Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 02/27/23
Jesus Revolution scores big in weekend box office. Per Box Office Mojo the fact-based faith-themed film came in a strong third behind the MCU’s Ant-Man and the Wasp and the highly-hyped (emphasis on “highly”) drug-addled comedy Cocaine Bear making it the top-rated movie without at least one animal in its title. Beyond the simply box office number, the audience response has been overwhelming. The Lionsgate/Kingdom Story Company movie took in over $15.5 million (including pre-release awareness screenings), significantly over-performing pre-release tracking. Before the weekend, estimates for the film showed the film opening in the $6-7M range.
As of this writing, the film holds a 99% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and an A+ CinemaScore. The film also set a record in that it marks the first time in history that a director (Jon Erwin) has scored four A+ CinemaScore grades since the company began publicly releasing its survey results in 1986. As CinemaScore President Harold Mintz notes “For a director to achieve that accomplishment once is a rarity. But to hit that mark four times is not only an incredible distinction — it’s unprecedented. Congratulations to Jon and (co-director) Brent McCorkle and the entire team at Kingdom Story Company.”
Also this weekend, the worldwide television hit The Chosen (which the so-called mainstream media has shown little interest in reporting on) was honored at the 2023 Movieguide Awards airing yesterday on UPtv. The two-episode Season 3 premiere of the Angel Studios original series took home the John Templeton Foundation Epiphany Prize for Most Inspiring Movie. The Chosen, the #1 crowdfunded media project in history, is the first-ever multi-season show about the life of Jesus. Season 3 is now available on the Angel App. As reported previously in this space, the Season 3 premiere also scored surprisingly strong box office results when it was released in theaters in November.
Photo Credit: MOVIEGUIDE – from left Jared Geesey, SVP Global Distribution at Angel Studios, Ryan Swanson, writer for The Chosen, Chris Juen, Producer for The Chosen, Jonathan Roumie, actor in The Chosen, Ted Baehr, founder of MOVIEGUIDE, and Chad Gundersen, producer of The Chosen
What does the popular success of Jesus Revolution and The Chosen tell us about the future of faith-themed movies and television series? During my recent conversation with Roma Downey about her new book Be An Angel: Devotions to Inspire and Encourage Light Along the Way, she said that she didn’t think a gentle overtly faith-themed series like her nineties mega-hit Touched by an Angel would be welcome on a major broadcast network today. Sadly, she’s probably right – despite the success of movies like Jesus Revolution. That’s because, as she also suggests in that interview “there’s a different agenda in our media (today).”
Fortunately, alternatives to the corporate movie studios and TV global conglomerates are now out there. One of the most notable is Pure Flix which has grown from producing faith-themed theatrical hits (i.e. God is Not Dead) to streaming original films via its own distribution service (a la Netflix) to, increasingly, streaming its own original TV series and miniseries (also a la Netflix). The six-episode romantic saga A Thousand Tomorrows based on the popular novel by Karen Kingsbury, for example, started streaming last Friday with new episodes set to drop weekly during March. FYI, my conversation Karen Kingsbury and her son Tyler Russell (with whom she co-wrote the screenplay) runs Friday. Today, however, I’m pleased to run my chat with Pure Flix CEO Michael Scott which follows the trailer for the miniseries below.
JWK: Michael, great to talk with you again.
Michael Scott: Great to talk with you, as well.
JWK: Last time we spoke, we spoke about your own story launching Pure Flix and, of course, your success with original movies. This time I’d like to spend a little more time on your move into original series.
MS: We can definitely do that.
JWK: First of all, tell me about your big miniseries this month, A Thousand Tomorrows.
MS: A great series.
JWK: What attracted you to that project?
MS: Well, you know, I’ve loved Karen Kingsbury books for years. I’ve read a lot of them. I’ve always wanted to be involved with one of them and A Thousand Tomorrows is an incredible story. I think it’s timely to right now because it kinda has that cowboy/western/rodeo theme. How popular is that right now with Yellowstone, 1823 and 1923? So, this is an incredible love story and it puts God at the center of it. It really shows you the power of redemption, devotion and what God can do. I think it’s a touching six-part episodic series that people will love. For those that don’t know Karen, she’s a New York Times bestselling author. I think she’s sold over 25-million books. This is one of her great novels and I think people will really enjoy this. Whether you read the book for not, I encourage everybody to come.
JWK: So, this is a six-part miniseries. If the audience responds, will it continue beyond that?
MS: You never want to say never, so we’ll see.
JWK: What other new series to you have on the docket? I know you have one that premiered in January called Guardians.
MS: That’s a new one, great show. We also have some new shows coming up (including) Eleanor’s Bench which is great show that we’re gonna do.
