There’s an awful lot of bad news out there in entertainment land. INDIANA JONES and his fedora are limping into the sunset. Ethan Hunt and the IMF ran up far too high a tab to make even their global performance one that has wowed most media pundits. Peacock, the home of so many award-winning original series, just raised their tab by 20% a month and $20 a year. Yesterday, CBS just announced a Titanic rearranging fall primetime lineup that, if nothing else, will give two good friends of mine each a primetime original game show to run and will otherwise feature a second window strategy for Paramount+ (retch) SHOWTIME originals that is chillingly foreboding of what far too many fear is what all broadcast television is ultimately pivoting to–the place to see shows for free only after those that pay a fee get first crack.
And, of course, the vitriol between striking writers and actors, not to mention sympatico unions and those in solidarity like moi, has never been greater. There is more cosplay going on at the Disney Studios picket line, with our friend Bob AIger being trolled by the likes of Darth Vader dress-ups, than there will be at this weekend’s watered-down Comic-Con in San Diego, certainly among anyone otherwise recognizable.
Yet amidst all of this dour and dire news, you should know that there is a bright light–literally–among content providers that is not only winning favor among fans, it is also providing one of the few new original scripted TV series of this summer and, thanks to a SAG-AFTRA approved waiver, will actually continue production on a fourth season.
Angel Studios, an independent production compan based in Utah, is behind both the theatrical sleeper hit of the summer box office, THE SOUND OF FREEDOM, and what is described as a “Christian historical drama series” THE CHOSEN. I’m fairly sure neither is not top of mind among most of the frustrated creatives that are voicing their displeasure at the executives behind the gates they are sweltering in front of to express their thoughts on what they see as the crumbs they are being offered. But if you’re a creative who thinks you’re being loud and insulting to them, imagine what kind of reception those y’all are targeting their displeasure at might be experiencing in the next few days from those they answer to. Especially when one considers the kind of reception and ROI that one particular film has already achieved, based on a report dropped this morning by NEWSWEEK’s Shannon Power:
The controversial film Sound of Freedom has become the surprise hit of the summer, already grossing more than $85 million at the domestic box office.
The film about child sex trafficking saw a boom in ticket sales on Sunday, when it made 27-plus percent more in one day than the previous week, according to Box Office Mojo.
On July 16, Sound of Freedom raked in around $9.83 million, making it the second-most profitable film behind the Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.
Sitting in third place for the day was Harrison Ford‘s last hurrah as the fictional archaeologist in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which earned $3.8 million at the box office on Sunday.
For the weekend, Sound of Freedom pulled in $27 million, a 37.2 percent jump from last week, while Mission: Impossible made $56.2 million in the same time.
Sound of Freedom’s success is particularly significant because, by Hollywood standards, it had a relatively paltry budget of $14.5 million and played in fewer cinemas than Cruise’s and Ford’s franchise films.
That’s roughly a 6:1 ROI if you’re keeping score. And trust me, the investment community that Yosemite and AI, among others, are subservient to are definitely doing that. Since, per Dhruv Sharma at SCREEN RANT, a film typically breaks even at 2.5x. THE SOUND OF FREEDOM already has achieved more than double the multiple that most summer blockbusters will never see, even in ultimates.
There’s just one small problem. The film has drawn the ire and concern of many who staunchly believe the subject matter effectively trumpets conspiracy theories, as FORBES’ Conor Murray meticulously chronicled:
The film stars Jim Caviezel as Tim Ballard, a former Homeland Security agent and founder of Operation Underground Railroad, who conducts sting operations to rescue children from sex traffickers.
But OUR was the subject of a Vice investigation that claims the organization has exaggerated its role in sex-trafficking rescues, with multiple law enforcement agencies saying their work with OUR has been “insubstantial.”
Both Ballard and Caviezel have been linked to conspiracy theories associated with QAnon: Ballard previously suggested support for a debunked viral theory that furniture retailer Wayfair was selling children, and Caviezel has reportedly spoken at multiple QAnon events where he promoted one of the most bizarre Q conspiracies, claiming that child traffickers drain their victims’ blood to develop adrenochrome, a chemical theorists believe Hollywood elites inject to stay young.
Central to the QAnon conspiracy is that a core group of Satan-worshipping global elites run the world, and are involved in a global child trafficking ring.
