chosen has managed to pull off producing a series primarily from crowdfunding is making use of the assets of partners. There's no way the show could have afforded to build a set of ancient Jerusalem. Luckily, it didn't have to.
One already existed, built by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Also, Angel Studios, which distributed The Chosen and created its custom app, is owned by members of the LDS Church.
With Evangelical creator Jenkins, Catholic star Jonathan Roumie, and a cast and crew composed of folks from many branches of Christianity -- along with non-believers -- The Chosen is truly an ecumenical effort.
Last week, I and Family Theater Productions Senior Producer Tony Sands took a tour of the Jerusalem set, courtesy of the good folks at cablenet BYUtv, some of whom also came along for the visit. The channel, part of Brigham Young University (itself owned by the LDS Church), airs the series and streams it on BYUtv.org.
Click here for a longer story on how the connection happened among BYUtv, the LDS Church, The Chosen and the Jerusalem set, but here's an excerpt:
Michael Dunn is currently the managing director of BYU Broadcasting, overseeing the university’s radio, TV and digital channels, including BYUtv. “We’re non-commercial,” says Dunn. “So, we’re not beholden to any commercial interests. We steer clear of divisive social issues that we don’t want to get into as well.”
The university has impressive production facilities but doesn’t manage the Jerusalem set. Dunn, though, was instrumental in the deal that allowed The Chosen to use it.
“It was the ideal location,” Dunn says, in a recent phone interview. “Dallas … had seen it on an earlier thing. He just said publicly, ‘This could be the best Jerusalem set in the world.’
“So, we, as a non-commercial, general family-entertainment network, talked to the Angel Studios folks about what it would take to get that done. There were just a lot of negotiations on that.
“Of course, we were interested in airing The Chosen. So, we were able to broker a deal where they would be able to use the sets — and we obtained the exclusive broadcast rights to The Chosen.”
Cows, Snow, an Ancient City and a Big Green Wall
The LDS Church built the set for its own productions, on land it owns south of Provo, Utah (where BYUtv is headquartered) in a rural area surrounded by mountains, near a dairy farm it also owns.
It's officially called the LDS Motion Picture Studio South Campus, but all one can pick out from far away is a massive green wall, painted to be used a giant greenscreen.
On this December day, the chief sounds were the howl of bitter winds and the occasional lowing of nearby cattle (both dairy and beef).
The only visible outpost of the 21st Century is the nearby town of Goshen (population about 874), where one of the biggest previous biggest tourist attractions is a non-functional vintage Sinclair gas station owned by a local collector, a favorite photo spot of passing bikers.
Access to the Jerusalem set is strictly controlled, with surveillance cameras and a keypad (a bit incongruous on what looks like a farm fence in the middle of nowhere).
On-site caretakers look after the set and keep away the curious -- which apparently included two would-be cast members who made a pilgrimage to pray outside the gates (they didn't get in).
The set itself covers two football fields. The stone may be faux -- sculpted Styrofoam covered in stucco -- but the structure is quite sturdy and, as you can see in the video below, beautifully detailed.
By blending different architectural styles, different textures of stone and wood, the set achieves the look of a city built over centuries -- as, indeed, Jerusalem was and is.
As any filmmaker will tell you, one of the most difficult things about shooting outdoors is having to hide things you don't want people to see. But, because of the set's remote location, and the way the buildings and streets are arranged, there are many places where you can turn 360 degrees and see nothing but Jerusalem.
There are no inside sets at the location. While there is some permanent infrastructure, most of what's needed for supporting a film crew and cast is brought in.
Obviously, the set only includes a fraction of the original Jerusalem, but with clever angles, set dressing and some CGI augmentation, it creates an impressive illusion.
Take a look:
Click here to learn all the ways you can watch The Chosen, whether on YouTube, streaming, linear TV or through its custom app.
Image: Angel Studios
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.