Karen Abercrombie (Eleanor) is flanked by cinematic arts professor Doug Miller and alumnus Ian Miller in the courtroom. (Photo by Ashley Zahorian)
MS: We got a Revelation Road series that kinda deals with the End Times and what happens there. That will be coming this summer. I’m super-excited about that one. That’s a great production. We shot that one actually over in Africa last year. It’s gonna be really fun. If you haven’t seen it, there were three movies that were done on the Revelation Road series and now we’re continuing the storyline in the series. So, I think people will really enjoy that.
We also have another show coming up shortly called Destination Heaven. It’s kinda where God intervenes in certain people’s lives in different situations that it covers. It kinda has a little bit of The Encounter which is another show on our (site) where Jesus kinda comes back in modern times. So, there’s a lot coming. We got new shows coming all the time.
JWK: I know you’ve also debuted a sitcom about faith-based radio which is something I have a bit of background producing.
JWK: Is that still going?
MS: Live + Local (is) a great little show…That debuted last July but it’s on the platform. You can click it and watch it right now if you want to.
JWK: One show of yours I reviewed and said has a lot of promise is called Going Home. Is that still in production?
MS: Great show. We’re actually doing Season 2 right now which will probably come out later this year (or) the beginning of next. We’re super-excited about that one, as well.
JWK: It’s set in a hospice which is sort of a unique setting for a TV series.
MS: Correct. People are dealing with the end of life and what’s next?…There are some super-touching moments. That show will make you cry a little bit but I think you’ll really see God show up in each one of those episodes.
JWK: What do you think is the advantage of having television series on your platform?
MS: I think people love to get engrossed in a storyline. They love to follow characters and see what happens to them – where they go in life, what’s the next adventure for them. I think series give you a chance to explore each character a little deeper and go on adventures over multiple seasons. It may be one season. It may be five seasons. You never know how long a series is gonna go. So, I think it really brings you into the lives of those characters. That also gives you a chance – in what we’re doing – to explore some incredible themes of faith – whether it be hope, redemption or, you know, different things that we can explore and really show how God might work in certain circumstances. I think a series is a really powerful tool. It’s also not just about the message. They’re also entertaining. They’re fun to watch. You can sit down with the family, watch them and be like “That was really good! I enjoyed that!”
JWK: I was going to ask you about that. How difficult is it to balance having a positive message with telling a good story?
MS: It’s always a tricky thing but we always say what we’re looking for are stories that have organic faith to them. We don’t wanna take a story and just try to interject faith or prayer or a conversion scene or something like that.
JWK: A lot of people – with both movies and TV shows – equate “faith-based” with being preachy. That may have been more true in the past but I think that faith-based films are getting better. 5000 Blankets, which is on your platform, I think is a great example of a faith-themed story very well told. I also think that the supposed mainstream films have gotten pretty preachy when it comes to the all the fairly heavy-handed Woke messaging. Do you have any thoughts on that?
MS: You know, I do think the storytellers – (including) the directors (and) the actors – are better (off when) the messages don’t feel forced, when (the audience) doesn’t feel like there’s an agenda. I think in Hollywood sometimes there are lots of movies that can feel like there’s an agenda (about) different things going on. But I think we’re doing it better and better. Sometimes, some of those other messages, they want to really press them hard. I think in any story you tell if you press the message too hard it comes across as forced or propaganda. We never want people to feel that way with what we’re putting out.
JWK: I spoke with Roma Downey recently and asked her if she felt like Touched by an Angel would get made by a major broadcast TV network today. She doesn’t think so. She thinks they’re not really interested in inspirational stories these days. Do you agree with that?
MS: Never say never. Sometimes you can be surprised by what goes on and what happens. I hope that more series like that get made – whether it’s for us or other networks. I think we need more of that – more of good versus evil.
JWK: Do you have any favorite old shows that inspired you – and, who knows?, maybe could be rebooted on Pureflix?
MS: I remember Highway to Heaven. I loved that show. Touched by an Angel was a classic, actually, as well…I was more of a movie guy back then. (One) of the classics that I loved (was) Chariots of Fire. That was a great example of a film where the message was organic to it. It was what the character represented. It was an incredible journey. Obviously, that won Best Picture so it doesn’t get better than that – but we (today) can (still) tell great stories and they can be super-touching just like that.
JWK: Finally, do you have any thoughts on everything going on these days at Disney? They built their brand on family entertainment but a lot of people, particularly parents, are feeling put off by what they’ve producing recently.
MS: I think Disney makes a lot of different stuff. Some of it people may enjoy. Some of it they may not. I don’t know how certain politics or different things filter into movies but I would say that, if you look at our society today, it’s kind of a reflection of where we’re at. What we’re doing (in society) is what you’re seeing reflected in these movies. That’s why I think people like Pure Flix (as an alternative). It’s so important that we are able to tell these stories that are compelling and, ultimately, draw people in. That’s why I want people to sign up and to see it…I always say if you want to see something fun, entertaining (and) that will touch you and your family, go check out PureFlix.com.
John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11