Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/30/21

A bridge too far. Jason Siler over at Blue Collar Logic (a YouTube Channel I recommend checking out) makes a strong case that our Marxist-friendly government, education and media leaders may have finally pushed the common sense envelope to its breaking point by attempting to use their power as cultural gatekeepers to suggest Georgia’s new election integrity law is somehow a return to the Jim Crow-era South (or, as President Biden puts it, an era of “Jim Eagle”). This while virtually ignoring the actual human rights abuses going on in China. Georgia gets boycotts while China get the Olympics. That would qualify as absurd comedy if the real-life issues weren’t so serious.

But there are signs of hope. People are waking up to the idea that Wokeness requires that we close our eyes to the obvious: Any movement that actually has a problem with the phrase All Lives Matter has a problem. We got to this point because for decades now Woke leaders have insinuated themselves into positions of power in every aspect of American society. Politics is just the endgame. Their stranglehold began in the classroom and in the culture. The Woke POV controls entertainment industry which for over a generation now – and especially for the last decade or so – has been sowing seeds of division, anger and America shaming. As the Left sees it, it’s harvest time. Not so fast.

One of the aforementioned signs of hope is the emergence Angel Studios, a production and distribution company that puts the audience in the Hollywood executive suite and allows people who both love American diversity and don’t see America as a racist country to have their say in what entertainment is put out into the culture. Angel Studios is an offshoot of VidAngel, the content filtering company launched by the Provo, Utah-based Harmon brothers – but while VidAngel was originally promoted as a way to empower consumers to manage the movie and TV content coming into their homes, the Harmon brothers had an even bigger idea. Angel Studios actually puts the creation of that content into the consumers’ hands. They – as opposed to those who sometimes openly disdain them and their values – become the gatekeepers.

The new company already has scored a major international success with The Chosen, an episodic series telling of the life of Jesus. Other projects include the broad-based sitcom Freelancers (more Max Brothers than Marxist) and the upcoming pro-American animated comedy series Tuttle Twins (based on the popular book series).

I recently spoke with co-founder and CEO Neal Harmon about the idea behind Angel Studios.

JWK: What you’re doing is a real game changer. How did the idea of Angel Studios evolve?

Neal Harmon: Actually the idea for Angel Studios came at the same time that we founded VidAngel. We, as brothers, wanted to build something that our children could use. We got excited about building VidAngel because of the idea that we could attract a group, a like-minded audience, and then eventually build content for them better than Hollywood is doing. That’s what got us excited about even starting the project. We didn’t talk about it a lot early on.

JWK: I would imagine Angel Studios would attract like-minded creators as well who are frozen out of the current Hollywood system.

NH: Oh, absolutely. That’s the other side of that coin. If we attract a like-minded audience then the creators who want to inspire, uplift and tell stories to that audience would also come to us.

JWK: Just to be clear, how does Angel Studios differ from VidAngel?

NH: Well, they’re two separate companies now. VidAngel is a filtering company that allows you to skip over objectionable content (found in) movies and TV shows. So, you can skip over nudity or mute coarse language or cut over scenes of graphic violence. That’s the filtering product, VidAngel.

Angel Studios is a community-driven studio where we create original content that’s chosen by the audience rather than by a few Hollywood executives. The only productions we do are ones that the audience has reviewed and they say they want it made badly enough that they’ll invest in making it themselves. So, we end up with only the most content and it’s our very own content created by the angels.

JWK: So, it turns ordinary people into entertainment industry angels that fund these projects.

NH: That’s right. The median investment in a lot of these projects is around a hundred bucks. So, it’s not like people who are rich. It’s just people who want to have an impact on culture (and) who want to see something made. When thousands of people say “We want to see this made” then we know that we should put our resources behind it to market it and distribute it. And that’s what Angel Studios is.

JWK: You’re quoted in a press release as saying “We are building a film studio platform that helps creators and viewers create high-quality TV and Film without having to answer to the Hollywood gatekeepers.”

NH: That’s right.

JWK: Have people from Hollywood come to you? Because I know of many people in Hollywood – including some very established names – who can’t get their projects made because they don’t align with the industry groupthink.

 

NH: Yeah. We just had two producers fly out yesterday or the day before. They’ve done some extremely well-known projects in Hollywood. I can’t say (who they are). They were here because they see that we have a model that works and that we’re attracting creators and audiences who want stories the amplify light and they want to be part of that. They’ve been part of the Hollywood system and they’re not able to create the content that they love the most in the Hollywood system. So now they’re coming to Angel Studios to create it inside of our system.

JWK: Would it be fair to suggest that Angel Studios is sort of a cross between the crowdfunding phenomenon and Netflix?

NH:
Yeah, it is. It’s like crowdsourcing/crowdfunding mixed with distribution like Neflix. That’s a decent analogy.

JWK: So, is Angel Studios, like VidAngel, a family business you run with your two brothers, including Daniel who is the showrunner of the Angel Studios animated show Tuttle Twins?

NH:
So, VidAngel we don’t own at all anymore. We sold it. It’s a different company. Angel Studios is owned by almost eight-thousand (investors). In fact, we just had four-thousand more invest so it’s probably far more than that now. So, it’s owned by people in all fifty states. It’s a company that’s owned by the people.

JWK: Do you have any concerns about losing control over what you produce when the process is so open?

NH:
Yeah, we do have concerns about that but we’re very careful on our governance. We also know that the people who invested in us during the lawsuit – the only who would invest in us at that time – would be people who believe (in) and care about the cause. So, we feel like we have great partners.
JWK: How does it all work? How do you choose your projects? How do they get funded? And how do they get distributed? 