And there’s also some concern that both the budget and box office for the film have been goosed by those who are zealotically believing in this, again per Sharma:
(A)fter Disney released the Sound of Freedom’s rights, the producer took it to Angel Studios. The studio acquired worldwide rights to the movie and used equity crowdfunding to raise money for its marketing and distribution. According to reports (via The Wall Street Journal), Angel Studios garnered funds worth $5 million in just 2 weeks after 7000 people invested in the project. Before Sound of Freedom acquired $5 million through crowdfunding, its overall budget was estimated to be $14.5 million. Angel Studio had also used a “Pay it Forward” promotion that encouraged patrons to buy gift tickets for those who wished to watch the movie in theaters for free. This promotional strategy added $2,679,000 to Sound of Freedom’s box office returns, raising its opening revenue to a whopping $14.2 million (via Deadline).
The film’s five-year odyssey to make it to the screen is in itself a feel-good story. And while its ROTTEN TOMATOES’ audience score of 100 per cent can be dismissed as merely the kind of landslide results seen in, say, a “free” election of a Russian or North Korean leader, what can’t be as easily dismissed is what Murray reminds was a 77% critics’ score.. with Variety’s critic calling it “a compelling movie that shines an authentic light on one of the crucial criminal horrors of our time, one that Hollywood has mostly shied away from.”
And then there’s that TV series. As Wikipedia describes THE CHOSEN:
(D)irected and co-written by filmmaker Dallas Jenkins…It is the first multi-season series about the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Primarily set in Judaea and Galilee in the 1st century, the series centers on Jesus and the different people who met and followed or otherwise interacted with him. The series stars Jonathan Roumie as Jesus, alongside Shahar Isaac, Elizabeth Tabish, Paras Patel, Noah James, and George H. Xanthis.
Noticing that there had never been a multi-season, episode-based portrayal of Jesus that could be “binge-watched” like shows on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Jenkins intended the show to differ from previous portrayals of Jesus by crafting a story arc that focused more deeply on the people who encountered Jesus and viewing him through their eyes. He wanted to present Jesus in a way that was more “personal, intimate, [and] immediate”.
And, like THE SOUND OF FREEDOM, THE CHOSEN has achieved significant financial help via crowdsourcing, again per Wiki:
The producers have used innovative methods for finance and release, primarily through crowdfunding. Fundraising for the first season as well as subsequent ones continues to make The Chosen the most successful crowdfunded TV series or film project. As of 2021, viewers had contributed $40 million towards its production. In late 2022, the creators partnered with a new nonprofit company, the Come and See Foundation, to manage funding, which allows contributors to receive a tax deduction for their contribution.
So based on this alone, it is already widely available on several streaming platforms, including Prime Video, Peacock and Netflix. And last night, the CW premiered it as one of their latest acquisition strategies from other markets to make it look like they’re still trying to maintain some sort of a presence in original scripted content. It probably won’t beat AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR or THE BACHELOR in ratings. But it’s probably going to be more profitable.
Everyone is certainly entitled to their religious beliefs and preferences. My own experience as an employee of Pat Robertson’s taught me that first-hand. But I also saw the mainstream appeal of creative evangelicals play out. One of the first network projects I worked on with the Robertson-owned MTM was a drama called CHRISTY, which featured a pre-ER Kellie Martin as the lead in a period drama about a strong-willed teacher in rural Tennessee set in the early 1900s, whose showrunners included some faith-friendly producers that had partnered with veteran producer Barney Rosenzweig, who had an overall deal with MTM at the time. The co-star of Rosenzweig’s wife Sharon Gless’ signature series CAGNEY AND LACEY, Tyne Daly, won a Best Supporting Drama Actress Emny It premiered as a top-ten rated TV movie and complimented a CBS Saturday night programming strategy keynoted by DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN, whose rerun rights were successfully sold by my team concurrent with CHRISTY’s brief network run.
But what I then learned first-hand was the power and economic clout of faith-friendly content. Home video rights for the short-lived series were sold at dramatically higher rates than were other more prominent MTM titles. The 1968 book by Catherine Marshall that the series was based on shot up to #15 on the USA TODAY best-seller list when the TV series premiered. And more than two decades after the TV series ended, an annual CHRISTYFEST was held to celebrate the preservation of the show and Southern Appalachian culture.
Again, snark if you will at the juxtaposition of the words “culture” and “Southern Appalachian”. But know that they’re also quite likely to be among those who will take full advantage of pay-it-forward policies and over-the-air availability of Angel Studios content, and they vote with their dollars and mindsets just like anyone else. As well as an awful lot of people elsewhere around the country. Because you simply don’t beat Indiana Jones by just winning over Indiana.
And as for any actors looking for options beyond short films or (gulp) rideshare gigs to make ends meet, go send those self-tapes (at least the more family-friendly ones) to Angel Studios ASAP. Maybe what they believe isn’t what you hold dear to your hearts. But they’ve got money and a large fanbase and, most importantly, a waiver to produce.
So at least be aware of what’s right about media these days. Because at this rate, if you’re not, there may not be much else left.
Until next time…