PROVO — In the heart of downtown Provo on historic Center Street, fans and filmmakers, along with investors and actors, gathered to hear what’s next for Angel Studios, and how it plans to build upon the wide-reaching success it’s found with faith-inspired content like “The Chosen” and “His Only Son.”
Originally founded as VidAngel, Angel Studios is a media and distribution company started by a group of Latter-day Saints — Neal Harmon, Daniel Harmon, Jordan Harmon and Benton Crane. The company works through crowdfunding where investors fund projects and see returns on their investments depending on the success of the project. Angel Studios is known for producing family-friendly content.
“What are the values we want to see for our children and our grandchildren? Stories that are true, honest, noble, just, authentic, lovely, admirable and excellent,” said Neal Harmon, CEO and co-founder of Angel Studios, adding that these values can be found in different types of entertainment, ranging from comedy to faith.
“The Chosen” brings these values to life, and Seth Taylor, chief experience officer of Angel Studios, shared a new interactive online feature that allows fans of “The Chosen” to share their own stories of how the hit series has impacted them. The feature allows viewers to attach their particular connection to a scene directly to the scene as a sidebar on the video player.
Taylor showed some examples, which include a viewer who felt inspired to reach out to one of his sons and reconcile after watching “The Chosen,” and a woman who discovered “The Chosen” through YouTube while staying at a women’s shelter. This viewer, named Crystal, said she strongly connected to the scene in “The Chosen” that depicts Jesus reaching out to heal Mary. After watching that scene, Crystal felt inspired to reflect on her thoughts in a video, saying, “I think I believe in God, or maybe I’m just realizing he always believed in me.”
Building upon the success of “The Chosen,” Angel Studios has announced new theatrical releases, which include “The Sound of Freedom,” “The Shift” and “David.”
“The Sound of Freedom,” Harmon said, is about “real-life heroes” who are trying to rescue kids from child trafficking. Getting the film to the silver screen has been a difficult journey — Harmon said it’s been eight years in the making. But “Sound of Freedom” now has a July 4 release date, and Angel Studios has a goal of getting 2 million people to the box office for its debut.
While the film “David” will not hit theaters until 2025, Harmon said Angel Studios is eyeing a No. 1 box office debut. “David” tells the story of David and Goliath and, according to Angel Studios’ website, is an animated film “on par with Disney or Pixar productions.”
At Angel Studio’s event, the Deseret News also had the opportunity to talk to some actors and creators behind the productions of “The Chosen,” “Truth & Conviction,” “His Only Son” and “Tuttle Twins.”
Shaan Sharma has starred in popular shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “SEAL Team.” But starring as Shmuel in “The Chosen” has been particularly meaningful to him.
“I hit the lottery as an actor on the kind of story you can tell that changes people’s lives,” he told the Deseret News. “It’s exciting, it’s humbling, you definitely want to make sure you’re honoring the opportunity.”
Sharma said faith has “always been a core part” of his life. In Episode 4 of Season 2, there’s a scene where Shmuel is preaching in Jerusalem and is met by Thomas and Nathaniel. Although he’s supposed to be preaching the entire time in that scene, the script only has Shmuel’s dialogue written out at the beginning and the end. Sharma said he wrote the body of his sermon for the scene.
“It was a fun opportunity for me to contribute something to the show even more than just acting,” he said.
‘Truth & Conviction’
Matt Whittaker is in the process of funding the project “Truth & Conviction,” which tells the story of Helmuth Hübener, who was the youngest member of the German resistance to the Nazis to be executed. Hübener produced anti-Nazi leaflets and was a public commentator before he was executed at age 17 in 1942.
Whittaker — who wrote films like “The Work and the Glory III: A House Divided” — told the Deseret News he heard the story of Hübener 20 years ago and has since been working on telling his story. He made a documentary a few years ago and now he’s working on completing funding for the limited series “Truth & Conviction.”
Whittaker believes telling Hübener’s story is particularly important now because of what’s happening in Ukraine. Now, a year after “Truth & Conviction” became an award-winning Torch and passed the Angel Guild (Angel Studios lingo for investors showing significant interest in the project), Jon Erwin, well-known for his work on “Jesus Revolution” and “I Can Only Imagine,” has been announced as an executive producer for the series.
‘His Only Son’
“His Only Son” debuted in theaters around Easter. The film tells the story of Genesis 22, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. David Helling, director of “His Only Son,” said he wanted to set up parallels between Abraham and Jesus as he was directing the movie. He pointed to similarities such as the duration of three days, along with the symbolism in the stories, especially as it relates to Isaac.
“His Only Son” was filmed on a shoestring budget of $250,000 in a California desert. Producer Roman Medjanov said it was difficult to film in the desert, but it was a life-changing experience. The film had a successful box office run, grossing a little over $12 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Helling said he attributes the success to the grace of God. He also believes there’s an audience who longs for faith-based content, and is excited for the future of faith-based entertainment.
The movie received Angel Studios’ inaugural Torch Award for film at the Illuminate event, recognizing the quality and success of the film.
“What a cool thing. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine,” Helling said. “By God’s grace, I think I’m going to do another one about the life of Jacob.”
“Tuttle Twins” is an animated series about a family that touches on subjects ranging from economics to freedom. Freedom, showrunner Daniel Harmon said, is a major part of the show.
“I think parents think it’s an important value because they’re not seeing it taught much in schools and they’re not seeing it portrayed in culture,” Harmon said.
Jonny Vance, a writer on the show, said “parents are wanting to teach these things, they’re wanting to make these principles cool.” Vance said their job when it comes to making the show is to give “parents the assist in making freedom cool.”
Harmon said their episodes are designed to teach different concepts like inflation or civil disagreement. Vance said while the show doesn’t explicitly feature faith-based content, it doesn’t shy away from God and religious beliefs of historical figures such as John Locke and Gandhi. Harmon said most of the feedback they get from parents about the show are comments like, “Where was this when I was a kid?”
Harmon said the show was intended to be “a co-viewing experience,” where parents and kids can talk about the values in the show at the dinner table.
Angel Studios’ vision going forward
A handful of people at Angel Studios’ event used phrases like “forming a new Hollywood” when describing what the company is trying to do going forward.
Neal Harmon showed the domino effect in a video and described how their theatrical releases started with “The Chosen” and are leading up to “David,” with the intention of building more momentum and expanding their influence.
He also talked about the crucial values of Angel Studios entertainment — “Does it amplify light?” he asked.
Angel Studios’ plan to expand and form a “new Hollywood” has that question as its anchor, striving to create content that brightens the light investors say they want to see.