NH: The process works like this. You can go to angel.com and there’s an Apply to Raise Funds button there and you can learn about how to raise money for your project. When somebody comes to raise money they need to have a pilot or a short film that helps people understand what it is that they are going to make once they receive the investment. Then the creator says how much is the minimum amount of funding that they need in order to make the project that they envision. After an application process, they publish their short film or pilot to the community and the community gets to view it and those who like it invest and those who don’t do not. If they reach their minimum required funds then they go into production but if they don’t all the money gets sent back to the investors and the project doesn’t get made.

JWK: So, you have to have something on film already.

NH: Oh, yes. They’ve got to be able to show the audience what it is that they’re gonna make.

JWK: This is all original content. Do you have any thoughts about distributing acquired material on the site?

NH: In the industry there are some buzz terms that some people are familiar with. (There’s) SVOD or TVOD or AVOD. These are all kinds streaming business models. TVOD is Transaction Video on Demand (pay-per-view). SVOD is Subscription Video on Demand like Netflix. AVOD is Advertising (based) Video on Demand like Peacock or YouTube. We call ourselves CVOD. That’s Community Video on Demand. We get behind projects that have passionate communities around them – passionate enough to fund them and to follow them through the whole process. We are focused on that as a studio rather than on filler content or content that’s just out there to be licensed and doesn’t have a community. That’s not content that we’re gonna spend time on.

JWK: For instance, I recently interviewed Roma Downey. Among other things, she talked about how the production company she runs with her husband (Mark Burnett) has 34 episodes of The Baxters in the can – based on the bestselling series of novels by Karen Kingsbury. Right now the show has no network attached. Could something like that end up on your site?

NH: What we’re interested is Community Video on Demand and supporting the building of communities around the creators. So, if an existing project has a strong community and the creator wants to build the community around that project for future production of that project, we’re gonna be interested but if it’s just your run-if-the-mill next film to license we’re not interested in going and filling up our library with thousands of titles like other streaming services do. There are plenty of services that are in that business. We’re in the business of building a meaningful connection between the creators and their community.

JWK: So you’re not interested in the subscription model at all.

NH: Well, if it helps the creators build connections to their community, then we are. We have people who pay it forward on a monthly basis to support The Chosen. That’s a community feature that’s useful to the community and useful to The Chosen.

JWK: The Chosen is a major success for you.

NH: It is – and will continue to be. That’s a seven-season series. We believe that will be the largest Christian media community in the world built around The Chosen. Tuttle Twins, we believe, will be the largest community built around economics and freedom in the world for kids. They’ll be strong communities around each of those. And Dry Bar, we believe that will be the largest comedy community around comedy that’s funny for everyone and that’s “safe for work.” So, that’s what we’re passionate about – is building those kinds of communities.

JWK: I personally watched the pilot for your sitcom Freelancers and found it to be very funny. Has that been doing well for you?

NH: Yes, it has. Season 2 is funded and it’s in production right now. We’re looking forward to Season 2 coming out.

JWK: The name Angel Studios works on a couple of levels. There is the faith level which appeals to much of your audience and there’s also the industry angle in that ordinary people are themselves becoming the investment angels who fund projects.

NH: Oh, they absolutely are. We named the company after the people who are supporting the creators. “Angel” is a common term for early investors. The very first investors in any project who help it get off the ground (are angels). It (also) ties also back to some religious roots where angels come and intercede in the affairs of this Earth to help people out or help something get started. So, both those connotations play really well into this but our branding is centered around this idea that the angels are the audience. They’re the people who want to be part of the story. They want to help fund it, they want to follow it, they want to support it, they want to share it with their friends and they want to impact culture. That’s Angel Studios.

JWK: Where do you see Angel Studios in five years?

NH: Today we are already distributed in over 180 countries. We see ourselves as creating over a billion dollars in new original content that has passionate community built around it and being the home of stories that amplify light. When people think of where they want to go to be uplifted or to have a story that is redemptive or helps during challenges or dark times and they want to laugh, they’ll think of Angel Studios and that will bring them hope. That’s where we want to be in five years.

JWK: The way I see it is we’re in a time when audiences are seeking some genuine escapism that brings people of all backgrounds together and, perhaps at the same time, a bit of push back against a Cancel Culture and America shaming that is so prevalent in the media right now. What’s your take?

NH: Well, if you look at our logo in front of every single Angel Studios film, if you look into the background the background is robes for Lady Liberty and then the spotlights create a silhouette that is the crown for the Statue of Liberty…We see Angel Studios as a place for those who are ignored by Hollywood – the outcasts. When an artist in France built that statue and people immigrated to the US and sought a better life guess what happened? Well, they created a better life. The United States has blessed the world through its political system and abundance for hundreds of years. It’s got its faults for sure. The US has got its faults as does every nation in history but we tied our branding…around the Statue of Liberty for a reason. Because the idea behind it – the idea of being a light – is an important idea. We need that. We need it in media. We need it in the stories that we share with each other.

IMHO: Whether adopting Angel’s CVOD model or not, there is tremendous pent-up audience demand for seeing those values represented in the movies and TV shows we watch to relax and recharge ourselves. That means there’s a tremendous business opportunity for any studio, streamer or TV network that embraces them. Inspiring and lifting people up is a prime mission of storytelling. For decades Hollywood was great at and reaped the rewards. Any industry person checking out last Sunday’s Oscar ratings should be asking themselves what happened?! The answer is obvious. Wokeness is running amok and causing the industry to fail at its mission. But the turning point has arrived. I believe the ideals – and faith – expressed by South Carolina Senator Sen. Tim Scott in his response to President Biden’s speech to Congress on Wednesday have been stirred and will prevail. Hollywood better catch up.

 

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
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